ACU Employee Spotlight: Getting to know Dennis Cunningham

Dennis Cunningham, ACU

The ACU Employee Spotlight series features some of the many people that work at the credit union, highlighting how their unique roles help members and the community every day. In this article, we get to know Dennis Cunningham, Manager of Environmental Sustainability.

Dennis Cunningham grew up in Halifax, and as a child in the Maritimes, his environmental beliefs were first developed. Today, halfway across the country as the Manager of Environmental Sustainability at ACU, this lifelong passion is put into action every day, helping reduce the credit union’s environmental footprint.

The programs Dennis has spearheaded over the years have had a far-reaching impact on ACU partner organizations, Winnipeg neighbourhoods and individuals also trying to be a little greener.

With this focus on sustainability and planet, we learn more from Dennis about how he got started in the financial industry, what he has learned along the way and how others can follow his environmentally conscious footsteps.

Getting to know Dennis:

Question (Q): How long have you worked at ACU?

I celebrate my 11th anniversary at ACU this April. Fittingly, I joined the credit union right around Earth Day 2010.

Q. Describe a “day in the life” of your role.

Like every role at ACU, my work varies day to day. A typical day might involve helping to get compost collection organized for a branch, talking to suppliers about new environmentally responsible products, connecting with sustainability managers at other businesses, promoting activities like the Commuter Challenge to employees, calculating our greenhouse gas emissions or conducting research on topics like green lending products, environmental policies and climate risk disclosure. Every day is a little different, but always interesting.  

Dennis Cunningham displaying ACU's compost system

Read how Dennis has helped reduce ACU waste by 40%.

Q. What is your favourite part of working at ACU?

Aside from working with so many great people, one of my favourite things about working at ACU is our deep commitment to being a purpose-driven business. This was what initially attracted me to the credit union and, over the last decade, I have seen this commitment deepen in so many remarkable ways.

Our leadership on environmental sustainability has garnered a great deal of attention locally and nationally. We received the 2012 Manitoba Excellence in Sustainability Award, the 2017 Canadian Credit Union Association (CCUA) Sustainability Award, Canada’s Greenest Employers Award for 10 years in a row, and we were nominated for a 2019 Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce Spirit of Winnipeg Award. I was also fortunate to accept the 2017 CCUA Sustainability Award on behalf of ACU at the annual CCUA Conference in Halifax.

Q. Have green initiatives helped shape ACU as a leading credit union?

In 2018, ACU became the first carbon-neutral credit union in Manitoba and only one of a small group of carbon-neutral credit unions in Canada. This was a huge milestone for me. Beyond working to measure and reduce our corporate greenhouse gas emissions, we were willing to make small investments in projects developed in other parts of the world that helped remove or reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide.

As importantly, we applied a wider sustainability lens to the offset selection process. This meant that our purchases also supported community health and economic development goals. We ended up becoming the first business in Canada to purchase Fair Climate Fund certified offsets.

I am equally proud of ACU recently becoming a B Corporation. This rigorous certification process reaffirmed the strength of our triple bottom line – people, planet and prosperity – approach to doing business. Being part of the B Corp movement connects ACU’s employees and members to a global business community that balances purpose and profit. We have much to learn from B Corp members as well as much to share. I look forward to helping to grow the B Corp movement in Manitoba and beyond. 

Q. What’s a great financial tip you learned over the years that was a surprising help?

Pay yourself first. Use automatic deductions to squirrel away money in a special savings account.

Q. What’s a fun fact about yourself that most people wouldn’t know?

In the summer of 2012, I tried running to work as an alternative to commuting by bike or bus. That decision led to a running obsession.

Dennis Cunningham running

Over the last 9 years, I have run well over 100 five and 10-kilometre races, 25 or so half-marathons and eight full marathons, including running the Boston Marathon twice and the Chicago marathon once. I’ve also participated in a number of trail runs over the years and hope to complete a 50-kilometre ultra-marathon this September.

My commitment to the running community includes organizing an annual fundraising winter run called the Frost Bite River Run for my community centre for the last eight years. And I’ve been working with a couple of other people to bring Parkrun, a weekly global running event, to Winnipeg.

Running has helped me establish new friendships and deepen old connections. It has also provided me with an excuse to buy lots and lots of shoes, radically improved my fitness as well as building my confidence and mental toughness. It also allows me time to be alone with my thoughts and helps me work through difficult problems. When I run, I slow down and take in the world around me in ways that other activities can’t.

The future of our community

Q. Why would you encourage people to become an ACU member?

Being an ACU member means you are an active member of a business that is deeply committed to doing good in its community. It means the money you entrust with us stays here and is directed to building a better, more just and more equitable Manitoba.

Q. What does “Money doing more” mean to you?

Where someone chooses to save, invest and spend has far-reaching impacts and implications. ACU members become part of a bigger movement to support and uplift our community.

“Money doing more” builds on the promise and impact of providing members with the financial advice, tools and services to achieve their goals. “Money doing more” is a promise to create places we can all be proud of; places we feel safe, secure and healthy; places where we are valued and welcomed.

Q. What’s the most exciting thing to come in the future of credit unions?

Credit unions will become more and more purpose-driven in the future, acknowledging that we are unique and locally driven — and turning that to our advantage.

Stay tuned for part two of this spotlight on Dennis Cunningham, which describes how he got his start in this role at a financial institution, plus tips for others looking to follow a similar career path.

Learn more about ACU’s environmental initiatives here, including the actions we take to create, protect and sustain healthy environments.

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