Gord Lambert on Collaborative Innovation

Gord Lambert_bw

Gord-LambertGord Lambert, Executive Advisor for Sustainability and Innovation at Suncor Energy


Interviewed on July 17, 2014 by Monica Pohlmann.

Pohlmann: What is energizing you these days?

Lambert: I am excited about a new model we have created to accelerate the pace of environmental performance through innovation and collaboration. COSIA—Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance—is the specific example. It is a network of 13 companies that represent more than 90% of Canada’s oil sands production, with 40 Associate members from academia, government, and business supporting the effort. By pooling our resources and sharing knowledge, best practices, and even intellectual property, we hope to improve our economic, social, and environmental performance as individual companies and as an industry. To date, member companies have shared approximately $1 billion of intellectual property.

Pohlmann: What is happening in Canada that has caught your attention?

Lambert: We have an opportunity to serve as a world-class example of a resource-based economy that is an engine of innovation, through engaging across disciplinary, organizational, cultural, and governmental boundaries to achieve environmental, social, and economic outcomes that benefit all Canadians.

Pohlmann: What keeps you up at night?

Lambert: Certainly climate change is a critical challenge. Canada’s reputation has declined around perceptions of our lack of engagement on solutions. There have been many stops and starts in the effort to confront this global crisis. Many solid plans have fallen prey to changing political winds. Even when governments have made a good start and have a decent draft plan, there has usually been criticism of outcomes not being bold enough to protect the climate or being too bold and damaging to the economy. We end up with gridlock.

Twenty-first-century problems are much more complex than earlier environmental challenges such as acid rain. In the case of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere, we are all part of the problem, and we all need to be part of the solution. Yet even today we default to a blame-based narrative. We can’t separate our supply of energy from our demand requirements. Complex problems that don’t honour boundaries require convening diverse expertise and interests and broad-based, solution-oriented engagement—instead of being siloed and divisive.

Pohlmann: If things turn out well in Canada over the next 20 years, what will have happened?

Lambert: I have been reflecting on how we might be working together in the future to address environment or social challenges. The metaphor is inspired by Tour de France-type road cycling, which is intensely competitive, with many diverse teams and riders and strategies, and is also deeply collaborative. Free riders are not tolerated. Everyone has to do their part. Trust has to be very high. The purpose is to accelerate progress to achieve a defined outcome. Can we create such “pelotons” to mobilize joint efforts and talents to achieve our big, bold, positive outcomes? Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance is an example of 13 companies creating the rules for how we ride in a peloton together. This could inform other new models for collaboration.

Pohlmann: What about your personal story has shaped what you do and the perspective you have?

Lambert: My first job out of school was in Cold Lake, Alberta, and I worked with the community, including First Nations and local business. I was working on the Imperial Oils Cold Lake project as an environment specialist. I began to learn what it takes to create the human-to-human relationships and trust that enable constructive and mutually beneficial collaboration. We had areas of agreement, areas of concern, and disagreements, but it was through dialogue and mutual respect at a personal level that we began to resolve differences and created solutions. How we engage with one another is essential to what we want to achieve.

Reos Partners

Thought leader interviews were conducted by Reos Partners, led by project editor Adam Kahane. Kahane is a best selling author and facilitator who has led dialogues in more than 50 countries including post-Apartheid South Africa. Les entrevues auprès de leaders d’opinion ont été réalisées par Reos Partners, sous la direction d’Adam Kahane, rédacteur de projet. Kahane est un auteur et facilitateur à succès qui a mené des dialogues dans plus de 50 pays, notamment en Afrique du Sud après l’apartheid.