Sun Life Financial Shines a Light on Sustainability

Executive Vice-President, Chief Legal Officer & Public Affairs, Sun Life Financial

Each year Canadian consumers, investors and employees are placing a greater focus on corporate sustainability. Sun Life Financial – a leading international financial services organization – conducted client research in Canada that found corporate sustainability is having a greater impact on a company’s success attracting and retaining clients.

Sun Life operates in 26 countries and provides insurance, health benefits, wealth and asset management solutions to its clients including small- and medium-sized businesses. The company views its sustainability focus as a key differentiator in a competitive marketplace and its 34,000 employees agree.

“Sustainability is fundamentally the right thing to do and it’s something our internal and external stakeholders care about,” says Melissa Kennedy, Executive Vice-President, Chief Legal Officer & Public Affairs with Sun Life. Kennedy is responsible for the company’s enterprise legal, compliance, corporate secretarial and public affairs functions around the world.

Four key pillars define Sun Life’s sustainability strategy: environmental responsibility, community wellness, governance and risk management, and organizational resilience.

“The organizational resilience pillar is quite unique to Sun Life. It includes priorities such as our client focus, talent management, and diversity and inclusion,” says Kennedy.

The company is a leader on the diversity and inclusion front. For example, 36 percent of Sun Life’s Board members were women as of December 31, 2017. The company’s senior management team is also approaching the 35 percent female benchmark (the senior management gender breakdown is often viewed as a more significant measure of diversity than overall employee measurement. Board measurement is extremely important, as that is tone from the very top).

Insurance companies are typically large-scale investors and Sun Life incorporates an environmental, social and governance (ESG) perspective into its investment decision-making. In fact, Sun Life has nearly $1 billion invested in clean and renewable energy projects in Canada and the U.S., which brings its total portfolio in this sector to an amazing $5 billion.

Kennedy notes that green investing originally gained momentum in Northern European countries such as the Netherlands and Norway. Hopefully Canada is not far behind.

Some of Sun Life’s other achievements in sustainability and environmental responsibility include:

  • Committed to targets for reducing GHG emissions intensity by 20 percent by 2020 and 30 percent by 2030 (relative to a 2014 baseline) and achieved a 14.7 percent decrease as of the end of 2017
  • Committed to a target for reducing paper consumption by 30 percent by 2020 for North America (relative to a 2014 baseline) and realized a 15 percent reduction in 2017. Sun Life’s goal is to be a fully paperless organization by the year 2030
  • Decreased global energy use intensity by 5 percent from 2015 to 2017

As a recognized leader in sustainability herself, Kennedy believes strongly that all global businesses will need to factor sustainability into their long-term strategies on many fronts.

“Sustainability is a big deal for talent attraction, especially for potential employees that are Millennials. These individuals want to know that the organization they work for is aligned with their own values – so this helps Sun Life attract and retain the best talent, which we are grateful for.”

More information on Sun Life’s sustainability initiatives can be found on its website at