Climate and environmental action

Carbon neutral from 2021. Net zero by 2050. 

Sun Life is committed to being part of the climate solution. We cannot achieve our Purpose without serious action to address climate change and support the transition to a low-carbon economy. 

Our approach

Guided by ambitious targets and plans, we’re intensifying our actions to limit climate change and steward a more sustainable environment, society and economy. With $1.4 trillion in AUM1 and 50,000 employees and 118,000 advisors globally (as of Dec 31, 2021), Sun Life is positioned to have a meaningful impact on the global goals of the Paris Agreement and the critical transition to a low-carbon economy. Refer to Sustainable Investing for more details on our sustainable investment approach, including the ways we’re supporting this transition. 

We support the goal of the Paris Agreement to limit global temperature increase in this century to well below 2 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. To help achieve this future, we have set the following goals and targets:

  • Net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 for both our investments and operations, with interim targets to be announced in 2022.
  • An interim target of a 50% absolute reduction of GHG emissions in our operations by 2030, relative to 2019. This target includes emissions reductions from Sun Life’s offices and corporate travel. 

We achieved CarbonNeutral®2 company certification across our operations globally in 2021 and remain committed to maintaining this status in future years. Our commitment has two components:

  • First and foremost, we continue to invest in measures that reduce our emissions such as energy efficiency projects.
  • For any outstanding operational emissions, we purchase credits from independently verified carbon offset projects in regions where we operate.

These commitments build upon Sun Life’s previous goal of reducing GHG emissions intensity by 30% across corporate real estate and investment properties. Our new operations target aligns with the latest climate science to ensure we are doing our part to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. In 2019, we met our goal to reduce GHG emissions intensity 20% by 20203 relative to a 2014 baseline one year ahead of schedule.

As an asset owner, Sun Life plans to achieve net-zero GHG emissions in its general account, which holds funds from insurance policy premiums. The general account is managed by SLC Management, Sun Life’s fixed income and alternatives asset management firm. Sun Life’s other asset management companies are contributing to net-zero efforts through participation in the Net Zero Asset Managers initiative. These companies include: MFS Investment Management (MFS), SLGI Asset Management Inc. (SLGI Asset Management) and SLC Management affiliates BentallGreenOak (BGO) and InfraRed Capital Partners (InfraRed). Learn more in Sustainable Investing.

Our climate action plans – with additional interim targets to be announced in 2022 – will act as a roadmap to 2030 and set the foundation for our work to 2050. Although some data and technology needed to achieve net zero does not yet exist, we intend to be part of the solution – investing in new technology and working with Clients and investees to generate the data needed for decision making.

We’re working to understand and address potential climate change risks to our business overall. For example, we have been gaining experience with climate change scenario analysis and stress testing. And we assess the potential effects of various climate change-related impacts on our office locations and investment properties. These include storms and flash floods that we expect to become more frequent and intense. Each year, we update our business continuity plans to ensure key business functions and normal operations can resume effectively and efficiently should a major disruption occur (including but not limited to an extreme weather event).

We review environmental risks within Sun Life’s Risk Management Framework (RMF). Our RMF outlines our risk management process for how we identify, measure, manage, monitor and report current and emerging risks. Learn more in Risk Management and in our Annual Report.

As a long-term investor, we are also working to address the climate emergency. We invest proactively in assets and businesses that support the transition to a lower-carbon economy. Examples include renewable energy, energy efficiency, sustainable buildings and clean transportation. In our asset management businesses, we consider environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks as part of our investment decision-making process. ESG risks include the physical and transition risks that climate change poses. Read more about our Sustainable Investing approach.

We’re adapting our facilities and operations to a changing climate, including through enhanced risk management and building and infrastructure retrofits. Proactively, we examine ways to build climate resilience and human wellness features into our corporate and investment real estate portfolios.

  • We have built a sustainability assessment process into all aspects of our corporate real estate operations in North America. New sustainability scorecards for major sites in North America and Ireland are measuring how well facilities are performing against LEED®4, WELL5 and Fitwel, as well as an Energy Efficiency Score. The scorecard covers the entire lifecycle of buildings, from building the space, through ongoing operations, then decommissioning.
 
  • We developed a proprietary climate resilience tool (BentallGreenOak) to prepare asset-level climate adaptation plans. The tool we use to prepare the assessments combines industry research, on-the-ground surveying, predictive climate modelling, and adaptive algorithms. From the assessment, we provide our property and asset management teams with specific asset-level climate adaptation plans.

While impact is modest given the nature of our business, we continue to drive sustainable practices around water, paper and waste management in our operations. Our aim is to be a paperless company in our internal operations by 2030. We’re on the way to achieving that.

We continue to improve waste diversion efforts across our global footprint. And we’re reducing the use of plastics and other materials that pose environmental problems. Water use in our operations is minimal. We’ve reduced use where possible; for example, we use low-flow faucets and toilets in our offices, and in some cases, recycled water.

Strong governance and clear lines of accountability help us deliver on our environmental commitments and remain accountable to our stakeholders.

