Calgary financier is passionate about putting a price on carbon
Rob Kaczanowski: "You start with an idea, it grows wings and you let it fly.”
by Jonathan Roe
In the 2008 federal election, Liberal leader Stéphane Dion (and his dog Kyoto) built his campaign around the so-called “Green Shift,” an environmental action plan that included a national carbon tax as a method to curb greenhouse gas emissions. And while Dion lost that election, Rob Kaczanowski, a financial analyst who was working in the energy sector at the time, saw an opportunity for a win of his own.
Photograph Bookstrucker; Shot at Devonian Gardens
Dion’s Green Shift-driven campaign came less than a year after the Alberta government adopted a $15-per-tonne carbon tax for industrial polluters above a certain threshold, and at the time it seemed like there was real policy momentum behind the idea of creating a carbon market. As such, Kaczanowksi thought he and his peers could be better informed about the intricacies of carbon financing, be it a tax on carbon or a cap-and-trade program. He was also volunteering with the Calgary CFA Society and had designs of getting on their board, so he brought an idea to the board: a Carbon Finance Conference (CFC) designed to inform the society’s membership and other professionals on the fiscal reality of life in a carbon-constrained world.
“It was a trendy and topical idea,” he says. “Traditionally, carbon was discussed from an environmental or operations perspective.” But as the numbers guys, financial departments had a responsibility to understand the accounting implications of carbon financing. The conference made perfect sense against the backdrop of Calgary’s dense energy sector, and the board embraced the idea.
The now 43-year-old Kaczanowski was the right person to pull it off. After graduating from the University of Alberta in 1995 with a bachelor of commerce degree, he got a job as a corporate finance analyst for TransAlta. After a decade of professional globetrotting – he did a brief stint at a merchant bank in the U.S. before going overseas to work in structured finance in the U.K. – he returned to Calgary to take a job with Enbridge in 2006. By 2009, he had moved into its green energy group. “I had the benefit of working in an industry that was focusing on [carbon financing issues],” he says. “I thought I knew what people wanted to know.”
Planning a conference as big as the CFC was a bold new undertaking for both Kaczanowski and the Calgary CFA Society, so they decided to reach out to a partner who could help back and promote the event. Kaczanowski approached Bruce Graham, the president and CEO of Calgary Economic Development, who saw the benefits the conference could have for Calgary’s energy sector and jumped on board. The next step was securing the funds from sponsors.
“Conferences have to understand people’s needs,” says Kaczanowski. “First you need to convey to sponsors there’s a demand.”
Based on a proposed broad agenda that touched on many aspects of carbon financing, including political policies both provincially and across the border in the U.S., the current and evolving states of carbon markets and investment opportunities in a carbon-constrained world, they raised $35,000 in combined support from such heavyweights as SAP, KPMG, Enbridge, the Macquarie Group, Encana and the Delphi Group.
The process of planning the conference – gathering sponsors and speakers, developing the agenda, booking a venue and finding attendees – took over a year. For Kaczanowski and the other volunteer organizers of the Calgary CFA Society, planning the conference outside their regular work hours was like adding a part-time job to their plate. He says it took at least three conversations with each speaker to convince them to commit. With 25 speakers, that was a huge time burden itself. However, the father of three still found a work-life balance. “I was in a cornfield maze with my kids, north of Calgary, when we received email confirmation from one of our key speakers,” says Kaczanowski. “I was overjoyed, but remained lost in the maze for hours.”
Kaczanowski succeeded in bringing together a group of experts to discuss every aspect of carbon financing, including Janet Peace of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, in Virginia, and Odin Knudsen, a strategic advisor for JP Morgan. Speakers discussed climate change policy, carbon pricing, carbon offsets and low carbon alternatives for capital investments. More than 100 CFAs, academics, government officials and other industry professionals attended the two-day conference at the Telus Convention Centre in October 2010.
“I thought it was very worthwhile and still is today,” says Alberta Liberal MLA David Swann, who spoke about provincial policies on carbon taxes at the conference. “We need to talk about carbon and we need to move into the future and improve our efficiency and reduce our carbon output.”
These days, carbon taxes have been overshadowed by a host of other issues. But despite the issue moving to the backburner politically, the conference achieved its goal of educating the CFA’s membership and other professionals, and Kaczanowski was very happy with the results. “I wanted to be more proactive than reactive,” he says. The Calgary CFA Society clearly agreed – Kaczanowski was named volunteer of the year in 2010 and was appointed to the board as the director of strategic partnerships.
Further, based on the success of the Carbon Finance Conference, the Calgary CFA Society and Calgary Economic Development partnered on the Western Energy Summit in May. The one-day event looked at Western Canada’s role as a player in the global and domestic energy sectors. The summit looked not only at matters related to the province’s bread and butter of oil and natural gas, but at electricity, clean energy and innovations in the sector. Alberta Premier Alison Redford delivered the lunchtime keynote (warmly introduced by former Quebec Premier Jean Charest), once again banging the drum of a national energy strategy and the need for Alberta to gain greater access to more markets. About 200 people took in the event, setting a new bar for Kaczanowski as an event planner.
And after the success of the first CFC, Kaczanowski feels the second one won’t be quite so big of a challenge. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s a big team effort,” he says. “You start with an idea, it grows wings and you let it fly.”