Jan 31, 2022
Technology has evolved so rapidly to make our lives easier, but many would argue these advancements have been a leading cause in the current state of climate change. Knowing we need to find cleaner energy methods, is it possible technology could help solve the problem it may have helped create?
Join host Dan Séguin as he sits down with accomplished entrepreneur, best-selling author, and award-winning podcaster Amber Mac to discuss the potential impact technology could have on a greener future. They also explore how Millennials and Generation Z are likely to be leaders in creating purpose-first technology, the rise in popularity of the work from home movement, and why infrastructure is hindering access to electric vehicles.
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Dan Seguin 00:06
This is thinkenergy, the podcast that helps you better understand the fast changing world of energy through conversations with game changers, industry leaders, and influencers. So join me, Dan Seguin as I explore both traditional and unconventional facets of the energy industry. Hey, everyone, welcome back. I think it's fair to say that within the last decade or two, technology has evolved and innovated at an accelerated pace, unlike any other time in human history, like the fact that Apple releases a new generation of its iPhones every single year, it seems like society has created a demand for faster and better technology. As britannia.com says, social need does drive technological innovation. We're also living in a time where the resources are available for us to achieve these advancements, unlike, say, in 1490, where Leonardo da Vinci had sketches for helicopters, airplanes, and believe it or not submarines, he had the vision, but not the resources at that time to make his inventions a reality. And perhaps, at the time, society didn't have a need for such things. Okay, let's fast forward to today. And when it comes to a major world problem, like climate change, you could argue that there is a real social need for faster and better technology for cleaner sources of energy. And while not all technology exists to achieve net zero, at the very least, some might get us closer. It's hard not to feel that innovation and technology are what's going to help us solve the current climate crisis, even if some would argue that innovation and technology may have caused the predicament that we are currently in in the first place. Now, here is today's big question. So we know that as a society, we need to change how we use energy, find cleaner methods and develop technologies to make this happen. But is that enough? And can technology really curb the impact of climate change? Our special guest today is recognized internationally as an innovation and technology leader. Her professional accomplishments include a best selling author, award winning podcaster, a sought after keynote speaker and accomplished entrepreneur, and she joins us today. So very cool. Amber McArthur is what many call a multi hyphenate. She is a regular business host and experts on Fast Company, CNN, Bloomberg, CBS CTV, the Marilyn Denis show, and Sirius XM, where she co hosts another podcast the fi, better known as Amber Mac, she started her career in San Francisco and Boston, during the .com. Boom, she left the startup world to join Microsoft to build one of the first female focused lifestyle portals. And in 2006, she started her own digital agency. Welcome, Amber, thank you very much for taking the time to join us on this show. Let's kick things off by asking what comes to mind when you hear the word technology and innovation?
Amber Mac 04:04
Well, the first thing that comes to mind when I hear the words technology and innovation is that we need more of it in Canada today. So I think one of the most interesting things that we're seeing when it comes to technology and innovation is when technology can solve a certain problem. And we have many problems in our world today that do need solving. And that's why there has to be such a focus on technology for the future, especially when it comes to the next generation.
Dan Seguin 04:32
Okay, Amber. Now, what do you think are the biggest causes or drivers of technological advancements and innovation today?
Amber Mac 04:42
Well, I think what we've seen historically, especially over the past few decades, is that money is a big driver when it comes to technology and innovation. In 1999. I moved out to San Francisco to work in the startup scene because there was so much money being invested in that community at that time. Now that hasn't really shifted, there's still a lot of money in Silicon Valley. But we're seeing that there are pockets of places across Canada, where there is more investment when it comes to the technology sector. So the truth is, if you're in a community and you're developing technology, it's very difficult if you aren't in one of those core hubs across the country.
Dan Seguin 05:21
Okay. What do you think was the biggest tech innovation that changed the world in 2021?
