Dr. Vicky Sharpe can claim something many professional women cannot: “I basically follow my passion.”
Sharpe sits on the following boards: QUEST (Quality Urban Energy Systems for Tomorrow), the Alberta Energy Corporation, Carbon Management Canada Inc., and the Temporal Power Ltd. She is also a director on the board of The Capital Markets Regulatory Authority. Sharpe’s goal is to use her background in microbiology and energy to help inspire sustainable practices and encourage funding and investment in clean technologies.
“Board work, in my view, is really rewarding — if you get on the board that is right for you. I wanted to try and create more change.”
Sharpe always had a passion for the outdoors, in particular for the microorganisms that connect it all. These “tiny little simple genetic organisms” could affect so much change. They could digest oils, or remove hydrogen from the air. It was this interest that led her down an impressive and fulfilling career path in sustainability and finance.
She began her career studying science in Bath, U.K. and took her PhD in microbiology, or more specifically surface chemistry as applied to water pollution, at Trent University in Nottingham. She originally moved to Canada because there were more opportunities for women in her field.
“It’s a male-dominated system. In the U.K., I took a higher degree, a PhD, because I knew if I wanted to compete with the men, I had to be more qualified. People forget how hard women worked at that time to be treated equally,” she says. “There were more opportunities for women [in Canada]. It’s more receptive.”
Sharpe began her illustrious career as VP of Ontario Hydro International Inc. She was responsible for a community-based conservation program that helped retrofit homes, commercial buildings, shopping centres, and hotels in a small town with energy efficient technologies. The idea was for Hydro to become as utility energy efficient as possible. “There was a 90 per cent uptake in people taking at least one product that would be beneficial,” she says. “That was the highest level of adoption by society of energy efficiency.”
While at Ontario Hydro, Sharpe was involved with Women in Science and Engineering (WISE). She would travel to schools and talk with kids between the ages of five and eight about careers in science and technology. She also informally mentors women and helps connect them to other decision-makers. “I actually have taken some heavy hits working to support employment equity,” she says. “At the time there was a lot of negativity about that [but] I integrate it into my life. I give them advice. We all need help. I had great people who help me.”
One of Sharpe’s other big accomplishments is the founding of Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), an organization she helped run as CEO for 13 years. She describes the SDTC as an “unusual organization” that was created through an act of parliament as a response to the Canadian Climate Change Commitment in the late 1990s. Through this organization, she helped find and negotiate agreements with clean technology companies and start-ups. In total, she mobilized over $5 billion for clean tech companies in Canada.
“It’s so exciting to see these great Canadian companies growing and building, but now – I asked for this in 2006 — we need to get more capital to scale up these companies if we want to be world leading. We are still struggling with that. Investors tend to go with what they are used to.”
Throughout her experience and studies, Sharpe never had any formal training in terms of finances — yet now, she is one of the leading negotiators in the field. “I found I spend a large chunk of my life chasing money for these companies,” she says. “I just learnt it. If you are trying to persuade businesses to be more sustainable, they are designed to optimize financial returns. So if you are presenting opportunities, you have to take that into account.”
Sharpe has a variety of experience, but there is one commonality that drives her. “I have to do something that does an impact,” she says. She won the Purvis Memorial Award in 2016, which is given to those who have made a major contribution to development and strategies in Canadian industry or academia in the field of chemistry.
In the little free time she has, Sharpe does a lot of travelling. Sometimes it is to visit family in the U.K., and other times it’s to better understand a global issue or to use her skills as an amateur wildlife photographer. Travelling and reading helps her reconnect with her love of nature and the environment, and revitalizes her passion for the topic.
“Climate change is in the background and it’s a critical thing to deal with. It’s a threat. I … promote a better understanding of what this is and what it means to people’s lives, both business and personal, and try to influence it for the better because as a society. I don’t think we’ve embraced the positive angles of sustainability,” she says.
“But, when you want people to do stuff, you have to be able to help them do it. There are great Canadian technologies for those who want to build sustainability. They are carrying the torch.”