Clean Intentions

How John Adams became an expert in clean technology in order to make Canada—and the world at large—a better place to live

Every time he sits down to work, John Adams thinks about his love of creation, as well as his passion for making things grow. It’s the kind of passion that makes work more like play. While Adams and his husband have no children of their own, their family and friends have many. So when he sees those kids growing into young adults in a world dealing with climate change, he knows his innovative work for the environment will make a contribution to their well-being.

Today, Adams enjoys channeling his efforts into clean technology, or “cleantech”—a field that in his time at the University of Toronto was known as environmental science. Twenty-plus years later, he has culled a body of work reflective not only of cleantech’s many dimensions, but the multifaceted ways needed to slowly but surely bring it to the forefront. The main way to bring cleantech to the forefront, he says, is through trusted interpersonal relationships.

“I believe that every decision you make has to work with a long-term perspective to develop and maintain a positive and trusted relationship,” Adams says of his efforts. “Throughout my career, I’ve worked with many CEOs to build public private innovation funds, grow their company revenues, and develop national cleantech partnerships. In every case, you have to have a knowledge and an understanding of their side and objectives—it’s all an important lesson in working cooperatively.”

Adams stresses that it takes time to establish these types of cooperative relationships. In the end, he says, that means that both sides of the relationship will be able to see the intentions of the other. “Usually, I find you are both faced with something big and challenging from opposite sides of the fence,” he says. “But getting to a resolution through positive morale and cooperation actually makes the partnership so much stronger.”

The executive has also learned how trust needs to be established through means other than technology. “There was one instance during a tough negotiation of a fund I was developing where I got on a plane and met the CEO of the partnering organization in a coffee shop to work through some really sticky points together,” he recalls. “I knew a phone call wouldn’t have been enough. We now have a trusted relationship thanks to that face-to-face meeting.”

Adams gained this knowledge of creative partnerships throughout his career. Initially, he served as a project development manager in sales for a Mississauga company, specializing in custom environmental management programs for large industrial plants. This was followed by management roles for the Canadian infrastructure division of one of the largest general trading companies in Japan, developing renewable power projects which led to executive leadership for a cleantech nonprofit out of Ottawa.

Every one of those jobs offered Adams the opportunity to lead strategies for improved cleantech deal flow, develop higher sales in cleantech, and increase cleantech fundraising for entrepreneurs. In every success story he’s seen, the strength of his relationship and the degree of trust with his clients and partners is what made the difference—always with the right and clearest intentions.

But not just any business relationship will work, says Adams. Companies need to work strategically to gauge partners that will help get the job done with less work but with tangible outcomes.

He once worked with a government industry to develop engagement strategies for improved cleantech cofunding. The opportunity was to harmonize, but the challenge was how they were going to do it. “I had to find a way for two organizations with two boards, two mandates, and two pools of money to integrate with a single process—all with one application that used less paperwork and improved access to entrepreneurs at a higher degree of delivery,” he recalls. “There were a few times we had to move past some differences of opinion, but the experience taught everyone to be flexible in the use of processes by leveraging each other’s expertise and trust.

“I always try to put myself in the mind of my client or my partner,” he says. “Appreciating different perspectives from another organization’s point of view, and putting it ahead of your own, can lead to thinking outside of the box. You’ve got to be open to new ideas and innovate your own thinking.”

Adams may be a tech-oriented kid at heart but he likes to think of the progress of his work in the cleantech industry as his legacy. “My intention is simple—continue to use my passion and creativity in Canada for innovation. I am always so energized with the new ideas and opportunities through my relationships with universities, provinces, industry, and entrepreneurs,” he says. “If I am involved with companies or organizations that deliver real results through innovation into Canada, then work continues to feel like play.”