Greening the Union: How CUs can Benefit from Sustainability
Sustainability, which was once dismissed as an idealistic fad, is now a trillion dollar industry with corporate giants such as Walmart, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola scrambling to go green.
Indeed, the annual global revenue for sustainable products is estimated to reach $10 trillion by 2017.
Why should credit unions make sustainability a priority? Isn’t it enough to have paperless e-statements, a recycling bin in the staff lounge, and please consider the environment before printing at the bottom of emails? Perhaps.
But instead of seeing green as separate from your core business model, what if credit unions saw it as an opportunity to cut costs, add value for members and employees, reduce regulatory risk, and take advantage of a red-hot market trend?
The benefits to credit unions include:
With a return on investment of 10-50%, energy efficiency is one of the best investments available to businesses in the United States. Compared to the Standard & Poor 500 closing with 0% appreciation last year, those efficient pigtail light bulbs never looked so good.
Adding Value for Employees.
A greener workplace has been shown to increase staff commitment, productivity and satisfaction. It could also help attract more Generation Y applicants. A 2010 study by Johnson Controls titled Generation Y and the Workplace found that 96% of 18- to 35-year-olds aspire to work in a greener office.
Adding Value for Members. Sustainability can enhance member trust and loyalty, help differentiate credit unions from corporate mega banks, and create innovative loan growth opportunities such as loans for hybrid cars or solar panels.
Benefitting the Local Community. By focusing on sustainability, credit unions can reduce their environmental footprint and encourage members and employees to experiment with green products at home.
New energy efficiency laws, such as California AB 1103, mandate that commercial buildings meet strict efficiency requirements. Without any sustainability strategy, credit unions risk falling behind the competition as Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Chase make a strong push to capture the green market share.
Sustainability isn’t just about polar bears. It’s smart business. Here are some steps credit unions can take to be greener.
Don’t Get Solar (For Now)
While solar panels are sexy, they are not always a wise first step on the green path. Why? Because solar requires a large, upfront capital investment with a payback period of around 10 to 15 years. There are financing options that help avoid the upfront capital expense, but this will lock you into a 10- to 20-year contract.
Solar panels are a great investment over the long term. But there are cheaper, quicker and easier steps that you can take first.
Benchmark Your Building
You can’t manage what you don’t measure. The first thing you should do is benchmark your building with the free ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager software (www.energystar.gov). Portfolio Manager compares your facility’s energy performance to similar buildings across the United States.
Once you input your monthly energy data, Portfolio Manager gives your building a score between 1-100, with 50 being the national average and 100 being a top score. If your facility scores below a 50, it’s a red flag that you are wasting energy and money.
Get An Energy Audit
Regardless of your benchmarking results, an energy audit is an invaluable way to identify your building’s no cost and low cost efficiency opportunities. An energy auditor will look at your lighting, heating and air-conditioning, and plug loads, which account for the majority of energy used in most office buildings.
By addressing these items first, you can significantly lower your building’s overall energy usage with little to no upfront cost. Then, if you decide to invest in a higher cost item like solar, your solar system will be cheaper to install and more appropriately sized to meet your decreased electricity consumption.
Engage Your Employees
A key and often overlooked element in any green initiative is motivating and engaging your employees. Staff engagement will amplify your efficiency savings, give employees a creative outlet, build community around a common goal and help ensure the longevity of your green efforts.
In order to do this effectively, however, it’s important to understand what motivates people to change. Rather than using fear, shame or pleas to save the planet, the most effective approach comes from something called the herd mentality. This suggests that humans are more likely to adopt green behaviors because their friends, coworkers and neighbors already have. Humans don’t want to be the first or last to do something; they want to be safe in the middle of the herd.
Instead of trying to change every individual opinion, a sustainability initiative only has to motivate enough people to get the attention of the herd. If you focus on making sustainability fun through things like energy efficiency contests, newsletters and a green staff of the month, your employees will start moving in the same green direction.
Tell the World You’re Green
When you feel confident in your progress, you should consider introducing sustainability into your marketing efforts. Green marketing can create a halo effect, causing customers to view you as more trustworthy, honest and superior to the competition because you care for the planet.
Getting your facility Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design or LEED-certified or Energy Star certified can generate external recognition of your green efforts.
Expect Good Things
Once you start to see that going green helps you save money, add value for members and employees, and reduces risk, you’ll realize that sustainability is not a passing trend, it’s the future of business.
Ryan Honeyman is president of Honeyman Sustainability Consulting.
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