How a business treats people figures into bottom-line equation

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Powering the Bottom Line

Barry Vesser leads the Business for Clean Energy program for the Center for Climate Protection.

Powering the Bottom Line ( is a recurring column from that Santa Rosa-based organization.

Recently on a visit to Redwood Credit Union’s Santa Rosa headquarters, President and CEO Brett Martinez walked me out to the lobby and showed me a monitor that displays the actual output, in real time, of the 2,000 high-efficiency solar panels on their roof.

It is clear that RCU has made a commitment to environmental sustainability. Their building is LEED Silver-certified; it is made from many recycled building materials, makes use of natural light, and has drought-tolerant landscaping and water-efficient restrooms.

Most of RCU’s printed materials are on recycled paper with earth-friendly inks, and they offer loan discounts on qualified fuel-efficient vehicles and solar panels.

But in the wake of the devastating fires that our community recently experienced, what struck me as I talked with their management team was how they embody another kind of sustainability that sometimes gets less attention.

Sustainability advocates evaluate a business according to a triple bottom line, sometimes referred to as the three Ps: profit, people and planet.

I have written a lot over the years about the planet or environmental part of this equation, but I want to take a look at how RCU pays attention to the people part of the bottom line and what it is doing for their business.

When it comes to people Cynthia Negri, RCU’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, says they’re focused on three groups: their members, their employees, and the community. They see it as their mission to passionately serve all three.

When the fires struck our community, RCU — in partnership with the Press Democrat and Senator Mike McGuire — got a fund up and running within 24 hours so that people who wanted to help had a place to donate. Eventually, the fund raised and distributed over $32 million from 41,000 donors, with 100 percent of the funds going to those impacted by the fires. RCU absorbed the considerable cost in administering these funds.

Matt Martin, vice president of community and government relations, says that it was the partnership that made the fund possible. The Press Democrat helped get the word out quickly and consistently, and Senator McGuire helped work with FEMA and other agencies responding to the crisis, providing guidance on the needs of the fire victims and community. Martin notes that 70 percent of the funds raised came from outside the four impacted counties, from across the U.S. and 23 countries.

In addition to this effort to support the community at large, RCU took additional steps to take care of their members impacted by the fires. They provided zero-interest loans and special discounts to people who lost vehicles in the fire, and payment relief to people who missed or were unable to make payments during the crisis.

Negri points out that a number of RCU employees were also impacted by the fire: 23 lost their homes. To help support them, RCU provided donated paid time off (PTO) and worked to ensure that they had housing and transportation. Counseling support and food were provided to employees working to support members, and RCU set up a temporary day care where some board members volunteered their time, watching the children of the staff. She says that offering this kind of support to their employees helped give them peace of mind, and because of that, they could better serve their members.

Beyond helping those who were impacted by the fires, RCU supports their employees through competitive wages and benefits, career development, volunteer opportunities, and a wellness program. Negri says they have a unique work culture based on a passion to serve and to help others succeed. This approach seems to be paying off as they have almost 600 people working for them and Negri reports that, in a tight job market, they are having no trouble attracting new talent. RCU has received the North Bay Business Journal’s Best Place to Work award for 12 years in a row.

When asked about why they have invested so much in people, Negri hearkened back to their mission: “Our members are our owners. When we value our staff, they value and serve our members and the community well, and that all comes back around.”

Powering the Bottom Line

Barry Vesser leads the Business for Clean Energy program for the Center for Climate Protection.

Powering the Bottom Line ( is a recurring column from that Santa Rosa-based organization.

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