Just months after my full-year review, oil sands sultan Suncor (NYSE: SU) received board approval for a huge $20.6 billion expansion project. Sounds scary, but this isn't the first time the company has embarked on a capital program in the vicinity of half the company's market cap. This company just continues to stay ahead of the curve, in more ways than one.

First, Suncor was early to recognize the economic potential of Canada's oil sands. I personally recall viewing this company as something of a pipe dream not so many years ago. That was back when Canadian Natural Resources' (NYSE: CNQ) Horizon project was still far off, and BP (NYSE: BP) wasn't yet party to a poetic partnership of its own.

As a result of this prescience, Suncor's financial results are simply smashing. This quarter, oil sands-based operating cash flow flew over 50%, and net income lifted 23%, despite several billion dollars of expenditures on the new expansion. As a past expansion phase comes to a conclusion, the company is targeting oil sands production of around 280,000 barrels per day.

Another way in which Suncor is ahead of the curve has to do with the company's approach to sustainability. This company has had a climate change plan for more than 10 years -- way before Al Gore was winning Nobel prizes. Greenhouse gas emissions are half their 1990 levels, while water use has dried up 40% in the past five years. These are the sort of forward-looking actions that will give Suncor the social license to keep pumping out profits "not just for the next five years, or even 50 years, but for a century and beyond." Take note, Huaneng Power (NYSE: HNP) -- that's real social responsibility.

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Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool has a sustainable disclosure policy.