Getting personal: why the head of RSA Canada is committed to conservation

As a father, Martin Thompson wants his three young children to inherit a healthy planet. As the president and CEO of RSA Canada — one of the country’s largest insurance companies — he also has compelling bottom-line reasons to support sustainability.

“Climate change is probably one of the biggest risks our business faces,” he says. As Martin explains, burning fossil fuels not only heats up the planet, it also creates more extreme weather events. And those events are driving up claims and premiums around the world.

David Miller, President & CEO of WWF-Canada and Martin Thompson, President & CEO of RSA Canada © WWF-Canada

You don’t have to look far for examples. Canada’s weather-related insurance claims hit a record $4.9 billion last year, driven by wildfires in Fort McMurray, ice storms in southern Ontario, floods in Atlantic Canada and many other climate-related disasters. Unless we transition away from fossil fuels, those events will become more and more common. So RSA is taking action.

Globally, the company insures one-quarter of the world’s wind turbines, along with other planet-friendly forms of energy such as hydro and solar power. Here in Canada, it has supported WWF-Canada’s work to pinpoint ideal sites for renewable energy projects.

RSA Canada has also been busy cutting its own greenhouse gas emissions, aiming to reduce its carbon footprint by 12 per cent per employee by 2018. “What we are trying to do is demonstrate that we can run our business in a responsible way,” Martin says.

Some changes, such as moving the Atlantic and Pacific offices into more energy-efficient buildings, are driven by head office. But RSA wants to encourage sustainability at every level of its operations.

That’s why you see Martin going the distance for conservation — very literally — to inspire his colleagues.  One year he ran the London Marathon for WWF. Another year he traded his race bib for swim trunks and joined our annual Toronto Polar Dip with a team of brave RSA employees and leaders, raising thousands of dollars in the process.

“It’s about setting the example,” he explains. “It gives people encouragement that if the boss can do it, then I can do it as well.”

His strategy is clearly paying off. Today, corporate green teams in RSA offices across the country are setting sustainability targets and getting to work (with enthusiastic support from head office). Some are conducting energy audits. Others are persuading colleagues to think before they print. Meanwhile, in RSA’s Mississauga office, the green team has launched successful programs to recycle used batteries, pens, plastic pencils, markers and even eyeglasses.

Now, as the new presenting sponsor of our Living Planet @ Work program, RSA Canada is empowering other organizations and their employees to make a similar impact. “It’s about inspiring everyone from interns to CEOs to protect the planet,” says WWF-Canada President and CEO David Miller. “Together, RSA and WWF are cultivating conservation heroes in workplaces across the country.”