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Meet John Hancock’s first sustainability director in the United States

Updated: Apr 22, 2019

The following article appeared in GreenBiz.com on January 24, 2019

Welcome back to the occasional series on first sustainability directors in their firms. This time, we bounce back to the East Coast and move into the financial services industry with John Hancock. The company is well known as an insurance provider, and also for philanthropic gestures, such as sponsoring the Boston Marathon. It recently was acquired by Manulife, the Canadian insurance and financial services provider, and actually has many more business lines with sustainability implications than one might guess.

But like many companies that have a deeply rooted tradition of community investment, it is in the relatively early stages of broadening its view of corporate responsibility to incorporate sustainability more systematically. 

I had the chance to catch up with Kyle Cahill, John Hancock’s first U.S. sustainability director, as well as Tom Crohan, who heads corporate responsibility and government relations, to learn more about this evolution.

Mia Overall: Tom, you head corporate responsibility for John Hancock in the United States. How did the new sustainability director role come about?

Tom Crohan: We added Kyle to our team just over a year ago. The creation of his role is really a case of pairing practical realities with opportunity. Someone left, and we took the opportunity to recalibrate, adapting our team to meet evolving needs. Historically, we did not have a sustainability lead for the corporate office in the U.S. But since the acquisition by Manulife, we are endeavoring down a path of developing global strategy, and having someone focused on sustainability is critical for that. 

Plus, the expectations that customers and employees have of us are now higher, as they should be. We started with a community relations function. This evolved into a corporate responsibility function. We’ve had people focused on community investing and philanthropy for a long time. We partner with nonprofits to create social impact and have skills-based volunteering in the community. The interaction with stakeholders we have in corporate responsibility has been very relevant in government relations. 

But we realized we needed to up our game, so Kyle is now the first person to really head up sustainability. 

We have so many significant opportunities with our business: investments; real estate; ESG funds; and other new products coming online. We have also been consolidating into a new headquarters which brings up issues related to sustainability in our real estate, the movement of people and carbon offsets, healthy and sustainable food choices in the new cafeteria.

Meanwhile, our business partners are asking more of us because they are receiving more inquiries related to sustainability. For example, there are so many things like ratings, surveys, data collection, etc., to manage, where you really need an empowered quarterback. We needed to have the resources in place to respond to those inquiries. Kyle has filled critical gaps in environmental oversight, engagement and employee health and well-being.

Overall: Do you think this kind of thing is relevant to other companies?

Crohan: Yes. There is an element of evolution that is important to acknowledge for companies journeying through this. You might not hire someone for sustainability, or you might think to hire differently, but it's important to identify the skills you need to get you to where you want to go. 

Overall: Kyle, what has it been like to step into the role as John Hancock’s first sustainability director in the United States?

Kyle Cahill: John Hancock is unique as a financial insurance company and asset manager. We are a significant real estate owner with 65 million feet of real estate globally, we manage a $1 billion-plus portfolio of certified sustainably managed forests and we operate around 300,000 acres of farmland globally. So, the opportunity to come to financial services organization that is also involved in much more felt really unique. The company was also embarking on its first global sustainability strategy...

Read the full article at https://www.greenbiz.com/article/meet-john-hancocks-first-sustainability-director-united-states