Opinion: Where the smart money is

CIBC’s green guru directs millions of dollars from Ottawa

I’ve had the good fortune of meeting many very smart individuals in the clean tech and sustainability sectors from around the world. Among them is Don Roberts, who stands out as one of the brightest and most knowledgeable in the field.

By Marc McArthur.

If you know Mr. Roberts and his background, this would not be surprising. What may likely surprise many is that he is not based in Silicon Valley, New York or in Europe. Mr. Roberts lives right here in Ottawa, primarily for family reasons.

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He is an economist and a well-recognized global thought leader in the fields of bio-energy and forest products. He is also vice-chairman of renewable energy and clean technology at CIBC. In 2009, Mr. Roberts led the development of the bank’s business plan in the clean technology sector. Three years later, CIBC is ranked No. 1 in Canada and among the top five in North America in providing project debt financing to renewable energy projects.

In 2012 alone, CIBC lent $600 million to the sector towards a total of $3 billion in financing. Since 2009, the bank has also raised $2.2 billion in public and private equity for clean-tech companies and advised on the purchase or sale of assets worth $20 billion in the sector.

So where is CIBC placing its clean-tech bets?

The bank is active in providing financial services in all the relatively mature markets such as wind, solar and hydro. However, Mr. Roberts and his team have a particularly keen focus on energy efficiency, water, waste-to-energy and green chemistry. For those that follow the sector, this speaks volumes.

On the flip side, Mr. Roberts says he is wary of the current economics and state of development around carbon capture and storage, wave and tidal energy technologies.

CIBC acts as an agent for private equity financing deals, which are rarely less than $20 million or earlier than a series-C round, and for public equity offerings. It also acts as a participant or arranger in project financing deals worth more than $50 million, as well as a mergers and acquisitions adviser.

In Ottawa, CIBC co-led the latest pre-IPO private placement for local clean-tech firm Ensyn, and Mr. Roberts was responsible for bringing in Brazil’s Fibria, the largest pulp company in the world, as lead investor. CIBC is also working with other Ottawa clean-tech companies that it cannot name.

Having an individual of Mr.  Roberts’s calibre and network – CIBC’s clients include significant venture investors in the sector as well as large industrial clients that require environmentally friendly solutions – in Ottawa is an important asset to the city’s clean-tech community.

So where is the smart money? It’s likely where Mr. Roberts is.


Marc McArthur is president of Crosstaff Consulting Inc. He can be reached at mmcarthur@crosstaffsolutions.com.

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