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IRP Stories: As Oil Demand Drops, Social Enterprise Iron & Earth Empowers Industry Workers to Lead Canada's Green Recovery

Right now, Canada’s energy sector accounts for over 10% of the country’s GDP. In September 2020, multinational oil company BP predicted the decline of global oil demand — which could mean job losses for thousands of Canadians. Headquartered in Alberta, Iron & Earth is providing a climate solution by empowering fossil fuel industry workers to build a sustainable energy economy. As a recipient of the Investment Readiness Program (IRP), Iron & Earth has received funding to become investment ready.

The non-profit was created in response to the 2015 oil crash. “Workers were chatting around their lunch tables, and noticing a lot of people losing work,” says Adam Lynes-Ford, Iron & Earth’s Director of Innovation and Energy Policy. At the same time, “workers were realizing that their skills and experience were highly transferable into renewable energy. They decided to form an organization to help to build that future economy.”

Iron & Earth fulfills its mission in several ways, including on-the-ground community chapters and policy advocacy. “We empower fossil fuel and Indigenous workers to participate in the conversation about what a fair, green and prosperous economic transition can look like for everyone,” Lynes-Ford says. “We’re really committed to helping to build towards a new net-zero economy that’s grounded in a rights-based approach, for collaboration with and leadership from Indigenous communities.”

To date, Iron & Earth has received funding from private companies and the government. “We want to establish an even more solid and sustainable foundation for the non-profit to operate into the years to come,” Lynes-Ford says. “One way to do that is to generate some of our own revenue.”

To do this, the organization is launching a social enterprise: a business that uses the sale of services to advance a social mission. In Iron & Earth’s case, this means “offering short term, in-person training in renewable energy for the fossil fuel sector and Indigenous workers,” Lynes-Ford says. “Any profits generated by the training company will go to the non-profit arm of Iron & Earth.”

Iron & Earth receives $83,000 to Get Investment Ready

The revenue-generating model of Iron & Earth’s social enterprise will boost the non-profit, expanding its capacity to create decent work and sustainable economic growth, while pushing for affordable, clean energy. Of course, to get to that point, the social enterprise needs to grow, too — and that’s what the IRP funding is for. “It will really help us springboard our business planning, and get us to the launch stage,” Lynes-Ford explains.

Iron & Earth received $83,000 in non-repayable capital from IRP: one-time funding that doesn’t need to be repaid. “It’s our first enterprise, and that’s one of the reasons why we were really excited to receive the support through the IRP,” Lynes-Ford says.

“It allows us to enter into the next stage of investment readiness with the confidence that we’ve got a really solid, expert-informed viability study, market analysis and business plan, to demonstrate that we’re ready to take on investment to grow.”

These IRP-backed studies and plans prove to investors that not only will Iron & Earth become profitable — it will also provide returns. Putting himself in the investor’s shoes, Lynes-Ford says, “Between climate change and the economic impacts of the pandemic, a lot of people are out of work, especially fossil fuel sector workers. They often just need a really short-term, hands-on training opportunity to transition into renewable energy. This social enterprise provides a bridge into other work, and also a bridge into that net-zero emissions economy that we need to be building in Canada.”

He adds, “There’s clearly a lot of demand for the product that the social enterprise will be delivering – I think that will be attractive to investors as well.”

Looking to the Future

As its social enterprise grows, Iron & Earth will play an integral part in building back better after COVID-19. “One [of our roles] is to work alongside fossil fuel and Indigenous workers to express our priorities for green recovery,” Lynes-Ford says. “We imagine a net-zero future where we not only shift the energy mix of our country — we also shift the relationship between our energy sector, people and the environment.”

Reflecting on IRP’s role in that vision, Lynes-Ford says, “it’s really increased our confidence that we are accessing the best information and analysis that we need to launch in the right way — and to attract the investors that we need.”