Voices of New Economies – An Interview with Alex Wood
By Alicia Tallack

For Alex Wood, Senior Director, Policy and Markets at Sustainable Prosperity, the concept of new economies is directly aligned with that of green economies.

AlexWoodheadshotCurrently, Alex is working on the Sustainable Prosperity Framework project. Focusing on the three pillars of environment, economy, and society, the Framework is designed to create a new vision for what a sustainable, competitive Canadian economy might look like in the coming years. That vision, which will be developed with leaders from business, civil society, and academia will form the basis of a sophisticated communications effort that will engage and inspire Canadians. 

What are the key elements of “new economies”? 

The Sustainable Prosperity Framework will focus on three elements:

  1. Sustainable – When defining green or new economies, there is a tendency to emphasize new forms of economic development and new sectors that have a lighter footprint. Our take on this, is that the definition can and should be recognized in the Canadian context, but we also need to bring in the ‘brown’ (non-sustainable) models of industry in our economy, to shape their future in a way that lightens their footprint. This is about how and who you engage, and why. We find a negative reaction when we discuss sustainability in traditional sectors of our economy (especially the extractive sectors), so we need a definition that includes these sectors and defines for them the opportunity that a more sustainable and competitive economy presents.. We want to focus on building out the greenest green, and engaging the “brown” green, to see how they can all contribute to our long-term sustainability.
  1. Competitive – This tracks closely with the sustainability point, which looks at how we build an economy on the back of a growing greenest green sector. If we’re going to continue to extract resources and use our natural capital, how do we do that in a way that sets us up for long-term competitiveness? A focus on sustainability in those sectors that is driven by innovation, that improves our competitiveness globally, and create solutions that then drive sustainability is important. As they focus on their models and solutions, they become more competitive. Sustainability then makes a business case because it can be competitive.
  1. Inclusive – We wrote our green economy white paper 2 years ago, and since then, there has been an increased focus on the social dimension of the green economy in global discussions. The basic assumption is that even if you choose to green your economy, there are choices that promote better social outcomes versus other options. Social outcomes such as economic opportunity, inclusivity, and improved economic benefits for aboriginal communities are all critical. The steps that Canada takes to create a sustainable economy can’t lead to worse social outcomes. The policies and solutions in the green economy must have concern around social issues embedded in them.

How does this relate to cities?

Our framework project will have a substantial component focused on cities. There will be three likely elements to this: cities, innovation, and investment. When it comes to cities, you have a platform that allows you to integrate policies, public, and private sectors. This is a huge opportunity – cities give us a platform on which we can say look at this city, its infrastructure, transportation, natural capital, etc., and think about how you can transform this into something more sustainable. The other dimension of this, of course, is that over 80% of Canadians live in an urban setting. So engaging Canadians in a positive, affirmative, our discussion of the green economy needs to describe what that looks like in an urban setting.

What happens in cities is what will determine the course of our sustainable economy.

What is your perspective on the recently launched Ecofiscal Commission?

There is a personal thread running through Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission for me, which dates back to work that I did 10 years ago on the National Roundtable on the Environment and Economy, as the project I managed was on ecofiscal reform in Canada. I worked on that for four years, and it had some profile and success, but the Ecofiscal Commission has really taken that discussion to a completely different level. This is important, because it points out the significance of communications around this. We have known for some time the economic and environmental arguments for ecofiscal reform, but coming from “us”, it hasn’t always translated the way it is now. When it comes to shaping economic decisions, people with backgrounds like mine (coming from the environmental side with an economic background) need additional voices of support in making the economic case. So the Ecofiscal Commission is a very exciting opportunity to do just that.

What does real wealth mean to you?

The word “wealth” provokes a personal response, and makes me think about a holistic definition of wealth, not just the economic part. Most of the time, my default is to think on the macro level, and to think of what wealth is in Canada. Often, we communicate about this based on concepts that are not well grounded, and that are hard to base in personal experience. As an economist, I’ve got a set definition of what wealth is; but as a human being, I’ve got a broader definition. For me, that definition is rooted in a set of experiences and a set of values that shape our experiences and our choices all contribute to this.

Real wealth is about a more holistic definition of a well-lived life.

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Alexander Wood is one of Canada’s leading experts on the green economy.  Alex has over twenty years’ experience working at the interface of the environment and the economy, with a particular focus on the development of market-based policies that contribute to a sustainable economy.  He has worked in the non-profit (WWF), public (NRTEE), private (TD Bank Financial Group), and is now Senior Director, Policy and Markets at Sustainable Prosperity. Alex is a graduate of the University of Toronto (B.A.) and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (M.A.)

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This blog is part of the ‘Voices of New Economies‘ series within Cities for People – an experiment in advancing the movement toward urban resilience and livability through connecting innovation networks. 

The Voices of New Economies series is collectively curated by One Earth and The Canadian CED Network.

This series is an exploration of what it takes to build the economies we need – ones that work for people, places, and the planet. We are connecting key actors, finding patterns, noting interesting differences, and highlighting key concepts and initiatives. Together, this series offers insights into the new economies movement as it develops. 
We want a country in which:

  • public, private and social sectors are engaged in active efforts to close the gap between the socioeconomic wellbeing of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people
  • the public sector, private investors and philanthropists separately and collaboratively deploy financial capital to create positive social and environmental impact
  • social innovation is an integral part of Canada’s innovation ecosystem, enabling civic institutions to co-create policies, initiatives and programs that enable citizens to contribute a diversity of skills and perspectives to Canadian society
  • public, private and civil society sectors act collaboratively and courageously to advance human thriving and address shared challenges
  • humans’ social and economic footprint is in balance with the natural ecosystems that sustain life.