Phil De Luna: Using technology, policy, and finance to create climate change solutions

A man using a microscope
For Phil De Luna (MSc ‘15), a scientist and research capitalist working to advance climate technology, curiosity has always been a core component of his life. Phil explains that his job as a scientist is to be professionally curious—to experiment and understand what happens when we change things and interact with the world.

Phil was the latest guest on uOttaKnow, a podcast that shares thought-provoking conversations with uOttawa alumni and researchers from around the world. Hosted by Gwen Madiba (MA ’12; BSocSc ’08), the theme of season five is curiosity.

Among the research skills, mentorship, and social network Phil developed while earning his master’s at uOttawa, Phil credits curiosity for getting him to where he is in his impressive career. Here are some of the highlights from his conversation with Gwen.

Crafting a career at the intersection of interests

Phil has accomplished so much early in his career. Among other achievements, the uOttawa alumnus built and led a $57 million research and development project on Canada-made transformative climate technologies for the National Research Council of Canada, was an entrepreneur and mentor for startups, and is currently a sustainability expert with McKinsey & Company.

Through these diverse experiences, Phil has remained true to his desire to work at the intersection of technology, policy, and finance. In taking on roles that span all three sectors, Phil says he’s better able to translate the lessons and experiences from one space into another to create comprehensive climate solutions that actually work.

Take the goal of reducing emissions in the construction sector. Turning that goal into reality requires a combination of technology, policy, and financial expertise. Researchers may need to develop a new technology that makes steel in a way that produces less carbon dioxide emissions. The research and commercialization of that product may take a lot of capital expenditures, which is where finance comes into play. And finally, none of this may happen without national policies to nudge behaviours—for instance, building standards that require certain construction components be made of low carbon steel.

Phil has intentionally taken on opportunities that focus on all three levers of change—technology policy, and finance—which he thinks has enabled his work to have the greatest impact. 

Staying hopeful during a climate crisis

Making a meaningful difference in the fight against climate change takes time, and we don’t necessarily have a lot of that.

But Phil is optimistic that we have the knowledge to develop the technology that could remove and prevent more carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. What he’s more concerned about is the slow pace of government policies and budgets.

Phil sees real promise and potential in the private sector, where more and more companies are realizing that sustainability is important for their fundamental existence. Just as companies had to get on board with digital transformation, he predicts the same will happen with the need to incorporate sustainability into core business practices.

Another source of hope for Phil is the climate advocacy led by young people. Encouraging more young people to get involved in politics and advocacy was one of the reasons Phil ran as a candidate for the Green Party of Canada in the 2021 federal election. He ran with the premise of bringing more science and diversity to politics, and posted video diaries on YouTube throughout his campaign to make the political process as open and transparent as possible for other young people.

With a range of projects underway and the burgeoning sustainability space, we’re sure this won’t be the last time we hear about Phil’s important work. Listen to the full conversation with him here.