The value of natural capital

Karen Clarke-Whistler (Photo by Mike Ford)

Karen Clarke-Whistler (Photo by Mike Ford)

Ask Karen Clarke-Whistler, Chief Environment Officer for TD Bank Group, about her connection to nature, and she’ll tell you it runs deep. Immersed in nature from a young age, Clarke-Whistler believes her passion for the environment was triggered while gripping tightly onto her grandfather’s fishing reel.

“My grandfather was a great fisherman and had a cottage in Ontario’s Hockley Valley. He used to let me tag along,” says Clarke-Whistler. “Fishing in local cold water streams meant schlepping through forests and wetlands. I remember all of that as just wonderful. I guess from that perspective nature has just always been part of my psyche.”

After pursuing a bachelor’s degree in ecology and a master’s in land resource science (focused on wetland ecology), Clarke-Whistler took to the environmental consulting sector — but not before spending her honeymoon in Indonesia, collecting bats for the Royal Ontario Museum.

“I was very fortunate to have worked on a wide range of environmental projects — everything from large environmental and social impact assessments for mining and hydro projects, to urban watershed studies and public policy initiatives,” says Clarke-Whistler. “So I was really able to observe many perspectives on resource development.”

Paul Smith (right) takes a walk through the forest he transferred to NCC, with Karen Clarke-Whistler, chief environment officer of TD Bank Group, and John Lounds, NCC president and CEO (Photo by Simon Wilson)Paul

Paul Smith (right) takes a walk through the forest he transferred to NCC, with Karen Clarke-Whistler, chief environment officer of TD Bank Group, and John Lounds, NCC president and CEO (Photo by Simon Wilson)Paul

Consulting took Clarke-Whistler to many corners of the world. From Europe to the United Kingdom, to working on projects based in Africa, Clarke-Whistler’s global experience eventually brought her back to Toronto, and to the world of banking.

“I was living in England and ran into a banker in the early 2000s,” recalls Clarke-Whistler. “The company he worked for had been dealing with sensitive environmental issues, and we discussed what the role of the private sector was in managing environmental sustainability. This was an early instance of the financial sector being directly engaged on environmental responsibility issues.” The conversation struck a chord with Clarke-Whistler. “It made me realize that banks could make a pretty big difference on the environmental front. That’s what moved me out of consulting and into the banking world.”

As the Chief Environment Officer of TD Bank Group (TD), she aims to embed an environmental perspective into the bank’s DNA. That involves a strong focus on partnerships to help facilitate constructive dialogue on environmental issues.

TD, under the TD Forests program, has been a partner with the Nature Conservancy of Canada for five years, helping to protect 25 properties — 4 ,000 acres (16,200 hectares) in every major forest habitat type across Canada. These one-of-a kind forests are valuable natural capital assets, says Clarke-Whistler.

“I’ve always thought James Lovelock’s Gaia theory makes a lot of sense: the Earth is a giant self-regulating system, and from that perspective forests are the lungs of that system,” says Clarke-Whistler. “Forests are just such an important component to a living, healthy Earth. Having been lucky enough to travel all around the world for work, I really do appreciate Canada. Our forests and lakes are powerful symbols of who we are, and our stewardship of them is a legacy we can leave for our children and their children.”

This story originally appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of the Nature Conservancy of Canada Magazine. To learn more about how you can receive the magazine, click here.

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