Monday, April 5, 2010

Banks Initiate Green CSR Campaigns

No sooner had I reported on Wells Fargo’s green financing track record than I stumbled over an article in American Banker describing the impressive sustainability activity of four other banks. These inspiring actions show the many ways in which banks of varying asset size can be sustainable and good for society.


Despite Citi’s ‘on the edge’ status in terms of whether it will fail or not, the bank has been able to do a lot of excellent work in sustainability. Citi’s size allows it to make infrastructure investments in cleantech in ways smaller banks can’t, as well as to finance larger scale green projects. One area Citi has focused on is “sustainable IT”, where it has made changes to procedure and to equipment to better manage its firm’s enormous energy use. Citi has worked with the EPA to transition to CPUs that are ultra-energy efficient. They have also changed the company’s email procedure in a program called “Lighten the Load”, which serves to cut down on the volume of email workers spend computer energy managing each day. These initiatives will cut down on Citi’s total carbon output by 3%.

Their IT initiative is only one of a swatch of initiatives you can read about on their website. Others include green building, Haiti recovery, technology recycling and more. Despite the craven behavior of many financial firms, Citi stands out as an ethical firm in an industry that too often rewards amoral behavior.

Bank of America Looks to Green Energy

BOA has pledged $20 billion in investments in sustainability, and they’ve applied it pragmatically, with a focus on efficiency. BOA now runs one Southern California office with fuel cells, following in the footsteps of First Bank of Omaha, which was the first bank to operate off of fuel cells. BOA has also invested heavily in green building. Their green building initiatives have included HVAC upgrades and putting computers to sleep at night, yielding significant energy and cost savings. BOA is off to a good start; with their newfound size and market power, these investments should only be the beginning since they can afford to do so much.

The Johnson Financial Group ($6B in assets) has taken very similar steps as BOA, but on a smaller scale. They also adopted the same software that BOA uses to put its computers to sleep (called Nightwatchman) and built a green facility. Like BOA, despite up front investment, Johnson Financial is seeing savings from reduced energy demand.

Third Federal gets creative with tele-business

Third Federal, a smaller national bank ($750M in assets), has cut down its energy, paper and C02 through reducing the travel of its employees. By instituting new internal policy that embraces broad IT networks, the increasingly popular paperless-billing option and new green building initiatives. Although Third Federal doesn’t have BOA’s cash reserves, they serve to show that banks of all sizes can make common sense changes and investments to reduce their environmental impact.

Overall, it’s just great to hear positive things about the financial sector, and to see that some banks do care about customers beyond their account size.

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