  • The Governance, Investment and Conduct Review Committee of the Board of Directors provides oversight of Sun Life’s net-zero goal.
 
  • Our Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) is accountable to ensure the company meets its sustainability commitments and advocates for strong government policies and regulations that support a lower-carbon, more inclusive economy. These efforts are supported by the sustainability team.
 
  • Our International Sustainability Council (ISC) drives the implementation of Sun Life’s sustainability plan and is chaired by our CSO. This plan integrates environmental considerations and actions, including those addressing climate change.
 
  • We have a dedicated senior executive steering committee that guides our implementation of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) recommendations.
 
  • We reward performance on goals related to our GHG reduction targets and other environmental achievements.
 
  • Employees play an important role in reducing negative environmental effects of our offices and other work settings. We engage employees on environmental matters and empower them to take more sustainable actions. We encourage this behaviour, whether they’re in the workplace or working from home.

We closely monitor our environmental programs to track progress against our targets. We commit to transparent reporting and strengthening our climate disclosures:

  • We report on a number of key performance indicators including sustainable investments and GHG emissions annually in our Sustainability Report.
 
  • We have disclosed GHG emissions to CDP since 2010.
 
  • In our Annual Report, we provide disclosures guided by the recommendations of the TCFD. TCFD recommendations support calls for a collective increase in reliable climate-related financial disclosures – an important step in ensuring greater understanding of the financial implications of climate change for greater market stability and transparency. We support the actions of regulators to require TCFD-aligned reporting.

Sun Life is committed to advocacy and collaboration with governments, regulators, investors and industry leaders to develop supportive net-zero programs and policies that pave a path towards decarbonization. For example, Sun Life participated in a climate scenario analysis pilot project with the Bank of Canada and the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI), our prudential regulator in Canada. The pilot aimed to help us better understand the risks to the financial system related to a transition to a low-carbon economy. We welcomed the opportunity to share our experience, develop management capabilities and help build a better understanding of potential climate risks. 

Goals

  • 50% absolute reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in our operations by 2030, relative to 20196

    New – effective in 2022

  • Net-zero GHG emissions by 2050 for our global operations. We set a net-zero goal for investments as well.

    New – established in 2021

  • Carbon neutral operations globally from 20217

    Achieved CarbonNeutral®8 company certification in 2021

2021 highlights

  • Nominal increase of 0.3% in GHG emissions intensity9 across our offices and real estate investment properties globally
  • 4.7% reduction in energy use intensity

Learn more about our progress and performance in our 2021 Sustainability Report and ESG Performance Tables.

Net zero by 2050: Taking action to stay within 1.5°C

2021 was a pivotal year for climate action, with the Glasgow Climate Pact reached by nearly 200 nations. At Sun Life, we announced our own ambitious new goal: to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Learn more

Recognition

Energy Star Award 2021: Partner of the Year, Sustained Excellence Energy Star Award 2021: Partner of the Year, Sustained Excellence

For the 11th consecutive year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded BentallGreenOak with the ENERGY STAR® Partner of the Year–Sustained Excellence award. This award recognizes our leadership in energy management and achievements in reducing the environmental footprint of the Company’s portfolio. 

2021 Energy Star High Efficiency: Building of the Year, Commercial 2021 Energy Star High Efficiency: Building of the Year, Commercial

Sun Life’s Waterloo King building won the 2021 ENERGY STAR® Canada Awards for the Commercial Building of the Year. The awards recognize organizations that offer Canadians the most energy-efficient products and technology available on the market.

Environmental-related commitments and memberships

1 Comprises general fund assets, segregated funds, mutual funds, managed funds and other AUM.

2 CarbonNeutral® is a registered trademark of Natural Capital Partners Europe Limited and is achieved in accordance with The CarbonNeutral Protocol, the leading global framework for carbon neutrality.

3 We used a rolling base year approach to track cumulative savings that account for acquisitions and divestments.

4 LEED® – an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design™. It’s a registered trademark of the U.S. Green Building Council®. The Canada Green Building Council is the sole license holder for the LEED® trademark in Canada.

5 WELL™ – The WELL Building Standard™, delivered by International WELL Building Institute™, is a global rating focused exclusively on the ways that buildings, and everything in them, can improve comfort, drive better choices, and generally enhance, not compromise, our health and wellness.

6 Includes emissions reductions from Sun Life’s offices and corporate travel.

7 Includes the offices of MFS and SLC Management affiliates (BentallGreenOak, InfraRed Capital Partners and Crescent Capital Group).

8 SLC Management, Crescent and MFS are participating.

Sun Life calculates GHG emissions intensity annually and reports cumulatively versus the 2014 baseline. This includes GHG emissions resulting from energy, water, and waste (where weight data exists), and normalized to remove the impact of changing weather, occupancy and exceptional loads, for Real Estate Investment properties where Sun Life has financial control, and global Corporate Real Estate properties >40,000 ft² where Sun Life has financial control. Reported emissions account for the purchase of renewable energy credits and carbon offsets (market-based reporting).