Collaboration, common ground, economic stimulus, and future resilience were the watchwords last week as Linda Coady, former chief sustainability officer at Enbridge Inc., signed on as the new executive director of the Calgary-based Pembina Institute.
Coady is a corporate sustainability specialist who served as vice-president for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, WWF-Canada, and Weyerhauser Canada. She was a member of Alberta’s Climate Change Advisory Panel, and chaired an expert panel last year that advised Finance Minister Bill Morneau on how to engage with First Nations that wanted a stake in the Trans Mountain pipeline. She begins her new assignment in a moment when Pembina staff are working from home—and looking to pandemic relief as an opportunity for the country to invest in a cleaner economy.
“Like all Canadians, our primary concern is making sure we do our part in containing the impact of COVID-19 on our communities,” she told Communications Director Sarah MacWhirter in an interview for the Pembina blog. “But the extent to which the economic stimulus packages now being proposed for different sectors can also help lay the groundwork for a clean economy is key to determining how resilient we will be as a nation to future shocks and disruptions. So, opportunities for economic stimulus that drive clean growth are top of mind for us, and in our conversations with business, industry, governments, and communities.”
Coady stressed that industry “needs plans that will work” in order to support a low-carbon future, but maintained that not many people in Canada’s fossil sector still see environmental or climate performance as a drain on competitiveness. “It’s good that we have reached the point where most people agree on the need for clean growth and the transition to a low-carbon future,” she said. “Most know the global energy mix is changing pretty rapidly now. Investment decisions are increasingly tied to climate performance, and there is broadly based understanding that in order to compete in energy markets today, Canadian oil and gas—and other Canadian energy products, services, and technologies—have to be able to demonstrate that they are among the cleanest in the world. So we need both corporate and public policies that will achieve that goal in order to attract international investment.”
Noting that Coady played a role in resolving resource-based protests at Clayoquot Sound, and surrounding forest conservation in the Great Bear Rainforest, MacWhirter asked how she would see reducing the polarization around Canada’s fossil economy. “Look for common ground and, no matter how small it might be, use that common ground to build diverse coalitions,” Coady replied. “You need a purpose that people with different perspectives can see themselves in and get behind—in part because the status quo isn’t working for anyone, and in part because the potential solutions on the table are seen to represent a practical and equitable way forward.”
The new forest conservation and management frameworks that took shape in British Columbia “were characterized by strong Indigenous involvement and leadership over a 10-year period,” she added. “Diverse coalitions and cross-sectoral collaborations are really messy, really hard, and really complex. But they are also the only way that really difficult issues get solved.”
Coady said she’s seen a shift in corporate Canada’s attitude to climate change and climate action, with some companies out ahead of others. “Recently, we’ve seen large tech companies and a whole range of consumer-facing companies make some big moves and leadership commitments on the climate front,” she told MacWhirter. “So, although what [fossil] energy companies are doing is important, this isn’t just about them anymore.”
And now, “while it may have been the case in the past that companies could say one thing and do another, that is getting a lot harder now in the face of increasing demand by banks, investors, and insurers for improved transparency on climate risks. More and more financial institutions are using quantitative research and analytics to monetize climate risk and evaluate corporate performance on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. Corporate accountability in this space is a lot more rigorous than it used to be, and is moving to a whole new different level as financial institutions look for resilience in corporate business strategies.”