This past Earth Day we chatted with Matt Toohey, a long-time TreeEra community member and Global Lead of Sustainability at TransAlta, to learn more about the company’s sustainable energy initiatives and practices. As one of the leading producers of renewable energy in North America and with sustainability as a core company value, Matt’s team at TransAlta is leading the way for a cleaner and greener future in the energy sector.

What was your reason for working with TreeEra to plant trees? How do trees fit into TransAlta’s mission?

This was an initiative within our sustainability team. Our sustainability team works with a lot of internal and external stakeholders to educate on key sustainability issues, advance sustainability strategy, support growth projects and much more. We always like to say thank you to our stakeholders, but not with things or stuff, rather with sustainability in mind. Trees are a natural fit and we love supporting a local company with a global cause. Not only do we find people are very grateful to be gifted trees they also gain a little bit of education on offsetting their impact and gifting locally and responsibly.

In terms of our overall mission at TransAlta, sustainability is a core value and we are thick in the middle of transitioning our company to be a leading clean power company. TransAlta has a strong a history of sustainability and decarbonization, which highlights our progress to date. Since 2005 the company has reduced 21 million tonnes of GHG emissions or 50 per cent of its GHG emission. On a percentage basis that is more than any country in the world over that same period. During that time the company has also become one the leading producers of renewable energy in North America. Since 1994 we have been reporting on our sustainability impacts and performance and for the last six years we have voluntarily integrated financial and sustainability reporting. So long story short sustainability is not window dressing – it’s business. Planting trees is a natural fit.

What are some other businesses that you think are doing well in the environmental space?

To change gears slightly, I think it is very important to think about the overall sustainability picture, which includes the impact of our business on people, society, the environment and the economy. Research from academia and now the investment community is showing that businesses that are increasingly integrating sustainability in to their decision making, strategy and operations are outperforming those who are not. They are less volatile and have access to lower cost of capital. So purpose based business is no longer a nice to do, adopting sustainability is just good business. This is a really positive trend. With that in mind I love Bell Canada’s ‘Let’s Talk’ mental health initiative, which has nothing to do with their core business model, but serves great societal purpose. Right now we’re seeing incredible examples of Canadian companies pivoting their businesses to support during this pandemic. Minhas Brewery developing hand sanitizer is a great local example. Globally I think what Microsoft and Shell have done recently is very bold and has set the 2050 benchmark for action on climate change. They have set 2050 carbon negative and carbon neutral GHG reduction goals, respectively, not just in their core operations but also in their value chains (supply chains, customer use of their products).

What does climate change mean to TransAlta?

We get it and the company has taken it seriously for a long time. The company has coal assets, which are very GHG intensive. Our transition plans include being off coal by the end of 2025, while continuing to grow renewable energy, natural gas and battery storage. As mentioned previously the company has reduced 21 million tonnes of GHG since 2005 and has goals to reduce a further 9 million tonnes by 2030 or possibly sooner. Reducing 30 million tonnes of GHG emissions is the equivalent of planting 500 million trees. We continue to support our customers with their sustainability and climate change goals, for example late last year we completed development of a wind farm project for Microsoft, which helps them reach their sustainability goals and supports ours. Win-win.

Do you have any other tips on how to incorporate sustainability into one’s everyday life?

Well I’m certainly not perfect and might never be and with that in mind I’ve given this plenty of thought. For many us adopting a sustainable lifestyle overnight is unrealistic, ironically expensive and can be very overwhelming. We all want to make a difference, but where and how to start is often a challenge. My tip is to tackle one thing, whether it’s as simple as composting, gardening or as complex as installing solar in your home. Do it well, master the sustainability practice or habit and then it will become a part of your lifestyle. Some of us might be able to tackle a few things at once, if so great. Otherwise start with one, do it well, master it, ensure you have created a new practice/habit and then find the next challenge. After several years you’ll find your lifestyle is much more sustainable. Here’s a recommendation – calculate your carbon footprint annually (there are lots of good tools online) and then plant trees adequately to offset your lifestyle. You don’t need to do 100 per cent right away if it is not budget friendly. There are many other ways to offset, but let’s go with trees through TreeEra! Also a monthly plan such as TreeEra’s helps distribute cost, one time hits are not always budget friendly. I’m really just selling TreeEra hey!