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Cleantech doesn't get the 'respect that it deserves': Mayor Robertson

Western Canada is way too obsessed with oil, coal and gas exports, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson said Thursday, when really the country's long-term economic wealth will be generated by new green technology.

"A better way is possible," he told a clean economy conference hosted by UBC's Sauder School of Business, "than the current scramble we see globally and here in the West to exploit every possible source of hydrocarbons as soon as possible."

In 2011, estimated revenues for B.C.'s clean technology firms reached $2.5 billion. "You don't see that in the business section of papers," Robertson went on. "The cleantech industry here does not get the recognition or respect that it deserves."

Part of the reason may be an outdated belief that going green is a moral duty, rather than a major economic necessity, said Nicholas Parker, an influential industry tracker who in 2002 co-founded the Cleantech Group.

Solving ecological issues like climate change is "not about the moral imperative," he said. "For many CEOS it's about the fact their backs are against the wall, and if they don't get ahead of the climate curve, they're going to face major disruption."

For others, global warming offers a chance to profit huge. Like Nest Labs, for instance, a maker of energy-saving and internet-connected home appliances that was recently acquired by Google for $3.2 billion.

"Energy is being lost unnecessarily," Nest business director Andy Baynes said. Across North America, he estimated, Nest products have already saved enough energy to equal four medium-size gas power plants. "The opportunity [for us] is huge."

Geoff Dembicki reports on climate and sustainability for The Tyee.

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