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Green efforts take many forms at CUs
MADISON, Wis. (9/19/12)--Credit unions' efforts to sustain the environment go beyond asking members to reduce paper and gasoline use by switching to online and mobile banking and e-statements. Across the country, credit unions are finding ways to help the environment, encourage members to do the same, and support their communities.

Here are few examples of credit unions' work with sustainable projects and how they reward their members for using green products and services.  Credit unions are:

Providing auto loans for hybrids and conversions to alternative sources of gas. In Oklahoma City, Okla. Communication FCU and Allegiance CU offer loans to help defray the cost of converting vehicles to run on compressed natural gas (CNG). They've teamed up with a CNG station to finance loans for buying new vehicles vehicle conversions or hybrids and will also finance converting a member's existing vehicle to CNG.

The $836 million asset Communication FCU will finance up to the manufacturer's suggested retail price plus the cost of the conversion, with some loans as low as 1.99%, the credit union told the Tulsa World ( Sept. 8). For pre-owned or member-owned existing vehicles, it will finance up to 115% of the National Automobile Dealers Association's retail value. For those who don't have sufficient equity in their vehicles to cover the CNG conversions, the credit union has a program that can finance the conversions at rates as low as 5.99% APR.

Allegiance CU, with $234 million in assets,, noted that CNG conversions offer drivers serious savings and Allegiance offers low-cost signature loans (Tulsa World).

Columbia CU, Vancouver, Wash., rewards members for driving "environmentally gentle" autos designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as SmartWay and SmartWay Elite. The $865 million asset credit union reduces the auto loan rate by up to 0.50% APR, gives the loan recipients a 90-day break from payments, and requires them to opt for electronic statements to get the discount.

Offering loans to make the home more energy efficient. Summit CU, a $1.9 billion asset credit union in Madison, Wis., has partnered with Green Madison to provide residents a special loan for increasing the energy-efficiency of their home. To get the loan, the member must live in the city and have an owner-occupied or nonowner-occupied single-family home, duplex or condo of three units or less; prove the building is owned by an individual and not a trust, limited liability corporation or a business; and be up to date on property tax payments. Also, the potential energy savings must be 15% or more at the initial assessment, and the homeowner must agree to install a mix of recommended measures to achieve that percentage.  The range of loans can be $1,000 to $15,000, with low rates and flexible repayment terms, said Summit's website.

Changing workplace/staff behavior. Philadelphia-based American Heritage FCU has a dedicated "Green Team" of credit union employees and management that initiates green efforts such as providing bike racks for employees to reduce traffic pollution; offering a commuting subsidy to staff members and implementing a telecommuting program; and installing Geo-thermal heating and cooling in its new building projects (Life is a Highway Sept. 10), as well as participating in the Adopt-A-Highway Program and other recycling efforts.

Redwood CU, a $2 billion asset credit union in Santa Rosa, Calif., has earned a host of awards for its environmental efforts, including the Silver LEED Certification. It uses recycled paper products, including letterhead, envelopes, and restroom and kitchen supplies; prints marketing materials on econ-friendly soy-based inks and recycled paper; installs Energy Star appliances and copy/printing machines, including multi-function devices that increase scanning and double-sided printing capabilities; and uses electronic formats on many notices and correspondence.

Incorporating energy efficiency in new or remodeled credit union branches. When First Capital FCU opened a one-story, 4,160-square-foot building in South York, Pa., in August 2009, it incorporated sustainable strategies in its use of energy, lighting, water and materials. This year it became the first retail facility in York to achieve the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) GOLD certification, established by the U.S. Green Building Council and verified by the Green Building Certification Institute.

Columbia CU, an $865 million asset credit union in Vancouver, Wash., also received a LEED GOLD certification for its Grand Central and Washougal branch buildings, the first LEED GOLD for Washington State.  It purchases more than 50% of its electricity through a renewable energy program, uses compact fluorescent lighting in all its facilities, prints marketing materials on uncoated, recyclable paper with soy-based inks, and recycles at all locations, said its website.

Redwood CU's branches and facilities also use recycled business supplies and recycled or renewable construction, environmentally friendly paints and finishes, uses technology to enhance and maximize climate control and energy efficiency, uses natural light and senor-based office lighting to decrease energy use, and has water-efficient restroom facilities and landscaping practices.


Growing green as community service.
The $1.25 billion asset American Heritage FCU in Philadelphia established an Employee Gardens on its grounds. The vegetables grown by employees are sold back to employees in the credit union lunch rooms with all proceeds going to Philabundance and Aid for Friends, said the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association (Life is a Highway Sept. 12).

Columbia CU sponsors local tree plantings through Vancouver Urban Forestry. Many credit unions participate in landscaping and planting community service activities as well.

Investing in earth-friendly and socially responsible investments. Santa Fe, N.M.-based Permaculture CU, with assets of $5.4 million, shows that a credit union doesn't have to be huge to follow a sustainability philosophy. It pools its financial resources "in the ethics of permaculture--care of the earth, care of people and reinvestment of surplus for the betterment of both," says its website.  It offers earth friendly and socially responsible loans and investments, and provides educational opportunities to learn more about sustainable practices. It provides loans for home energy improvement, small business support and fuel-efficient vehicles and micro-loans to farmers through the Santa Fe Farmer's Market Institute and Permaculture Guild.

Educating members and the public about acting green. All the credit unions here engage in educating members and the community about going green. Many websites provided links to more information about acting environmentally, included articles in their newsletters and encouraged members to think green.

Redwood CU said on its website it is committed to the environment. "Simply put, we believe in 'doing the right thing,' so we practice and encourage green-friendly efforts that contribute to a healthy and sustainable environment for all."

"If everyone did one thing 'green,' it would make a huge impact," urged Columbia CU on its website.


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