Framing a Carbon Positive Discussion

An interview with SPARK facilitator, Chad Park

There are many factors that shape people’s understanding of climate and carbon issues: approaches to addressing challenges, controversies about the health and wellbeing of communities, market access and economic activities. Energy Futures Lab (EFL) convenes different groups from different backgrounds in dialogue to help find common ground in a complex, fragmented debate.

Chad Park is Lead Animator of EFL and Chief Innovation Officer with The Natural Step. He works with dozens of energy sector stakeholders to support innovation and collaboration. He will be facilitating an interactive workshop at SPARK 2019 called Framing a Carbon Positive Discussion. Park will be joined by EFL colleagues Erin Romanchuk, Senior Manager of Partnerships and Alison Cretney, Managing Director. Leor Rotchild, Executive Director, Canadian Business for Social Responsibility; Shakti Ramkimar, Communications Lead, Student Energy; and Laura Hughes, lead of the Alberta Narratives Project have also been confirmed to support participants with tools and resources.

We spoke with Park to learn more about the session, what people can expect, and why it’s important.

Tell us about the workshop?
This is going to be a highly-interactive and dynamic experience. The purpose is to explore and share approaches that will help participants engage with their stakeholders in dialogue around carbon, knowing the issues are so polarized and there are lots of misinformation and perspectives. It’s often the elephant in the room: the different viewpoints on carbon and hydrocarbons. There is a need to responsibly explore all perspective and find productive ways of engaging. We’ll equip people with tools to do this. Through EFL, we design sessions and workshops that help people engage with one another in a productive way. We will be using some of the facilitation techniques drawn from the EFL to help with this session at Spark.

What’s an example of how to engage productively?
The biggest thing is practicing putting yourself in other people’s shoes. It seems like simple advice that we might give to our children, but it’s a lesson that applies to all of us in our day-to-day lives. So, we’ll go through practical and lived experiences in the workshop—we will also have a few speakers to introduce tools and resources that will be useful for people after the conference. We need to co-create the future. The path may not be immediately obvious and everyone is not necessarily on the same page. The EFL process is aimed at getting diverse groups and people to build enough trust and social capital to find common ground.

Why should people come to the session?
This session is about equipping us all with ways to engage with others and draw them into a more productive space to support innovation. It’s going to be a lot of fun and a different experience than people would normally have at a workshop or conference. As I understand, there will be 700 to 800 people at SPARK that in every respect are bright, talented, accomplished, and knowledgeable. Lots of times at events like this, we go in and listen to speakers. That is helpful and required, but there is often a lot of expertise in the room that goes untapped. This session is a chance to share and learn from others through participation and exploration.

From your experience, what are you witnessing in conversations about climate and carbon?
I see a difference in the public dialogue compared to the ones with stakeholders in the innovation and energy system. If you are tracking the public dialogue, you would think things are polarized and there is no space in the middle; views are either one side or the other. I don’t think that’s the reality that exists with stakeholders in industry and government who pursue or support innovation. It’s not the reality of their interactions. That said, we could all do well to have a few tools and methods in our pocket because you never know what situation you might find yourself in and it’s important to engage productively.

So, why do you think Carbon Positive is an appropriate theme?
For some people, the idea of being Carbon Positive is counter intuitive. I think it’s great we frame it this way because when something is counter intuitive it begs a question; it entices people to pay attention and ask questions. In this case, that examination will lead to more productive outcomes. I love the theme, it’s exactly what Alberta and Canada needs at this time because of the polarization that exists. When things become polarized, it becomes harder to achieve any objective. Carbon is viewed as a waste and emission by some. But, that’s just one part of the story. We need to turn it on its head by exploring ways for it to be viewed as a useful material and economic opportunity. This session is a deep dive on that.