Amber Mac 05:29
That is a really good question. So I'm thinking you've been thinking about all types of technology innovations. And of course, if I think if you asked me this question in 2020, I would have said, the mRNA technology that has allowed so many of us to get vaccinated, I think, in 2021, when we look at the different types of innovations in our society, I would still stick with the Health Tech theme. Because what I've seen more and more is that this is probably one of the most exciting sectors when we think about the future of technology. And the place where I think I would say deserves the most attention is perhaps within wearables. Right now I'm wearing a band called The whip band that allows me to know if my respiratory rate is off, my HRV rates, all of those details, my sleep, my activity. And I think when we think about an individual, harnessing the power of being able to have data at their fingertips 24/7 In terms of being able to understand their health, I think we've kind of underestimated how critical and important that is, especially during pandemic times.
Dan Seguin 06:37
Now, I know you recently had a conversation with Minister Gibo, the new Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, technologically speaking, what are your thoughts on Canada's plan to be net zero by 2050?
Amber Mac 06:52
I think technologically speaking, when we look at the year 2050, I think most people will agree that seems like a long way away. And I understand the importance of having deadlines. But I think for a lot of Canadians, I think individuals are still kind of unsure about how they can contribute to achieving this goal in Canada. And I think at the end of the day, that's the piece that is missing. You know, we have questions many times in our society, does this mean that I should eat less meat? Does this mean that I should no longer drive a gas powered vehicle? Does this mean that I should think about heat pumps in my home and we have so many questions, but I think at the individual level, Canadians are still kind of unsure about how they can be partners in this goal. And I do think it's up to the federal government to do a better job of communicating that I think businesses are starting to get up to speed in terms of their responsibility. But I do believe that each Canadian can also play a role. But we need a clear definition in terms of what that role is going to be, and how we can help things along the way. So maybe that deadline could be even sooner.
Dan Seguin 08:01
Okay. How does that goal to curb climate change impact technology, as well as us and our everyday lives?
Amber Mac 08:11
Well, I think what we're seeing with this goal in mind is that when we talk about technology, there's a huge opportunity in this country, for those organizations that focus on climate tech. And I think when we say the term of climate tech, the truth is that all technology should have our climate in mind. So I hope at some point, that that is just technology for the future. So I think at the end of the day, I think we're gonna see some incredible opportunities for organizations, including startups in this country, to really start to focus on solutions in terms of getting to that goal. And I think there'll be plenty of opportunities for both investors as well as inventors and researchers along the way, but we really have to learn how to nurture those communities. Because Canada is really great at research. But we're not so great at the commercialization of some of that research. And that's where we can definitely do a better job.
Dan Seguin 09:08
In your opinion, Amber, what innovations in the energy sector or by society at large, with respect to energy use have been the most impactful?
Well, I've been reading a number of reports, you know, every year in the tech sector, we constantly have these reports that talk about the top technology of 2021. And there are always these really compelling lists on that list. We see technology like heat pumps, you know, it's not exactly the sexiest of technology, but I think there are some places across Canada that are doing a really good job of providing incentives for individual homeowners to actually put heat pumps into their home. We have a home in Charlottetown Prince Edward Island and everybody on PEI Believe it or not, is always talking about heat pumps. Seems like a weird conversation, but they understand their energy efficient that they can get rebates from the government. We don't hear as many of those conversations in other places like where I live now in Ontario. So when it comes to the future of the climate, I think having more of these conversations more incentive for individuals to change their habits, that is definitely critical. We also see headlines on a regular basis, I was just looking on CTV News. And I saw this headline a few days ago, Ontario, researchers create chemical compounds that can neutralize COVID-19. This is amazing research that's being done here in Toronto. However, if you get a little bit further down in the article, you see that it's going to take a couple of years for this technology to come to market. So perhaps a little too late. But we again, we do a great job in this country in terms of research in the space of technology. And we're always innovating. It's just that extra step to get it out there into the public. Okay,
Dan Seguin 10:55
that being said, what does the future of technology look like as we embark on a journey to evolve our energy resources to a netzero future by 2050?
Amber Mac 11:07
Well, I think that 2021 has actually been a pretty ugly year in the world of technology, in some ways, probably not specific to the energy sector. But if we look at some of the big tech companies of today, I think what we've seen is that many of the leaders in that space perhaps lack the vision or the commitment to put things like climate, front and center. And so what I'm hoping for, and I hope this isn't just wishful thinking, is that we see more technology companies, but more specifically leaders who focus on being responsible when it comes to the evolution of technology to help people and and help out a larger population of people. It can't always be about profit, we have to also be focusing on purpose first. Now, if I want to say there's a silver lining there, I think maybe it's the next generation of leaders in the sense that I do believe that they are much more savvy about the future of the planet, and they have energy concerns already, even my 12 year old. And so I believe that next generation has a better possibility of being the leaders of tomorrow that we need to develop technology to make this planet a healthier place.
