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Credit Unions Gone Green: A Year of Progress

Credit Unions Gone Green: A Year of Progress

Last June Credit Unions Online took a closer look at how credit unions were getting involved in the green movement to reduce negative impact on the environment and provide better member service. Over the past year, credit unions have maintained their commitment to practicing more sustainable and environmentally-friendly ways of conducting business, and because of their inherent member/community driven philosophy, are now poised to take their current green initiatives to the next level.

“Going Green” & “People Helping People”: Staying True to Grassroots Beginnings

With similar beginnings, both the credit union movement and the green movement are community minded and seem to complement one another well. Keith Winn, VP of Marketing/COO of GreenProfit Solutions, Inc., a sustainability consulting, certifications, and contracting firm which assists organizations in reducing operational expenses and carbon emissions, compares the two movements and their evolution.

Credit unions started out as small groups of people who pooled their savings and created financial cooperatives as an alternative to banks. “Even though many credit unions have grown from these humble beginnings and evolved into billion dollar organizations, they still are, the community coming together to help its own,” says Winn. Likewise, the green movement also started out as a grassroots movement, and like credit unions, has evolved. “The New Green is all about community: helping local businesses and individuals save money, live healthier lives, and support local charities and initiatives which are so important to every hometown.”

Laura Richard, Marketing Manager, CFE Federal Credit Union (Lake Mary, FL), adds “being green is part of being a responsible corporate citizen, taking care of the environment where we live, work and play.” She says that CFE views “going green” as an ongoing commitment to do their part, with steady progress towards becoming greener.

In the same vein, Steve Howard, Facilities Manager of Redwood Credit Union (Santa Rosa, CA) and co-chair of their Committee for Sustainable Practices, says that as cooperatives, credit unions exist for the mutual benefit of their members. “A commitment to green initiatives is a natural extension of the cooperative concept—protecting the environment and communities you serve for the benefit of all.”

The New Green

According to GreenProfit, sustainability is about “The New Green.” While “Going Green” was very trendy a few years back, and focused specifically on practices such as recycling, reducing paper usage, turning off the lights, and saving water, today, it’s a much larger picture. It’s about business and community all working together. Historically, credit unions have a deep connection with their communities, and for business, it’s no longer just a fad. After all, there is no sustainability without profitability.

Winn reports that recent surveys overwhelmingly indicate that a large percentage of consumers are seeking to do business with companies that share their values. “These “cause conscious” consumers want their purchases to have meaning and potentially make a difference -- this demographic know as LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health & Sustainability), represents approximately 40 million people in the US with an annual buying power of over $300 billion.” In addition, there is also a growing trend towards supporting local business and the credit unions that choose to support these new green initiatives are uniquely positioned for growth.

Supporting this sentiment, Howard says that in addition to the cost savings and increased efficiencies generated by many of Redwood’s green practices, the credit union finds that their staff and Members are proud that they have an environmental commitment, and are continually looking at ways to further their green efforts.

Eco-Friendly Credit Unions: Green Through & Through

CFE officially launched MyGreenCFE, a collection of green financial products and services, in 2009. The product suite encompasses savings, paperless checking, green loans, and credit cards. MyGreenCFE members earn green rewards and they are eligible to receive loan discounts on high-fuel efficient vehicles and energy-saving home improvements. Currently, CFE has close to 2,000 green accounts.

CFE views its green initiatives as a continual process to reduce the impact that its business operations have on the environment. Most recently the credit union installed deposit automation ATMs, which save paper. “Instead of using deposit envelopes and slips, members deposit their cash and checks directly into the ATM and the machine scans the checks -- an image of the check(s) and a breakdown of the dollar denominations are displayed on the screen for members to approve,” explains Richard. Members may also forego the paper ATM receipt. In its branches CFE has installed signature pads to capture members’ signatures electronically and members have the option of receiving a printed receipt or not. “Perhaps most notably, we encourage our members to adopt e-statements by promoting their safety and the environmental benefits; of CFE’s 89,895 households 52% currently receive e-statements,” she adds.

In addition to its green products and services, and green business practices, CFE’s main operations facility is constructed in accordance with LEED concepts using local materials to cut down on transfer waste. CFE invested in recycled material such as steel, ash concrete, and acoustic panels. The building has high performance glass and a roof that exceeds LEED recommendations. Light bulbs meet LEED recommendations, and HVAC air conditioning meets LEED guidelines. Only Green Seal certified cleaning products are used, and CFE’s waste company recycles.

“Going green is good for the environment, it promotes ‘local’, and there are financial savings from many of the changes,” says Richard. “Electronic processes are green, offering convenience and security, and when the credit union saves money members ultimately benefit with enhanced services, lower fees, higher dividends, and better rates.”

According to Howard, Redwood Credit Union has long been committed to green practices such as recycling. “As a cooperative, this focus is a natural extension of our commitment to our communities and the environment we share.” Plus, serving Northern California, an area that has long been at the forefront of environmental awareness, green initiatives are a natural fit. In 2007, RCU’s green commitment gained attention and momentum when they opened their new Administrative Facility in Santa Rosa. “We remodeled an existing 1960s-era building, focusing on the use of sustainable materials and practices, and in 2008 the building received silver level Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the US Green Building Council making it the first of its kind in Sonoma County.

In terms of products, services, and practices, RCU’s initiatives are numerous including:

The credit union also seeks to educate and motivate their members and employees on green living through:

Plus, as a standard business practice, the credit union regularly partners with companies who share their green commitment. “Shared values are always a consideration whenever we seek a new business partner or vendor—from printers to event services,” says Howard.

A Bright Future for Green Credit Unions

When advising credit unions on beginning green initiatives, Winn suggests leaving out the “green.” “While our name begins with ‘green,’ there is a certain amount of distrust due to ‘greenwashing’ by companies which jumped aboard the ‘Going Green’ train and made unsupported claims about their products and services,” explains Winn. He says that even the term “Green” has been overused, so it is best to include the benefits of going green, but use the terminology sparingly.

“With sentiment still running high against big banks, credit unions have a unique opportunity to get their story out and build in the New Green local warmth which so many consumers are seeking,” advises Winn.

With future green endeavors always in mind, CFE is researching new technologies such as remote deposit capture. Richard says that going green is not something you do overnight. “As long as we’re continuously and actively pursuing going green improvement opportunities, while maintaining our primary focus to preserve and protect the soundness and security of the credit union for our members’ financial wellbeing, we believe we can effectively balance and promote the needs of both our members and the environment.”

Likewise, Redwood Credit Union is always looking at ways to increase employee awareness and engagement in their sustainable efforts, and ways to improve environmental efficiencies within the organization.

They are currently holding an employee “green contest” encouraging branches and departments to take a more active role in sustainability in the workplace by implementing more green practices such as carpooling, using dining ware instead of disposable cups and plates, reducing paper waste and participating in local green volunteer efforts such as beach or park clean-up or tree planting.

“Longer term, we are looking into the possibility of adding solar panels in the future, as well as improving branch environmental initiatives and eventually gaining green certification for all branch locations,” says Howard.

Want to be part of a financial institution that cares as deeply about sustaining the environment as they do about serving your financial needs? Find a credit union and join today!

By Cyndi Cohen
Published June 19, 2012
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