Any financial institution that claims to protect its clients’ or members’ hard-earned investments needs to emulate the innovative sustainability programs of Redwood Credit Union (RCU) and Beneficial State Bank.
The connection may not seem obvious but the reason is as simple as cause and effect. Climate change impacts create financial chaos — think Katrina, Sandy and the recent Lake County fire — and if not curbed in the next few years, will dramatically destabilize the global economy.
Unfortunately, many companies are still looking only at the short-term bottom line, either pleading job losses or even rejecting climate change out of hand.
REDWOOD CREDIT UNION
RCU has proven that a financial institution can be both sustainable and successful. Founded in 1950, it has grown to $3 billion in assets and ranks as the 63rd largest credit union of approximately 6,300 in the U.S. Clearly sustainability doesn’t hurt business. And, although RCU is a not-for-profit institution with no shareholders to answer to, the company does answer to its members and employees. And these members and employees are obviously satisfied.
Their Cleveland Avenue headquarters was the first commercial building in Sonoma County to be LEED certified. They included solar panels which produce 662 kilowatts of power, reducing RCU’s carbon footprint by 300 tons of greenhouse gases annually.
Beyond technology, the idea of being sustainable is part of their values, says Steve Howard, AVP Corporate Real Estate, to be promoted within the company and in the community at large.
For example they offer members below-market-rate solar loans which enables them to finance their installations without touching their home equity. To date, the program has lent approximately $4 million to help others achieve important energy savings.
In the same vein, they offer a reduced rate to members who are purchasing either a hybrid or electric vehicle.
“Our mission is to serve the best issues of our members,”said Ron Felder, executive vice president. “In fact, the genesis of our solar program was members asking for it.”
BENEFICIAL STATE BANK
Another innovative financial institution, Beneficial State Bank, which has been in Santa Rosa for a little over a year and is headquartered in Oakland, has an unconventional corporate structure and is doing some impressive investing in renewable energy.
Founded in 2007, the bank takes a triple bottom line (profits, people, planet) approach to their operations and investments. They are a B Corp, which is a relatively new kind of corporation that is for-profit but independently certified to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.
When Kat Taylor and Tom Steyer founded the bank, they said they wanted “to be a catalytic bank. We need to change the banking system for good. The bank model has to work, but it has to be free of the constraints that would otherwise co-opt it into the practices that we don’t want.”
“As a result, 100 percent of the economic rights of our bank belong to our foundation, Beneficial State Foundation, which is a public charity governed in the public interest. Its bylaws mandate that any profits,when distributed, must go back into the low-income communities and/or the environment upon which we depend. It’s a virtuous cycle of reinvestment of profits to the community of depositors that provided capital in the first place.”
Powering the Bottom Line