SUN LIFE CLO MELISSA KENNEDY TALKS SUSTAINABILITY AND THE ACC GLOBAL GC SUMMIT
Intro: Melissa Kennedy, executive vice president and chief legal officer at Sun Life, speaks to ACC ahead of the 2019 Global General Counsel Summit to be held May 22-24 in London. The theme for the three-day gathering of chief legal officers is "Driving Corporate Sustainability: The Expanding Role of General Counsel."
In this interview, the CLO talks about why sustainability is so important in today's corporate sustainability policies. Kennedy even gives a brief preview of what she'll discuss at the summit.
ACC: What is the main reason that corporate sustainability should be top of mind of CLOs?
Melissa Kennedy (MK): Sustainability is central to our business success and strategy. Our ambition to be one of the best insurance and asset management companies in the world is deeply connected to our goal of building sustainable, healthier communities for life.
The world is changing around us, and quickly. Clients and all our stakeholders are expecting and counting on the private sector to anticipate these changes and shape a more sustainable future. Stakeholders are also looking to companies to achieve something greater and contribute to society; which we can do and which we should do. In addition, the top of mind issues in your business are likely the same for senior policy makers. Keeping sustainability in focus can position your organization to influence and to prepare for changes in policy and regulation.
ACC: How is the corporate sustainability structured at your organization? Does the function report to the Office of General Counsel? Is a lawyer the head of that function?
MK: As an executive team member, I see every day the high level of interest and commitment to sustainability across our organization to our executive team and board of directors.
Stakeholders are also looking to companies to achieve something greater and contribute to society; which we can do and which we should do.
Sun Life's International Sustainability Council (ISC), which meets regularly, is charged with embedding and reporting on sustainability across the company. The sustainability team reports to me and acts as a central resource to the business; manages the strategy development and implementation in collaboration with the ISC and business representatives; monitors sustainability trends and issues; and is responsible for communications internally and externally and reporting to the board. Supporting the team's efforts is a network of sustainability champions from different business units and 12 countries in which we operate.
The Governance, Nomination, and Investment Committee of the Board of Directors provides oversight of our sustainability program. Sun Life's commitment to sustainability is also set out in our Code of Business Conduct, which applies to all employees and directors.
ACC: How involved is your board of directors in corporate Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) matters?
MK: We have an engaged board and a strong executive leadership team. The Governance, Nomination, and Investment Committee of the Board of Directors provides oversight of our sustainability program. This includes approval of our strategy and annual sustainability report, and receiving updates on our progress, at least annually.
ACC: Have your investors or shareholders been vocal or active on ESG matters at your organization?
MK: We have seen a progression in investor interest in ESG. There is still a range of levels of interest and focus, but in general, interest in ESG issues that could impact our business have increased over the last five years, and therefore, so has interest in our ESG disclosures and practices. We believe that investors will increasingly come to expect strong ESG practices and disclosure from the companies they invest in.
ACC: What is the biggest piece of advice you plan on sharing at the Global General Counsel Summit when it comes to the role of the general counsel in corporate sustainability?
The sustainability team reports to me and acts as a central resource to the business; manages the strategy development and implementation in collaboration with the ISC and business representatives; monitors sustainability trends and issues; and is responsible for communications internally and externally and reporting to the board.
MK: The world around us is changing. Expectations from clients, shareholders, and regulators for companies to be sustainable are increasing. In order to simply do our job, general counsel need to understand sustainability at their company. For example, they [GCs] should be advising on ESG disclosure as they will be ultimately responsible for managing any litigation or regulatory exposure that may follow. Finally, because GCs are frequently the company's guardian on corporate ethics and good behaviour, I believe our involvement in the
company's sustainability programme is a natural fit.
In order to simply do our job, general counsel need to understand sustainability at their company.
Tell us your story: Did you claim your seat at the table, and if so, how? We'd love to hear from you, as would your in-house colleagues.
Join ACC to stay informed on all the association is doing on behalf of the global in-house bar. Follow our advocacy efforts in support of your seat at the table and
gain access to valuable resources submitted by in-house counsel practicing across the globe.