Dan Seguin 12:20
Now, Amber, based on your knowledge of technology and societal change. What are people looking for in tech? Like, what do they need?
Amber Mac 12:31
Well, how long do you have because I would say one of the things I've learned after almost 20 years in this industry, is that there aren't really that many of us who are out there and have made careers of demystifying technology. I've been fortunate to be able to do that. And I assumed by this point in my career, that there would be, you know, dozens of people who would flock to this job, so to speak in Canada, but there really aren't that many people. And I think what we see today is that Canadians, as individuals have more and more questions all the time about how technology can improve their lives. And I always believe that individuals are hungry and excited about doing the right thing when it comes to technology choices for themselves for the planet. But I do think that a lot of people are confused about what technology to choose. And I do think some technology companies haven't done a great job of demystifying technology to explain how it works, you know, heat pumps, again, if we can go back to that. I mean, that's a great example, a lot of people don't understand exactly how heat pumps actually work to both potentially cool and warm your house. So we have to do a better job. And maybe it's the responsibility of the technology companies. But there probably also is a role for our governments at all three levels to play when it comes to communicating the technology that can make our lives better, and again, can help us in this climate fight.
Dan Seguin 13:55
Now, where do you think the direction of smart technology and devices are going? Is it AI? Autonomous or something unexpected?
Amber Mac 14:07
Well, I think one of the most exciting trends that we're seeing in this space in terms of the future of technology is around the topic of automation. That, of course includes many AI systems. And so when we think about automation at large, I know people worry that this could potentially impact jobs, which it likely will to some extent, but there is a role in the future for automation to be able to play via a significant player in healthcare is one example. You know, just think about all of the research we've seen over the past few years with AI technology that can help to diagnose things like breast cancer more efficiently even then, the human eye. And so I think if we look at the potential of the future AI and automation is probably going to have the biggest impact on our society, it will be beneficial, but we also have to be prepared as a society in terms of having the skills to be able to thrive in the age of automation, knowing again, that some jobs may be at risk.
Dan Seguin 15:07
Are there any Canadian innovations or technologies that have captured your attention?
Amber Mac 15:15
Well, over the years, I've been lucky enough to keep an eye on to some of the top technology companies in the country and even interview some of those founders in the early days. And I would say that there are some bright stars when it comes to categories like fin tech, in the software and E commerce space. I mean, it's hard to have a conversation about technology changing the world without mentioning Ottawa based Shopify. So these are the type of companies that I've kept an eye on. But I do believe that we should be talking about having dozens of Shopifys in our society in terms of what Canadians have the potential to do in the future. So for me, there are sort of glimmers of hope, as far as the innovation that's happening in the tech sector. But I do think we can have to do a better job of the commercialization of some of that technology. And I don't think you have to move to the states anymore, like I did in 1999, to be able to succeed, I think you can have a global technology company that is built and successful right here at home.
Dan Seguin 16:18
Okay, Amber, what do you think the next generation, millennials, or Gen Z's can teach us about technology, or the environment?
Amber Mac 16:31
Well, you know, I think that I would probably look further to Gen Z. I'm not giving up on Millennials just yet. But you know, millennials are getting older. And I think Gen Z tends to be this more exciting category of young people that have grown up with idols out there like Greta Thunberg, and who have said that, hey, this is a fight that we are prepared to fight, we want our parents to fight it, we want our government to fight it, we want our teachers to fight it. And there are activists like us going out there and fighting it. So I am probably most excited about Generation Z in terms of their potential to be able to actually make changes in the world in the future when they come into positions of power. At the same time, I'm hesitant to put the weight of climate on this young generation of kids who maybe haven't had a chance to really be kids, because they've had both the reality of dealing with the COVID 19 pandemic and the realities of dealing with a burning planet that have been basically sitting on their doorstep for so long. So it concerns me a little bit in terms of the pressure we put on them. But I do believe that we're going to see some exciting leaders come out of that generation.
