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Interview with Sarah Chapman on Manulife’s Role as Sustainability Partner

Why is sustainability important to Manulife?

At Manulife, we are quite literally invested in the health and wellness of our customers. Supporting a greener, low-carbon economy will have a positive impact on our customers’ lives and ultimately benefits our business.

According to the World Health Organization, the direct damage costs of climate change to health is estimated to be between USD$2-4 billion per year by 2030.

Manulife has built an incredible foundation for future progress as we’ve been on this journey for a number of years. As an asset owner, Manulife has a substantial $40+ billion green investment portfolio within our general account, like sustainably managed timberland and agriculture which removed 1.38 million metric tons of CO2 in 2020. We have a unique role to play in impact investing and driving the broader ESG agenda across our operations.

In 2021, we launched the first phase of our Climate Action Plan. We are actively incorporating climate change considerations into our decision-making, including how we manage our operations, how we make investment decisions, and how we develop and offer financial products and services. As a business deeply rooted in

long-term thinking, we are made stronger when our people and planet thrive.

What are Manulife’s broader areas of focus related to ESG?

Organized around three interconnected areas of focus — empowering health and wellbeing, driving inclusive opportunities, and accelerating a sustainable future — Manulife’s Impact Agenda channels our commitments and enables us to actively set goals and track progress to ensure we are making tangible progress year-over-year. In doing so, the Impact Agenda helps us coordinate a foundation that has a credible workflow at the global level with a focus to accelerate and catalyze our efforts in the markets where we operate around the globe.

How does Manulife hold itself accountable for reaching the goals and commitments set out in the Impact Agenda?

Accountability is paramount to affecting real change. It is why we put so much focus on a culture of shared responsibility throughout our organization and why we continuously reflect on our efforts to see what we can do to improve in the future. Within each pillar of the Impact Agenda, we have measurable targets and commitments — all of which have robust roadmaps outlining a strategy, logistics, and milestones along the way. The timelines of our goals vary in length, but what is important is that they are all actioned and measured by employees at all levels of the organization.

From a governance perspective, our Executive Sustainability Council oversees the achievement of key roadmap items while maintaining radical transparency and accountability across the executive level on progress and performance. This responsibility is also built into executive compensation with key metrics such as diversity, equity, and inclusion, climate action, and employee engagement built into the strategic initiatives within our executive compensation scorecards. We have a Sustainability Centre of Expertise, as well as a Climate Change Taskforce, which spearheads our climate strategy and the performance tracking for climate change-related efforts.

Can you truly be profitable and still address societal issues?

Absolutely and it’s called shared value – as our business grows, we will continue to create value for people and the planet. It’s the center of our Impact Agenda at Manulife.

Shared value creation focuses on identifying and expanding the connections between societal and economic progress. This is at the center of our business. Better business to better the world. We should not be thinking about these things as competing.

A strong practical example is our behavioral insurance platform which supports making healthier behavior choices easier and more accessible for customers, lowering claims for the insurer and for society, which means a more productive workforce and less strain on healthcare. Another example is paper usage. Digitizing our processes drives down the use of paper, lowers costs, provides a better experience for customers, and reduces our reliance on the planet’s finite resources. That’s a shared value.

How is Manulife’s Impact Agenda differentiated in the industry?

Many of our peers are focused on similar issues at the highest level as they are material ESG factors within our industry, but our approach to action will set us apart. Manulife’s Impact Agenda is not a net new strategy; it’s built on a foundation of tangible impact with measurable results. For instance, in 2020, we shared the goals and commitments around diversity, equity and inclusion, and since that announcement, have made solid progress against our talent goals and have made strong partnerships in the community, like signing the Blacknorth Initiative’s CEO Pledge in Canada, as well as the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion Pledge in the U.S. and taking on the role as Sustainability Partner at CABC. In 2021, we shared the details of the initial phase of our climate action plan, including commitments to reduce our absolute scope 1 and 2 emissions by 35% by 2035 and net-zero financed emissions by 2050. With respect to empowering health and wellness, we now have over 2.5 million customers on our behavioral insurance platforms with a shared goal to live healthier lives.

While we’re proud of the progress we’ve made, tackling some of society’s most pressing issues depends on collective action and strong partnerships between industry, governments, global citizens, and NGOs. No single entity will be able to mitigate climate change and create a healthier, more equitable world on its own. At Manulife, we’re committed to continuing doing our part.

Given that Manulife operates globally, how is your approach to sustainability in Asia different from other locations (E.g. North America)? How is it similar?

We take a glocal approach to sustainability. Meaning, as a global organization – we have three strategic areas we have outlined as areas where we can authentically make an impact. We then take that global strategy and localize it based on the needs of a particular market.

For example:

  • In 2021, our team in Vietnam extended the functionality of our ManulifeMOVE app by partnering with WellCare, creating an all-in-one accessible health ecosystem: end-to-end healthcare services such as an online doctor, telemedicine, and tele-pharmacy. Making decisions easier and lives better for our customers.

  • In the Philippines – developed by education specialists and Manulife employee volunteers – we deliver a financial literacy program called Peso Smart that teaches the basics of saving and investing to grade six students in the Philippines.

  • And since 2012, Manulife Cambodia has partnered with the Asia Injury Prevention (AIP) Foundation to provide approximately 8,000 helmets to students, teachers, and guardians. In addition, this program also provided education on traffic safety to more than 6,000 students, 300+ teachers, and nearly 11,000 guardians across the Kingdom.

Lastly, do you have any advice for other companies (mainly in Asia) who are just beginning their ESG journeys?

Yes, for companies starting out, first focus on the areas that are most material to your business and of which you have the ability to influence and truly impact through the business itself. Second, set measurable goals and be transparent about the progress of those.

Focusing on issues where your organization can authentically and credibly deliver impact through your business strategy. It is important to develop an approach that incorporates an organization’s most material ESG focus areas into a unified framework to enhance the strategic value of ESG for its brand and amplifies impact.

Transparency is critical – there are increasing regulatory requirements for the disclosure of data. E.g. requirements to disclose data related to the diversity of a workforce or greenhouse gas emissions.

Better standardization of data and consistency in methodologies will enable stronger transparency of social metrics.

Sarah Chapman, PhD is the Global Chief Sustainability Officer of Manulife. She is based in Manulife’s Global Headquarters in Toronto, Canada.

As the Global Chief Sustainability Officer, Sarah is responsible for leading the ongoing development and execution of Manulife’s sustainability, community investment and sponsorship strategy and oversees and guides Manulife’s environmental, social & governance (ESG) reporting and disclosures.

Before joining Manulife, Sarah was National Director of Sustainability & Social Impact advisory at Deloitte in Canada. Previously, Sarah worked for Hitachi as the Senior Lead of the global Social Innovation business, based out Sydney, Australia.

She has her PhD in Corporate Social Responsibility from the Centre for Corporate Governance at the University of Technology, Sydney (Australia), Master’s in Management from Bond University, and a Bachelor of Science from Western University (Canada).


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