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Credit Unions Going Green for the Greater Good

Credit Unions Going Green for the Greater Good By Cyndi Cohen
Published July 27, 2011
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"Going green" is everywhere and businesses of all types and sizes are joining the green movement. Whether it is your local grocery store paying you back for shopping with reusable tote bags or the federal government offering tax rebates on energy efficient appliances, "green" is today's hot color. Now credit unions are doing their part and joining the green movement to encourage and assist their members in the effort to help the environment while also cutting costs and passing those savings onto members.

What Does Green Really Mean?

According to www.eHow.com, going green refers to the process of changing one's lifestyle for the safety and benefit of the environment. This can be done in a number of ways including through sustainable living, using green products, and recycling and reusing. Many credit unions are beginning to apply versions of these green practices to their policies and business plans. Some CUs may just be starting to explore green options, offering members things like free online bill payer, paperless statements, free shred events, and tips on how to go green. Others are taking it a step further offering green loan products, green branches, and the like.

The Story of Two Green Credit Unions

CFE Federal Credit Union (Lake Mary, FL) created a suite of green financial products, known as MyGreenCFE(R), explains Laura Richard, Marketing Manager. The core account is a paperless checking account, which only receives electronic statements and comes with a unique debit card that earns rewards points. MyGreenCFE reward points may be donated by the member to one of five designated charities - Carbonfund.org, The Everglades Foundation, Reef Relief, The St. Johns River Alliance, and the Wildlife Foundation of Florida. To help members save money overtime, CFE created a special Earth Day share certificate which can be opened with as little as $5.00, and then added to monthly, and it matures every year on Earth Day. According to Richard, CFE recognized that members want to work with a financial institution that aligns with their core values, so it attracts members by offering paperless accounts, and green loan discounts on fuel efficient vehicles and energy efficient home improvements. Richard says, "In addition to offering green financial solutions, CFE is concerned with reducing the impact that its business operations have on the environment. CFE doesn't believe that going green is something you do overnight, rather it is an ongoing commitment." The following highlights just a few of CFE's green initiatives:
  • CFE has secure, shred containers located in every branch and department along with designated receptacles for recycling in their break rooms.
  • In October of 2007, CFE opened its new operations building in Lake Mary, Florida, which was constructed in accordance with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) concepts.
  • All of their monthly financial reports, plus daily reports are no longer printed, but distributed electronically only.
  • Payroll is mandatorily ACH, and paycheck statements are accessible via electronic image only.
  • They offer "no receipt" options at the ATM and Teller windows.
  • Marketing has significantly reduced their direct mail program, and uses recycled paper and vegetable ink for brochures and postcards.
  • CFE has partnered with five charitable organizations, and allows members to donate their debit and credit card rewards.
  • CFE provides an incentive of $75 per month to employee carpool groups of 3 or more.
  • CFE has hosted six community Shred-a-thon events since 2009 with more planned, recycling approximately 85,000 lbs of paper and collecting over 15,000 lbs of e-waste to date.
  • An internal committee of employees, known as the eco-crew, champion CFE's green improvement and education initiatives, holding local cleanups and raising money for charities like planting trees at Orange County's Riverside Acres Park.
Like CFE, Magnify Credit Union (Mulberry, FL) recently opened a new, state-of-the-art, full service branch, featuring many environmentally green features, inside and out. "With unstable energy prices and the move for a greener environment, we wanted to be one of the first in this area as well as the State of Florida to build an environmental friendly branch," said John Santarpia, President/CEO of the $100 million credit union. According to Magnify's "green" website, the new Magnify Credit Union branch is a carbon-neutral, net zero energy building (ZEB). Increased wall and roof insulation, state-of-the-art insulated glass, large overhangs and sun shades, roofing material with a high solar reflectance, double-roof design for passive cooling, high efficiency HVAC system design and equipment, and automatically dimming fluorescent and compact fluorescent lighting reduce the building's energy demand 40% below average requirements of similar commercial structures. This project is the first in Polk County to achieve a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) GOLD level of certification by achieving points in every LEED category including site characteristics, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and design innovations. The most notable sustainable design feature of this project is the roof-mounted photovoltaic (PV) system that provides on-site renewable energy. The system is designed to generate 85,717-kWH of electricity per year, more electricity than the Credit Union is expected to use. Santarpia says, "We don't want to stop at going Green. The need to conserve our natural resources is a major part of our mission, which is why Magnify Credit Union will be using solar energy to power our branch."

Where To Begin?

While all of this may seem overwhelming at the onset, there are resources in place to help non-profit and not-for-profit organizations, like credit unions, to begin going green. Also, it is important to remember that a credit union need not make their first green initiative a new branch but rather start small, get creative, and grow your green agenda over time. Keith Winn, VP Marketing/COO of GreenProfit Solutions, feels it is important for his company to function as an educational resource for non-profit organizations who hope to simultaneously save money and the planet by going green. GreenProfit Solutions is a sustainability consulting, certifications, and contracting firm which assists organizations in reducing operational expenses and carbon emissions through their E4 Assessment and ISO services. In doing so, they deliver cost reductions in energy, improved employee productivity as well as reduced turnover, and increased revenues from their unique Approved Green Business program. Winn explains that one of the first steps credit unions or other financial institutions may want to take is to adopt an assessment method for environmental risks. As described on the GreenProfit Solutions website, the ISO 14001:2004 (International Standards Organization) system is an alternative environmental risk management system, referenced in Executive Order 13423. This system directs federal agencies to adopt systems for improving environmental compliance, reducing the consumption of natural resources and reducing air, water and waste emissions and improving overall environmental stewardship. As applied to federal agencies through subsequent government announcements, it requires federal agencies to implement plans to:
  • Educate employees on environmental and sustainability issues;
  • Implement procurement practices to reduce energy usage and improve sustainability;
  • Reduce water consumption;
  • Shift power consumption from fossil-intensive methods to green or renewable methods of power production;
  • Reduce environmental impacts by shifting to more efficient buildings, production systems and transportation systems; and
  • Reduce the environmental impact of the disposal of electronic devices by improving disposal methods and encouraging the use of electronic devices with minimal environmental impact upon disposal.
Since ISO 14001:2004 is not industry specific, it therefore lends itself for use by a myriad of industries and organizations, including credit unions and banks. The time frame for the entire process, from start through certification can vary dramatically based upon a variety of factors including organization size, number and locations of branch operations, type of industry, management buy-in, and staff training. "The ISO 14001's Environmental Management System can be implemented in any organization. As a matter of fact, the ISO 14001:2004 (or equivalent) system has been mandated and is currently being implemented for every federal agency through two Executive Orders: 13423 (President Bush) and 13514 (President Obama)," says Winn. No matter where your credit union stands today in terms of green ideology and practices, every little bit helps. Members will respect your efforts, small, medium, or large scale, to involve your credit union in making a difference and contributing to the betterment of the global community.

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