Women in CSR – Canada: Karen Clarke-Whistler, TD Bank Group, Chief Environment Officer

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Welcome to the TSSS Series on Canadian Women in CSR. Learn about their journeys, discover what inspires them and explore how they’re making a difference through their careers in sustainability. Please follow the link to read about other exceptional Canadian Women in CSR.

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Karen Clarke-Whistler, Chief Environmental Officer, TD Bank

TSSS: Briefly describe your role and responsibilities, and how many years you have been in the business.

Karen Clarke-Whistler: I’m the Chief Environment Officer at TD Bank Group. My role is to develop and implement our environmental strategy, which is based on embedding an environmental perspective into our business strategy. I’ve been at TD coming on six years – and am the first person to hold this position within the bank. No other bank in North America has a Chief Environment Officer.

TSSS: Have you always been concerned about environmental and social issues – where/when did your passion begin?

KCW: I was lucky to grow up with lots of access to nature. My grandfather taught me to tie fishing flies when I was about 5, and I’m an avid birdwatcher. My educational training is as an ecologist – so I guess you could say I live, work and breathe the environment.

TSSS: What issue (and why) causes you the most concern and gets you up the morning?

KCW: I’m most frustrated that the majority of environmental issues arise from how we as humans choose to live – yet we somehow can’t acknowledge that. Instead we act as if companies and governments are solely responsible for our environmental challenges. We would get a lot further if we were able to recognize that many environmental issues are driven by consumer demand and start tackling these challenges in a more collaborative way.

TSSS: Can you share a recent accomplishment that you’re especially proud of?

KCW: TD recently issued the first green bond by a commercial bank in Canada. The proceeds will finance projects and companies that are helping us move toward a low carbon economy. It took a lot of work and cooperation within the bank – and to me it’s real proof of TD’s environmental commitment.

TSSS: Tell us about someone (mentor, sponsor, friend, hero) who affected your sustainability journey and how.

KCW: There have been many – my grandfather with his love of and respect for nature, university professors such as Douglas Pimlott and Jim Bendell. And one that may seem strange – Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said in a speech that sustainability would only work if it was recognized that human nature was geared to WANT MORE NOT LESS. It helped me understand that for sustainability to succeed we must figure out how to DO MORE WITH LESS.

TSSS: What is the best advice you have ever received?

KCW: As an agent of change, don’t waste your time on people who ‘don’t get it, and don’t want to get it.’

TSSS: What one piece of wisdom would you like to share with the next generation of female sustainability leaders?

KCW: Women are natural collaborators – use this skill. Our challenges are large and complex – and beyond the scope or ability of any one entity. We can only move forward by working together.

TSSS: If you had the power to make one major change at your company, in your sector or in Canada as a whole such that if we woke up tomorrow that change would be the new status quo what would it be?

KCW: There would be recognition that the environment is a key component of the economy. A healthy environment equates to a strong economy – and we need to align public policy and corporate actions to support this.

TSSS: Describe your perfect day

KCW: That’s pretty easy. It’s a beautiful summer day, or a crisp day in the fall. I’m in the natural environment somewhere in this beautiful country of ours, ideally near a lake. And I just saw a bird species that I’ve never seen before!

To read about other exceptional Canadian Women in CSR, please follow this link.

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