Dan Seguin 17:43
Now thinking of your best selling book, is it still possible to outsmart your kids online, or when it comes to technology in general?
Amber Mac 17:54
I probably am one of those authors. I've written two best selling books and and I always tell people don't buy my books, because they're outdated after a year. We'll be honest about these conversations in terms of what is possible, you know, I wrote power friending, a best seller in 2010. And that was all about the potential of the internet to be this magical place to bring people together. And then all of a sudden, I see algorithms dividing us and being a threat to democracy. And I think wow, you know, I really was kind of naive, with outsmarting your kids online, I think it is possible for adults in the room to be able to have a good handle on what's happening in the technology space. But I probably am less optimistic than when I wrote that book in terms of adults being able to outsmart their kids because they're growing up again with this technology at their fingertips. And they're not naive about the impacts of that technology as well.
Dan Seguin 18:50
Now, I know you've done some research on EVs, electric vehicles, what are the biggest challenges for mass adoption? Does the social need exist finally, to make them a success?
Amber Mac 19:05
I certainly know that there are many people in Canada who are EV specialists whose knowledge is well beyond where I'm at. But the question I constantly have over and over again, is the infrastructure question, I had a chance to listen to some past episodes of your podcast. And I know that you have talked about this a number of times as far as what infrastructure is in place, and even what roles do governments especially municipal governments play as far as that infrastructure and the construction industry and beyond? So, from my perspective, one of the issues that I see is that there's an assumption from some people that every Canadian has a driveway and a garage where they can put these EVs. Now I live in downtown Toronto right off Queen Street. In a detached home. I don't have a driveway. We don't have a parking spot. I am the perfect EV buyer. And yet I cannot actually legitimately have an EV because I don't have a place to plug it in. And I think we're very slowly rolling out the infrastructure even in on the highways in Ontario, I know there have have been some movement to be able to have EV chargers, and some of the on route stops, and we're doing more and more, but it just feels like we're kind of trickling out these solutions is not happening fast enough. So my biggest complaint would be from an infrastructure standpoint, we at some point have to make it possible in the next few years for every single person who needs to plug in an electric vehicle to be able to plug it in, or else we're never gonna meet the goals that we want to meet. And it won't be realistic, that people have that choice that we think that they have right now.
Dan Seguin 20:44
Okay, so on a personal note, are you looking for an EV? And if so, what is your criteria to take the plunge?
Amber Mac 20:53
I would have bought an electric vehicle years ago, if I had some place to plug it in. The reality of my situation is that I just don't have the infrastructure to be able to do that. Now, on a street, one street over from us in downtown Toronto, there now is, I believe one or two chargers that have been put up as a test pilot in the city where people can charge their cars. It's just that's just not enough. You know, we have dozens and dozens of houses on on my street alone. And most people aren't going to walk over a street and then fight for two charging spots. So my desire to own an electric vehicle, unfortunately, is hindered by the reality of a total infrastructure failure. And I'm not sure how we're going to be able to do better if we don't react quickly in the near future.
Dan Seguin 21:43
What sort of smart tech do you have in your home? Does energy efficiency factor into your buying decision when it comes to your home?
Amber Mac 21:53
Well, one of the things that I've really been focused on in 2021, and as part of my company, Amber Mac media, we've committed to this in 2022, is that we're going to be focused more and more on sustainable tech. And even in 2020, and 2019. We actually bought this house I mentioned before, in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and we did an entire makeover of 140 year old historic home and turn it into a smart home. And it was a really fun project to be able to do this because we were able to focus on sustainable tech. So we have everything in the home from heat pumps, to smart thermostats to energy efficient faucets. And so at almost every level and every point of purchase in the home, we made a decision based on the sustainability factor. Now most Canadians are not going to have maybe the luxury to do it at that level. But let's face it, there's lots of sustainable tech out there. And I do believe more and more, especially as people spend more time at home, that that is going to be something that is driving their decision making. And that's why I am pushing and committing more to this in the next year and years ahead.
