Skip to main content
Apr 16, 2024

Sun Life aims to save 400 hours of staff time with ESG prioritization tool

Canadian financial services company uses tool to decide which ESG ratings and rankings to focus on

How should companies divide their time among the hundreds of ESG ratings, rankings and assessments that request their attention?

At Sun Life, the Canadian financial services firm, the sustainability team has come up with a solution: an ESG prioritization tool that ranks providers into different categories.

Alanna Boyd, senior vice president and chief sustainability officer at Sun Life, tells Governance Intelligence sister publication IR Magazine the tool is expected to free up around ‘400 hours’ a year of internal staff time, which can be shifted to higher-value activities.

Boyd, whose company was nominated for best ESG reporting (large cap) at the IR Magazine Awards – Canada 2024, says Sun Life uses a range of channels to get its sustainability information into the hands of key stakeholders.

Ratings and rankings are one of those routes, but the huge number of providers – Boyd says there are now more than 600 – means it’s impossible to handle them all.

The aim of the tool is to make sure the right information is getting into the right hands, while handing back time to internal teams, says Boyd.

Departments working directly on ratings and rankings benefit, but so do others that provide the raw data, such as HR. ‘We’re very optimistic,’ she says. ‘It’s early days, but it’s going to save us time across the organization.’

Three buckets
Boyd says the tool has a simple mechanism. Developed in the summer of 2023, it’s built within an Excel spreadsheet and contains three criteria by which each external provider is ranked.

The first bucket looks at the resource requirement across the firm. The second focuses on benchmarking, considering areas such as industry relevance and whether the output is made public.

The third, which Boyd says is the really important one, is called the stakeholder value multiplier. It examines the value of the rating, ranking or assessment to the company’s different stakeholders.

‘All three criteria are rolled up,’ she explains. ‘Then we assign a prioritization on a red, yellow or green score. The green ones are higher priority. We want to make sure we’re really digging in, answering the questions and spending extra time.’

Sun Life also uses the process of examining the ratings and rankings to identify emerging ESG themes for the business.

‘We’re able to then use that information to strategically guide our gap assessments and the work we want to prioritize for the next year,’ says Boyd, adding that these activities become easier once you have a condensed list of ratings and rankings to focus on.

Ongoing monitoring

Since creating the tool, Sun Life has shifted around the time it spends on some rankings, Boyd says. But the process of assessment will need to be ongoing. She points out, for example, that some providers continue to increase the number of questions they ask each year.

Other factors that could impact the company’s approach include the development of global sustainability reporting rules and new national regulations in Canada.

‘The demand for ratings, rankings and assessments has been [driven by] the absence of global standardized comparable reporting for investors,’ says Boyd.

‘As that becomes more standardized, harmonized and global, there will continue to be shifts… We’re doing our first regulated climate report on 2024 data in 2025 – maybe the need to spend some time on certain ratings, rankings and assessments [will be] less because we need to spend more time on the actual reported and regulated disclosures.’

What advice would Boyd give to sustainability and IR professionals looking to prioritize their own approach?

Collaboration between different teams is key, she says, as it requires a mix of expertise to understand how best to meet stakeholder needs. In addition, she underlines the importance of stepping back every once in a while and reassessing how you are doing things.

‘Always be asking those questions – how can we do this better?’ she says. ‘How can we be more thoughtful about the load we’re placing across the organization?

Indeed, one of the benefits of the ESG prioritization tool is that it helps to carve out time that can be spent on strategic planning, notes Boyd. ‘These are the kind of projects that help us do that,’ she says.

Tim Human

Tim Human is an international correspondent for IR magazine based in the UK Tim has been editor of IR Magazine, the global publication for investor relations professionals, since January 2013. Prior to becoming editor, he held various roles at IR...