Our approach to sustainability
As Canada’s leading integrated energy company, we know that, together with our stakeholders, we need to look beyond the energy needs of today and understand what is required for the future. Sustainability is about seeing the big picture and working together towards better, more sustainable solutions.
Martha Hall Findlay, Suncor’s Chief Sustainability Officer, discusses Suncor’s environmental, social and governance performance, net-zero target setting and expanding our low GHG emissions business in this Q&A.
Globally, COVID-19 has been a tremendous challenge, but it’s also been a period of rapid change and transformation. How has this affected sustainability at Suncor and what does world-class ESG performance mean?
While working through the challenges of the pandemic, big, systemic social issues – including Indigenous reconciliation, racism, and climate change – have reached a turning point and are driving more and more companies to act. Suncor has cared about these issues for years, but more recent conversations and events of 2020 and into 2021 have shed an even greater light on the need to do more.
We are a successful energy business and our refreshed strategy combines even better business success and includes addressing these environmental, social and governance (ESG) concerns and opportunities. Our purpose – to deliver trusted energy the world needs while caring for each other and the earth – is an important link between our commitment to sustainability, our strategy and how we respond to these global challenges.
Whether it’s working with Indigenous communities on equity interest opportunities, reducing our GHG emissions, managing our water use or expanding our clean energy offerings, we continue to progress our sustainability performance. We continue to aim for global leadership across all ESG metrics and disclose our progress and challenges – fully and transparently.
You’ve said over the last year that Suncor would declare a net-zero by 2050 target only when until the company had a realistic framework to get there. Can you describe the process and what makes this the right strategy for Suncor?
This year we did a ground-up refresh and review of Suncor’s entire business to develop a concrete – and doable – path forward. A company-wide team, with support and input from Suncor’s Board of Directors, identified areas we have existing expertise that we can leverage – for example in renewable fuels, electricity and hydrogen – alongside ways to improve emissions and costs in our energy business. We also had to meet two key criteria: to earn investor returns bringing value to the business from our existing integrated operations, customer base and internal expertise and continue to reduce emissions and improve our environmental performance.
Our strategy outlines three complementary approaches to get to net-zero: reducing emissions from our base business through energy efficiency, fuel switching and carbon capture and storage; expanding lines of business in the low emissions power, renewable fuels and hydrogen sectors; and working with our customers, suppliers and other stakeholders on reducing emissions. Our competitive advantage is our ability to leverage our existing experience and expertise across all three avenues.
This natural evolution for us builds on two decades of renewable energy experience, our involvement in climate policy; investing in GHG emissions reduction since the mid 1990s, and, in more recent years, our involvement in renewable fuels and clean technology funds and companies. Investors and other stakeholders were telling us they supported these investments but did not necessarily understand the big picture, how they linked together, and our future direction. Our new strategy connects the dots and aligns with society and the aims of the Paris Agreement as we look to develop our reliable and abundant sources of energy responsibly and expand into promising new opportunities to increase shareholder returns.
Can you talk about expanding your low GHG emissions businesses?
We will grow our business in segments that are already integral to our business where we have expertise and that have the potential to improve the cost performance and margin capture of our base business while strengthening our environmental performance.
- Renewable fuels – Since 2006, Suncor has been making a significant impact in Canada’s emerging biofuels industry with our St. Clair ethanol plant. We’ve also made recent investments in companies advancing clean and renewable fuels like LanzaTech, LanzaJet and Enerkem.
- Electricity – We’re already a low-emission energy producer through four highly efficient natural-gas powered cogeneration operations and four wind power assets. We will be an even larger producer over the coming years with investments in new cogeneration and renewable projects that displace more intensive forms of energy such as coal. Combined with our wind power projects. We are reducing our emissions intensity while meeting growing customer demand for lower-carbon energy.
- Hydrogen – We have 50+ years experience producing and using hydrogen in our refining and upgrading operations. And with abundant natural gas resources and geology well-suited to the utilization and permanent storage of CO2 , Alberta is one of the best places in the world to produce clean hydrogen
Does Suncor believe the oil sands can be carbon-competitive?
Yes, indeed, via our new Oil Sands Pathways to Net Zero alliance, our goal is not only to be carbon competitive, but to be the globe’s cleanest and preferred source of this important energy source. In addition to Pathways, we are continuously improving to get there. For example, our newest oil sands mine, Fort Hills, is half the GHG intensity of the oil sands average and similar to the average intensity of U.S.-refined crude on a wells-to-wheels basis. And we’re always looking at further ways to reduce emissions as outlined in our net-zero objective. This includes replacing our aging cokefired boilers at Base Plant with cogeneration units, accelerating the commercial scale deployment of carbon capture technology through our investment in Svante and Pathways alliance, and testing new thermal-solvent extraction methods that the have the potential to significantly reduce emissions as well. We’re pursuing many avenues because there won’t be only one solution.
Your strategy refers to engaging with your customers and other stakeholders on emission reductions. What do you mean by this?
In addition to lowering our base business emissions and expanding low emissions businesses, it’s equally important for us to work with customers, suppliers, governments and innovators to support emissions reductions too. In some instances, we do this through continued collaboration to develop and deploy clean technologies like sustainable aviation fuel through our partnership with LanzaJet and turning residential and commercial waste into biofuels through our investments in Enerkem. Through our Petro-Canada™ business, we interact with 1.5 million Canadians a day and almost 5 million Canadian Petro-Points™ members. We can help these valued customers be partners in a net-zero world by understanding their consumption and helping them lower their carbon emissions, for example, by providing lower emission energy choices such as our coast-to-coast Electric Highway™ of EV charging stations and blending renewable fuels into the gasoline and diesel they purchase.
There is a lot of discussion on ESG reporting and the need for standard frameworks and metrics. What is Suncor’s view?
In 2020, the world’s largest investors and companies – and key regulators – recognized the need for improved sustainability disclosure and a simplification of the corporate reporting landscape, and we are moving now in the direction of having global standards. We already align with GRI, SASB and TCFD reporting standards, and we welcome the global move towards more standardization and global recognition of the importance of environmental, social and governance metrics. The ability to have comparable metrics will provide more reliable information and highlight ESG leaders around the world. We will continue to provide honest, transparent and a clear picture of both our successes and our challenges. As a Canadian company, our focus on reducing GHG emissions and our ESG performance will demonstrate our global ESG leadership.
Hear more from Martha Hall Findlay about her view on sustainability at Suncor.