Suncor Energy – 2019 SDG Leadership Awards

Suncor Energy


Industry: Energy

Primary SDG Focus

Secondary SDG Focus

Please summarize your company’s SDG focus, how that SDG was implemented and how you achieved and measured the impact.

Supporting vibrant communities requires developing mutual trust, and collaborative and proactive relationships. Suncor has a long history of working with Aboriginal communities and suppliers, particularly in the Wood Buffalo region of Alberta, and in the Fall of 2017 announced the completion of the acquisition by Fort McKay First Nation (FMFN) and Mikisew Cree First Nation (MCFN) of a 49 percent partnership interest in Suncor’s East Tank Farm Development (ETFD).  ETFD is a key Suncor asset consisting of bitumen storage, blending and cooling facilities that are primarily dedicated to supporting the Fort Hills oil sands mining project (in which Suncor has a 54 percent ownership interest). Enabling inclusive, sustainable economic growth of Aboriginal communities in Northern Alberta, the Thebacha partnership between Suncor, FMFN and MCFN represents one of the largest business investments to date by a First Nation entity in Canada (approximately $500 million). It is considered one model for how First Nations can achieve greater self-determination through financial independence working with local industry, fostering economic growth and development and a renewed approach to Reconciliation for a vibrant and inclusive Canada.

How was your primary SDG focus identified and prioritized in the company’s value chain?

Inclusive, sustainable economic growth of Aboriginal communities is a key focus area of Suncor’s social goal and helps to contribute to economic reconciliation with Aboriginal Canadians.  FMFN and MCFN announced an investment of 49 percent interest in Suncor’s ETF Development representing an important, historic new way for business and First Nations to work together as partners. The investment provides a steady stream of revenue to both FMFN and MCFN for at least 25 years, helping to build capacity within each Nation’s businesses, develop infrastructure in the community, fund social and economic programs, create jobs and provide the means to help pay for education and training for Aboriginal youth.

How was your primary SDG integrated and anchored throughout your business?

“It was through this journey of us starting to understand what’s the challenge they have and how we can jointly put together a business opportunity that could transform the future of the people of Fort McKay and Mikisew Cree First Nation” – Mark Little, President and Chief Operating Officer, Suncor

Working with, learning from, and respecting Aboriginal Peoples is a priority for us and a part of a company-wide goal to guide us over the next decade and beyond. Suncor’s social goal is a declaration of our intent to do things differently with a focus on the following four areas: (i) strengthening relationships among Aboriginal Peoples and all Canadians through awareness, understanding and behaviour change; (ii) partnering with Aboriginal youth; (iii) partnering with Aboriginal businesses; and (iv) improving Aboriginal workforce development. Each area is instrumental in progressing SDG 8 in Canada. The path is about working together and creating more opportunities for greater involvement in the energy sector, enabling social and economic benefits from Canada’s resources to be shared more broadly.

Did you employ any innovative approaches in your efforts to implement the goal?


This unique partnership has been part of a journey that demonstrates how innovative thinking and collaborative spirit can result in a mutually-beneficial opportunity and has changed the way Suncor views opportunities for Aboriginal communities to participate in energy development. Rather than seeing benefits tied to businesses, with revenues that fluctuate significantly with the oil price and other economic factors, both communities were looking for long-term revenue for their communities, so they could develop sustainable plans for providing services to their members. Viewing FMFN and MCFN’s goals through this lens, and working together to help us identify a path forward that would falicitate stable cash flows to the communities for the next 25 years and beyond, led Suncor and FMFN and MCFN to a new way of thinking – this wouldn’t be a typical mutual benefits agreement, but an economic investment. The investment by FMFN and MCFN in one of Suncor’s strategic oil sands assets will deliver stable income for their communities for the next several decades.

Were any partnerships leveraged or created?

Suncor’s existing relationship with the MCFN and FMFN communities allowed for the creation of a new entity, Thebacha Limited Partnership. Thebacha means “river” in Dene. Suncor was able to leverage existing relationships with financial institutions and institutional investors to engage with the First Nations and explore financing and investment opportunities together.

In addition to the creation of a new partnership, the two First Nations sparked a new relationship with RBC Capital Markets to foster financing conversations for ongoing business development opportunities. The communities were also the recipients of a donation from the RBC Foundation to support community needs, such as the Fort Chipewyan Historical Society and the Fort McMurray Northern Lights Regional Health Centre.

What communications strategy did you employ to share the initiative with your stakeholders?

Working closely with both MCFN and FMFN, a multi-phased communication approach was implemented, initially focusing on raising awareness of the partnership and communicating with investors to raise capital. It was important to showcase the First Nations’ leadership, the communities’ aspirations and their future stake in the success of the partnership.  Working with the First Nations’ partners, communications were also used to connect with the communities affected to further build an understanding of the opportunity and gain support.

The second phase of communications occurred once the investment was funded and the transaction closed. Telling the story internally and externally was critical to raise awareness among leaders, employees and industry peers that Suncor had established a new way of doing business with Aboriginal Peoples and to motivate others to follow this new model.

How were KPIs and the levels of success outlined and defined?

The economic benefits generated will be felt in the First Nations’ communities for generations to come. Given the ownership structure of the arrangement, MCFN and FMFN are able to use the revenues received to direct dollars to address the unique needs of their communities, create greater opportunities for job creation and local sourcing of goods and services, and further build community capacity. This commercial arrangement is also being viewed as a model for others to create sustainable prosperity for their communities. At Suncor, this is one example of how we’re progressing our social goal by creating new opportunities and building on relationships.

How were reporting and monitoring conceptualized and undertaken?

The reporting and monitoring is done collectively and collaboratively with the First Nations through the Thebacha Limited Partnership. This ensures there is transparency and trust and we keep building on our relationship with the communities.


What were some key lessons learned?


Together, we have defined a new relationship, or framework, to move forward. It gives us an opportunity to look beyond specific projects, and spend more time looking at regional matters/interests. Many Suncor teams were involved in taking the appropriate steps to ensure the project was financeable and offered investors a guaranteed return. Energy infrastructure investments can be an attractive alternative investment as they typically have stable cash flows, attractive returns, and no commodity price risk. A commitment is required from all parties in the negotiations to work through complex agreements. Many of the qualities that led to a successful deal will also continue to make this agreement successful including: (i) mutual respect; (ii) the ability to listen and learn from each other and have healthy debates; (iii) full commitment and vision for the future; and (iv) a desire to continuously improve and be innovative. Having long term relationships based on trust and understanding, strong leadership, and a committed and consistent team throughout the process are also key success factors.

What were the key impacts and results?

Working with Aboriginal businesses and communities is good business for Suncor, and it is one thing Suncor can do to contribute to economic reconciliation with Aboriginal Peoples in Canada. This is aligned to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action for corporate Canada.

The Thebacha partnership sets a precedent for future investment opportunities between industry and First Nations supported by financial institutions, showcasing the ability of Canada’s First Nations to step onto the business stage in a national context. This precedent opens the door to other opportunities First Nations can explore to foster economic growth and development for their own communities across Canada.

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