Dan Seguin 23:06
Next step up aren't Net Zero homes or renewable home generation are those on your radar?
Amber Mac 23:13
They absolutely are. And I think when we think about the term net zero homes, I mean, all of it is so exciting. And there's so many incredible innovations in this space. At the same time, we have an affordability crisis when it comes to homes in this country. And one of the things that I just don't want to see in the future. And I have to also try to avoid this as someone who covers the sector is to push for solutions that aren't equitable. And so when we think about the future of say, a net zero home, we want that to be something that could be a possibility for every Canadian. And yet right now we have so many issues in terms of that affordability piece that make that almost an impossibility. So we have a long way to go on that front. And it will be exciting when we see the possibility for every homeowner to be able to afford to buy sustainable tech, whether it's because of government rebates, or companies developing technology that just isn't as expensive as what we're seeing today.
Dan Seguin 24:15
Now, this is top of mind for a lot of people. What's your take on remote work? Is it here to stay?
Amber Mac 24:24
Oh, boy. Okay, so I am just fascinated on a daily basis about this topic. Because I'm looking at the research I'm reading what people are saying, in cities and in rural areas all over the world. And all signs points pretty much in the same direction that even if people can safely go back to work a lot of people especially parents, and families, they do not want to go back into an office five days a week. And yet at the same time, I do often talk to people who were who are leaders in the business community Who are so convinced and maybe blinded by, you know what they're hearing that people want to be in the office, it's important for collaboration. You know, we have a small team here, but I have one woman who's worked for us for a couple of years, who I've only seen twice, probably face to face during pandemic times, a woman who works for us in Cape Breton, who I really have maybe only met once in person. I mean, remote work for so many of us in the tech sector has been a reality for decades. And so I think this is an exciting trend that we need to embrace, especially when we think about the future of the planet and commute times and, and the habit that reeks on the world. And I think people are naive to think that most people want to go into a little cubicle with fluorescent lights and spend their days there.
Dan Seguin 25:47
Okay, aside from a cubicle, what are the barriers for it to become the norm after this pandemic?
Amber Mac 25:55
Well, I think one of the most important things that we need to be able to tackle when it comes to the future of remote work is that we need leaders who believe that this is important to the future of their company, or important to the future of recruiting people or the planet, we need leaders who are able to understand one key thing and that key thing is trust. And you have to believe that you can build trust in a virtual environment, I am the first person to say I do think that that is possible. It does take some effort. And it does take some work to do just that. But I think we're naive, again, to think that it is only face to face relationships that can be effective and help to grow a business. I think there are many benefits of remote work that leaders need to embrace. But those leaders who tend to often not embrace remote work, I find they tend to be the leaders who are a little more power hungry. And I like the idea of everybody under one roof. So that can keep an eye on what people are doing. But that is not the way to rule, especially if you're trying to recruit young millennials, or generation Z.
Dan Seguin 27:01
Okay, I'm curious, what tech can't You Live Without when you work remotely?
Amber Mac 27:06
I love that question. So I have this theory that has not been tested. But I have a theory that your virtual work setup. So kind of what we're doing right now is much more important than people think when it comes to things like virtual video, whether it's a zoom call, or a team's call, or you're doing a television interview, whatever that might be. The technology that I can't live without is really that technology that allows me to create a frictionless experience when I'm talking to someone through video, that means I don't have audio issues, or no lighting issues. I'm not you know, in a dark corner of my room where you can't see me and you think I look sketchy and you don't trust me, all of those things that we can do with technology to be able to build trust in this virtual environment. I think we underestimate the potential of those. So the technology that I can't live without, whether it's here in my studio or at home, it's just some basic tech, like a ring light for my desk, USB microphone, those things that help again, with this virtual environment and have made the pandemic a little bit easier because we've been able to build those relationships more efficiently.
Dan Seguin 28:17
Going through your list of accomplishments, Amber, and there are many, what is something you want to accomplish that you haven't yet?
