Bankers Find Going Green Makes Sense

By Corey Carlisle

In July, 11 global financial institutions including Citigroup, TD Bank and Banco Santander announced a pilot project to address financial risks associated with global warming. The project’s goal is to implement recommendations for financial reporting standards on issues related to the environment.

The largest banks—such as Bank of America, which recently announced plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2020—are often viewed as corporate leaders on climate change and green issues. Community banks, too, are demonstrating fiscal and social responsibility by making their operations and facilities as environmentally friendly as possible.

For the employee-owned $3 billion Alpine Bank, based in Glenwood Springs, Colo., there is a shared belief that their success is directly linked to the health and quality of the natural environment. The bank’s “Green Team” was formed back in 2005, and has led many accomplishments with environmental initiatives over the years. The Green Team spurred the bank’s extensive environmental management system, or EMS, which provides the framework and benchmark for reducing the bank’s environmental footprint.

Not long after the formation of EMS, Alpine earned (and has maintained) an ISO 14001 certification—a universally recognized standard for environmental management that helps organizations minimize their effect on the environment and compliance with applicable laws and regulations. They also began to offer an “environmental loyalty debit card,” which donates 10 cents for each transaction to help local groups restore, preserve and protect ecosystems.

In 2014, ColoradoBiz magazine named Alpine Bank among the greenest organizations in the state. And last year, the bank was inducted into the International Green Industry Hall of Fame. “This [honor]is a result of our associates’ dedication to the Colorado environment and unwavering commitment to the bank’s initiative to create measurable and meaningful improvements in every facet of our daily lives,” said chairman Bob Young in the bank’s latest environmental report.

When it comes to environment sustainability, Holyoke, Mass.-based PeoplesBank has established a significant green track record by building energy-efficient offices, financing renewable energy projects and fostering sustainability within the bank and the community. The $2 billion mutual has three branches that are LEED-certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, which means those buildings meet benchmarks associated with energy efficiency. The bank also has electric vehicle charging stations at some of its locations, and an employee-formed environmental committee sponsors a farmers market, hosts an annual environmental fair and runs a carpooling program and electronics recycling program for all staff members and their families. To date, the bank’s e-recycling events have collected more than 100,000 pounds of materials.

PeoplesBank, winner of the ABA Foundation’s 2013 Community Commitment Award for sustainable banking, has also increased its financing of wind, solar and hydroelectric power projects, bringing its total to approximately $126 million worth of sustainable energy projects.

Banks are not only dedicated to reducing their own environmental footprint; they are also committed to helping others reduce theirs. Many banks are helping their customers use new technologies that have enabled online and mobile banking, bill pay and e-statements to cut down paper consumption. In Seattle, $588 million Sound Community Bank recently implemented a recommendation from the bank’s sustainability task force to digitize 100 percent of its loan files. This action helped the bank reduce expenses by eliminating the storage of three million pieces of paper.

Efforts to go green have been a win for these banks, and will lead to a more resilient and prosperous future for our communities.