Transforming clean technology, with an inclusive lens

Progress toward a sustainable future requires innovation in clean technology, but more than that, it requires inclusive clean technology.

This progress is the catalyst to reduce emissions, including greenhouse gases (GHGs), and drives Canada’s efforts toward a low-carbon economy. Yet, as we move toward net-zero goals and a prosperous future for generations to come, authentic sustainability and inclusiveness are part of the same equation.

That’s what Heather Campbell (BESc’96) strives toward as Executive Director, Clean Technology with Alberta Innovates, a provincial research and innovation agency tackling today’s challenges including climate change, renewable energy, and waste reduction. Supporting the innovation journey across a variety of important sectors, she oversees the funding, consultation, and applied research to accelerate the commercialization of greenhouse gas reduction technologies and new end-use products.

Heather Campbell's photo

Heather Campbell (BESc’96)

As a Western Engineering alumna, Campbell graduated with a degree in Chemical & Biochemical Engineering, launching her professional career. As an active volunteer on the Advisory Council for Western Engineering (ACWE), she shares her experience and her passion for solving the challenges involved in integrating clean technology engineering solutions into society. 

We sat down with Heather to gain some insight into her time spent at Western Engineering, her career journey, and to draw upon her wealth of knowledge to glean advice for our future engineers.

Can you share a high-level overview of your career success and your current leadership role at Alberta Innovates?

Following graduation from Western University, I began my professional work in the petrochemical industry. Different organizations and roles allowed me to diversify my experience in oil and gas processing and refining, renewable and alternative energy, oil sands development, and clean technology development. 

My experience in the energy industry began to coalesce around sustainability, energy policy and energy development, so I completed my masters in Energy Law and Policy through the University of Dundee, while working professionally.  

The research and innovation space is exciting, particularly in clean technology because the work we do and the technology development we support is critical to energy transformation.  The Alberta Innovates clean technology program that I lead includes:  Hydrogen and CCUS (carbon capture, utilization and sequestration), Bioenergy and Circular Economy, Renewable and Alternative Energy, and Critical Minerals and Emerging Technology. 

What sparked your interest in engineering?

I had an aptitude for math and science, but I didn't want to be a scientist or a mathematician. I enjoy the challenge of solving societal problems with engineering. 

How has your Western Engineering degree prepared you for your career in clean technology?

Technology and innovation in sustainability was a part of Western’s thinking when I was completing my engineering degree. With that specialization, I had environmental science courses that addressed GHGs and CO2 emissions, and a course in wastewater engineering that included looking at emerging technology. Upon reflection it was quite forward-looking given the current importance of the clean technology sector.

What are the biggest challenges you are faced with today integrating engineering innovation into the clean technology sector?

In my work with Alberta Innovates, I come to you from Calgary, Moh’kins’tsis, where I live as a guest on the traditional Indigenous lands of Treaty 7 and Métis Nation of Alberta, Region III. Ensuring that Canada’s, Alberta’s, and Calgary’s energy transformation is authentically inclusive and is prioritized is challenging to achieve.  

Many of the solutions that are required for the energy transformation are engineering solutions. As an example, energy storage and the corresponding technology development to enable it can contribute to energy independence, energy access, and energy equity, particularly for Indigenous and remote communities.  

Having incremental women in STEM fields and especially in engineering, in my view, will facilitate women participating in and leading the energy transformation. Women are drawn to clean technology in a high percentage, relatively speaking, but are still significantly under-represented in clean technology overall.  

In a pandemic that has so dramatically impacted women, people of colour, and those who live the intersectional realities of those identifiers, clean technology and energy transformation is our opportunity to build back better. And in my world, “better” means inclusive.  

Do you have any advice for other engineers interested in the clean technology sector?

Learn how to write and speak effectively: be able to communicate clearly, absent any jargon, identify what the problem is, why it is hard, and how you will solve it with your technology and innovation.  

Ensure that when you innovate in the clean technology sector you include an anti-racist and inclusive lens on your ideas and designs. Ask yourself critical questions about your work: Who by the nature of your work will potentially be marginalized? Who will be excluded? How are you authentically advancing equality?