Earth Day All Year
During the past decade, the credit union industry has embraced the importance of corporate social responsibility and launched a myriad of initiatives to enhance sustainability.
From small credit unions to the NCUA, the efforts to reduce environmental impact extend far beyond Earth Day, which has been celebrated on April 22 by organizations around the globe since 1970.
“Being a responsible corporate citizen is one of the NCUA's highest priorities, and that includes being a responsible steward of our environment throughout the year,” said John Fairbanks, public affairs specialist with the NCUA.
“Our greeNCUA initiative has been promoting several efforts to reduce our environmental footprint, including greater energy efficiency and waste reduction,” Fairbanks explained. “This not only helps protect the environment; it also helps lower the overall cost of the agency's operations.”
Initiatives such as the NCUA's Partnership Council's Go Green agreement with the National Treasury Employees Union have helped NCUA to reduce paper and toner use by more than 75% by offering more resources online, the agency said.
“The importance of efforts like greeNCUA really can't be overstated,” Fairbanks said. “Individuals and organizations can do so much to reduce the amount of resources they consume as well as the amount of waste they produce. When they do that, they help protect our planet and contribute to a higher quality of life for everyone.”
Credit unions have also stepped up efforts to minimize their carbon footprint.
For example, more than 2,000 credit unions have enrolled in CUNA Mutual Group's Go Paperless campaign, which the company said has saved an estimated 90 trees and 750,000 sheets of paper.
Many cooperatives, such as the $619 million Vermont State Employees Credit Union in Montpelier, Vt., are also saving energy by improving efficiency and incorporating green features such as solar panels.
Other efforts are also underway.
United Nations Federal Credit Union has a 30-member Green Team that oversees initiatives around the globe.
“Corporate social responsibility is a board mandate at our credit union, which has large numbers of humanitarian relief workers among its membership,” said Elisabeth Philippe, corporate communications manager for the $4 billion institution based in Long Island City, N.Y.
For 2014 Earth Day, UNFCU member services representatives will don Green Team shirts and engage members with eco-tips on personal financial management, including going paperless through online banking and e-signatures, Philippe said.
In addition, UNFCU's office in Nairobi, Kenya, recently helped to introduce Green Bags at the UN campus commissary with proceeds benefitting local greening initiatives, the credit union said.
AmeriCU Credit Union is also encouraging members to “Go Green & Save.” As part of a campaign that runs through April 15, the $1.3 billion institution in Rome, N.Y., has pledged to plant one tree seedling for each member that switches to e-statements, said Judith Repass Cowden, AmeriCU's vice president of member relations and marketing.
The seedlings will be planted on Earth Day by area college students, she said.
“AmeriCU Credit Union has engaged in a concerted effort to convert members to e-statements for several reasons,” she said. “Clearly, it is much kinder to our natural resources. Also, we are constantly looking for ways to trim our operating expenses.”
“With e-statements, AmeriCU saves approximately $1 per member per month versus traditional paper statements,” she added. “If we factor in the new CFPB-required monthly real estate statements, that increases to $2 to $4 per month per member. With 100,000-plus members, those savings really add up.”
To promote the campaign, AmeriCU purchased 150 red oak, silver maple and red maple seedlings, which are on display at the credit union's branches.
“These ‘sticks in pots’ have been a conversation starter with employees and members alike,” Repass Cowden said.
The green efforts have also resulted in other benefits, the credit union said.
“This promotion has allowed us to forge new relationships with our local colleges, and has publicly positioned AmeriCU as both environmentally and socially responsible,” Repass Cowden concluded.
In Florida, Grow Financial Federal Credit Union will be giving away pine saplings on April 22.
“Grow Financial is committed to participating in activities that show our appreciation for
the natural beauty of our planet and our commitment to combating environmental pollution,” said Bob Fisher, president/CEO of the $2 billion Tampa institution.
Meanwhile, Finger Lakes Federal Credit Union teamed with The UPS Store to host a free shred on April 19.
“We only have one planet earth so we will all benefit from making eco-friendly choices,” said Patricia Ely, marketing director of the $95 million cooperative in Geneva, N.Y. “We make our members aware that it only takes seconds to shred these documents, but many months or years to clear their record if their identity has been stolen.”
Finger Lakes FCU also educates members year-round on the paper-saving benefits of using services such as online banking, e-statements, and debit/credit cards rather than checks, she said.
In California, Golden 1 Credit Union also hosts free shred events with the next one set for April 26. “Each of these events provide Golden 1 members and members of the communities we serve with a safe and convenient means of destroying confidential documents in an environmentally friendly way,” said Scott Ingram, vice president of public relations for the $8.2 billion Sacramento-based institution.
During a similar event last fall, approximately 3,200 people participated and more than 163,000 pounds of confidential documents were shredded, Ingram said.