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How an Oil Sands Collaboration is Accelerating Sustainability

They’re all in. Ten oil sands companies share more than $1.3 billion in intellectual property. And, they’re committing it towards sustainable outcomes.

The innovation process at Canada’s largest oil sands producers is getting a redesign thanks to a public-private partnership with big goals: reducing environmental impacts and accelerating the deployment of new technologies across sectors in Canada.

Researchers at the Ivey Business School, University of Alberta, and the University of Quebec at Montreal launched a research collaboration led by Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA). The partnership also includes three COSIA member companies (Canadian Natural, Suncor, and Cenovus), Alberta Innovates, and Natural Resources Canada.

The project is a public-private partnership in which industry and government collaborate directly with the research team to understand how new technologies and processes are brought to market—and importantly, the key factors in determining which investments will succeed in creating long-term value.

Building on Industry Success

COSIA has been cited as a world-class example of industry collaboration towards a shared ambition of improving environmental performance.

Launched in 2012 , companies in the alliance have shared hundreds of environmental technologies and innovations related to water, tailings, greenhouse gases, and land restoration. All together, this shared intellectual property adds up to more than $1.3 billion in value.

The ten companies involved represent 90% of production in the oil sands.

COSIA shows how collaborating with unconventional partners can drive innovation.

A Made in Canada Innovation Model

This project is the first of several seeded by a $2.5 million research partnerships grant from the Government of Canada through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

The broader initiative is called the Innovation Project, and you can be part of it too. The unique approach focuses on people and processes, using human-centred design thinking and applying a systems lens. The approach embeds sustainability directly into the innovation process, rather than leaving it as an afterthought. The project represents a new phase of NBS work in the innovation space, building on previous resources including a four part guide for small businesses looking to drive innovation.

Sustainable Ideas That Sell

Chilean forestry firm, Arauco, has used this model to transform native forest under its ownership. Through consultation with social groups, scientists, local food producers, and other key groups the was able to preserve the forest while launching new products. The resulting projects have generated an estimated value of nearly US$1 billion.

Research Team

The following researchers form the international team leading the project with COSIA:

Dr. Tima Bansal

Project Leader, Canada Research Chair, Ivey Business School, Western University

Dr. Joel Gehman

Assistant Professor, Alberta School of Business, University of Alberta

Dr. Marie-France Turcotte

Co-Chair in Social and Environmental Responsibility, Université du Québec à Montréal

Dr. Sylvia Grewatsch

Postdoctoral Researcher, Western University

The research team is led by Professor Tima Bansal, Canada Research Chair in Business Sustainability at Western University and Director of the Network for Business Sustainability.

The team will work closely with the oil companies to map their innovation processes and identify new opportunities to embed sustainability into innovation.

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