CEF Spotlight

Thriving in a Low-Carbon Economy: Look for the Opportunities


By Karen Clarke-Whistler, Chief Environment Officer, TD Bank Group

Since the Paris climate talks, terms like the “low-carbon economy” and “carbon pricing” have moved front and centre into boardrooms and business discussions. If countries commit to the goals set out at COP21, how will this impact business? Can companies continue to thrive as consumers face pressure to reduce consumption and energy use? The answer is yes.

Three years ago, TD Economics published a report called “The Greening of the Canadian Economy.” One of the key findings debunked the myth that strong environmental performance is achieved at the expense of economic growth. We were able to demonstrate that the opposite is true. What will drive our transition to a prosperous low-carbon economy is a holistic approach fueled by government environmental policy, eco-efficiency, changing consumer preferences and corporate responsibility.

Today, we are seeing this approach come to life. For the first time since the 1990s, government, business and environmental organizations are working together to build a prosperous low-carbon economy – where the environment and economy can thrive together.

Nearly a decade ago, TD identified climate change as an issue that would ultimately impact the way business is done, as traditional social conventions and economic models would have to adapt to the effects of a changing climate. The decision was made to embed an environmental perspective in the bank’s overall business strategy – an approach aimed at both reducing risk and generating business value. The low-carbon economy has been a key area of focus for TD and it has transformed our business – from our core finance and investing business to the way we design and operate our facilities, and through to our employee engagement.

In 2010, we became the first North American-based carbon neutral bank and since then have invested $38 million in eco-efficiency initiatives, including installing rooftop solar panels and designing branches to be net-zero energy. Despite a 26 per cent growth in occupied space, TD’s total GHG emissions have decreased by 20 per cent since 2008, and we recently became a member of RE100, joining 65 other companies in their commitment to go “100 per cent renewable electricity.”

In a sense we have used our facilities as a ‘living laboratory’ – leveraging our learnings about carbon management to provide product insights to several segments of our finance and investing business.

On the financing side we have invested nearly $10 billion in support of low-carbon business. This includes financing and insurance of small-scale renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, development of a large commercial real estate portfolio comprised of LEED gold and platinum buildings, and our low carbon energy portfolio at around 25 per cent compared to our total energy portfolio. In 2014, we became the first Canadian-based commercial bank to issue a green bond (C$500-million, three-year term) and have since provided over C$2 billion in green bond underwriting. Through these issuances, we have not only raised capital for projects with environmental benefits, but have attracted new institutional investors. On the investing side, our membership in the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment commits us to integrate environmental, social and governance considerations into investment decision-making.

As we look to the next phase of our environmental strategy, we see that the opportunities far outweigh the costs.

  • Smart, livable cities: Today, 54 per cent of the North American population lives in urban areas and this number continues to grow. Economically, successful cities will be those that can attract business and talent. These cities will also be the ‘greenest cities’ with smart infrastructure, public transit and urban green spaces. Public policy will incent homeowners and businesses to change behavior to support energy efficiency and electrification. From a business perspective, the opportunities are enormous.
  • Collaboration: The global environmental challenges that face us today cannot be solved by any one group. This was made evident at the inaugural Canada Bloomberg Sustainable Business Summit held recently in Toronto. More than 20 speakers – from business innovators and urban planners to investors and economists – noted that the transition to a low-carbon economy will take strong action from all levels of society, working top-down and bottom-up.

Today I see more and more businesses viewing climate change through a lens of opportunity. What those opportunities are will be different for every company. For some it’s creating ways to make business operations more efficient; for others it is new products or business models. While government support is critical to facilitating change, it will be business that determines the full scope and pace of transition to a prosperous low-carbon economy.


Karen Clarke-Whistler has been the Chief Environment Officer of TD Bank Group since 2008. As environmental scientist, she spent more than 15 years consulting to a diverse base of clients in North and South America, Europe and Africa prior to joining TD. Karen developed and leads a program that embeds an environmental perspective in TD’s core business strategy and has been instrumental in the bank being recognized as a North American environmental leader and a global climate leader. In 2010 TD became the first North American-based carbon neutral bank and in 2014 the first commercial bank in Canada to issue a green bond. Karen has twice been named one of Canada’s Clean 16 for her “outstanding contribution to clean capitalism.”


Sign up for CEF Newsletter
* = required field