Abundance vs. Necessity

Enroute back from Iceland, somewhere over the Atlantic. It’s a beautiful sight, the vastness of our Canadian Arctic, true north strong and free, when compared to a small, isolated island state like Iceland. The contrasts were noticeably obvious, but the unexpected insights were like gifts which I will freely share.

I come back a little embarrassed about our abundance. We are blessed with resources that are the envy of the world – oil, gas, fresh water, rich soil, rivers, streams, lakes, sun, wind, trees, animals, crops, mountains, medicine, education, democracy, rule of law, and stable government – the things of which most only dream.

Visiting the harbour town of Grindavik, we witnessed innovation at its finest. Blessed only with resources of the sea, an abundance of cod and shifting tectonic plates, we were treated to a proud culture of ingenuity and innovation out of necessity. This small town of 2,800 people shared an economic vision based on five areas of excellence:

1. Innovation in Cod Fishing: Higher quality fish through historical salting techniques; excellence in packaging and logistics such that fish can be on a plate in Edmonton within 36 hours of being caught; and a pursuit of innovation by developing 25 uses for cod sub products – from collagen to protein supplements – such that every part of the fish is developed to its highest value before it is exported.

2. Clean Energy Production: Harnessing the power of the volcanoes, earthquakes and shifting tectonic plates, geothermal production has risen to be the dominant source of energy production in the country, and is soon positioned to be sold in export markets. Clean electricity drive energy intensive industries like aluminum shelters, data centres, food processing and industrial greenhouses.

3. Greenhouse Food Production: Capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) from clean energy production and using it as an input into industrial greenhouse food production has expanded the available production of food in what is otherwise a challenging landmass.

4. Barley Biotechnology: Understanding that barley represents one of the most biotech-friendly crops for genetic modification, medicinal experimentation and cosmetic engineering, industrial greenhouse operations, using CO2 and clean energy inputs, is expanding to diversify a product-based export economy.

5. Rejuvenation Ponds vs Tailings Ponds: Silica and clay based water runoff from the geothermal plants has created a series of rejuvenation ponds that are beautifully marketed as healing lagoons for those challenged with ailments and a quest for youth.

This level of closed-loop local innovation with limited resources has enriched the brand of Iceland to be associated with words like clean, beauty, nature, healthy, young, and sustainable. Absolutely Brilliant.

I ask you to take a minute and contemplate the depth of innovation and thoughtfulness we apply in an economy of abundance. And I challenge you to ask whether we are thinking hard enough? We complain that we need more labour and more labour in order to ship more raw commodities – oil, animals, lumber, barley, etc. – for others to process, refine, productize and realize significantly more value. We have much to learn … and so much more value to capture … if we get serious about rewarding innovation and eliminating the very policies and incentives that produce a Banana Republic mentality and the absolute wrong outcomes.

As the Minister of Industry & Innovation outlined the Icelandic economic vision, a gift to us, I can only offer the following wish in return: That as your offshore oil and gas production continues to develop and produces riches yet unknown, I wish that your country never gets complacent through abundance (fat, dumb and lazy) and always maintains your wonderful culture of innovation that has come through necessity.