Amber Mac 28:27
Well, I have a lot of things that I want to do in the future. And, you know, I've been in the tech sector for a while now. And I'm excited to continue to demystify technology for Canadians and people around the world. But there are things that I do want to focus on beyond the technology sector. One of those things, perhaps has nothing to do at all with technology. But I've just celebrated my 20th Sober anniversary where I haven't had a drink of alcohol and 20 years. And I do believe that there's this movement that's happening right now with people who have chosen to abstain from alcohol for one reason or another. I'm kind of excited to eventually to create a community around those people. Because I grew up in a place in rural Prince Edward Island where not drinking wasn't a choice. And I do want to show that next generation that there are plenty of people who've chosen sobriety who have been successful, and that we do exist out there. So it's not the right choice for everyone to choose to drink.
Dan Seguin 29:22
Now the energy sector is looking to attract more women in STEM science, tech, engineering and mathematics. What advice would you give companies and or decision makers?
Amber Mac 29:34
Well, it's interesting. I've been doing a little bit of work with actual which is based in Ottawa. Their CEO Jennifer Flanagan is an incredible resource in terms of understanding how we can get the next generation especially young girls interested in STEM and and through our conversations. I've learned many things that perhaps I wasn't aware about in the past and one of those things is often retaining women in the technology sector. If there's a big hurdle to do that, because often they feel as though they're not really accepted, or they don't feel comfortable, you know, they're in an environment where there aren't a lot of other women. So I think it's important for leaders to understand how important it is to create a culture in your organization that really embraces this idea of having a diverse workforce. And that includes, of course, gender diversity. And I think especially in the tech sector, we haven't done a really great job of that within most organizations. So that's kind of a first step. And there, there's some really great work happening right now to teach young girls about embracing technology and careers in technology. But we still have a long way to go. One of the things that Jennifer had said to me recently, is that oftentimes, boys actually choose technology as extra curricular activity. So they may do after school robotics classes, and they tend to sort of have an edge when they get out of school when it comes to having embraced technology. So there are things that we can do to encourage that next generation to get interested. And that means having more and more programs that expose young girls to technology as an option, even just as a hobby so that they develop interest in that space.
Dan Seguin 31:15
Now, how about you close us off with some rapid fire questions? Are you ready?
Amber Mac 31:21
I am ready. Let's do it.
Dan Seguin 31:23
Okay, Amber, what is your favorite word? What's my favorite word?
Amber Mac 31:28
Dan Seguin 31:29
What is the one thing you can't live without Amber?
Amber Mac 31:33
One thing that I can't live with out, I don't want to say obvious things like my family. But I will say my whip band. I love my whip. And I love seeing my daily stats and data around my health.
Dan Seguin 31:44
What is something that challenges you?
Amber Mac 31:48
Twitter? Not that it's hard for me to use Twitter. It's just hard not to reply to some people.
Dan Seguin 31:55
Now, if you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Amber Mac 32:00
Dan Seguin 32:04
If you could turn back time now and talk to your 18 year old self? What would you tell her?
Amber Mac 32:10
I would probably tell my 18 year old self that all was going to be okay. And the lessons I learned as a young child growing up in rural Prince Edward Island, were going to come in very, very handy in the real world.
Dan Seguin 32:27
And lastly, Amber, what do you currently find most interesting in the technology sector.
Amber Mac 32:35
I am a very curious person. And so there are so many things that I find interesting in the technology sector. But the thing I probably find the most interesting right now in terms of what's happening in this the future is the push for businesses to be more socially responsible. And it's going to be fascinating in 2022, to see how that pans out, you know, some people believe who are in the business world, that a company's only purpose is to actually create profit for individuals and the company at large. But I think what we're going to see in the future is that businesses in the tech space are going to have more responsibility than simply creating profits. So there's going to be some who struggle with this, but there are some that will embrace this and see it as almost a superpower for success.
Dan Seguin 33:25
Now, Amber, we've reached the end of another episode of the thinkenergy podcast. I'd like to thank you very much for joining us today. I hope you had a lot of fun.
Amber Mac 33:34
I had so much fun. Thanks so much for having me.
Dan Seguin 33:37
Until next time, I'm Dan Seguin. Thanks for tuning in for another episode of The think energy podcast. Don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review where ever you're listening. And to find out more about today's guests or previous episodes, visit thinkenergypodcast.com I hope you'll join us again next time as we spark even more conversations about the energy of tomorrow.