By Alexandra Lam, Marketing Director

One usually associates the concept of sustainability or environmental conscientiousness with social enterprises and start-ups—the products of entrepreneurship and innovation.  However, one established Canadian financial institution challenges that.  Since 1992, Vancity has been measuring and tracking its carbon footprint and has been working to reduce that footprint since 1990.  Quite frankly, Vancity was going green before it was cool (and before some of us were born).  In 2006, the Canadian credit union aimed to be carbon neutral by 2010; Vancity annihilated that goal and was officially declared North America’s first carbon-neutral financial institution on December 31st, 2007.  That year, Vancity had hired a UBC Ph.D. student to create an emissions model to track its carbon footprint based on three criteria: energy use, staff transportation and travel, and paper usage and waste.  Since then, Vancity has reduced its carbon footprint by a further nine percent and is now advising other businesses how to do the same by providing both financial and environmental services and resources.

One such resource that Vancity offers to businesses aspiring to be “greenified” is the Eco-Efficiency loan, which helps business owners finance their companies’ energy initiatives to kick-start their cost savings.  This is done through offering a preferred interest rate, up to 100% financing of asset upgrades, flexible repayment periods to assist in managing cash flows and extended amortization, which reduces payment amounts to equal energy savings for each period.  This way, Vancity offers green-minded businesses a way to start saving money immediately and tangibly, instead of waiting for the cost savings of clean energy to kick in over the long term.

Another of Vancity’s environmentally-friendly financial offerings is its microloan for sustainable business, at a preferred rate of prime +3%, as well as eligibility for expansion loans, lines of credit and a higher loan cap.  This initiative actually is intended to help entrepreneurs with the loan amount ranging from $35 000 to $70 000 and given based on business owners’ entrepreneurial drive, the potential of their ideas and business plans, as well as their credit history and collateral.  Vancity has already lent millions of dollars to hundreds of British Columbia entrepreneurs to help finance their small businesses and social enterprises.  Not only does it provide necessary capital to startups, the microloan also helps small businesses tackle barriers to credit by providing a financial track record as well as sufficient equity, which is vital in the first five years of any new business’ life to develop assets and establish that credit reputation.

For businesses fortunate enough not to require loans, Vancity also offers their top ten tips to greenify the workplace:

1) Save up to eighty percent of your computer’s energy consumption just by turning off the monitor.  Turn off lights and equipment when not in use, as well (duh).

2) Turn your copiers, printers and computers to sleep mode when idle for fifteen minutes to a couple of hours.  Otherwise refer to tip number one and just turn them off!

3) Use post-consumer recycled paper and print double sided.  Using recycled paper rather than virgin paper saves seventeen trees and 265 000 litres of water per tonne of paper.

4) Do an audit of your annual energy consumption; review your energy bills or hire an auditor, then use the results to set green goals for the year.

5) Switch to fluorescent or LED lighting, programmable thermostats, occupancy sensors, Energy Star office equipment, high performance air circulation systems and solar hot water systems: all of these can help improve energy savings.

6) Promote carpooling for commuter employees and provide subsidized transit passes.  Joining a car co-op is also a great alternative for employees traveling to meetings.

7) Ask your suppliers about their green business practices and purchase products and services from businesses with greener practices.

8) When you are considering your business alliances, consider your financial institute.  Opt to partner with green businesses!

9) Engage your employees.  Ask for suggestions on what can be done to improve the green profile of your operation.

10) Establish a sustainability policy statement and use it to guide planning and decision-making and make it public!

As for the rest of us non-entrepreneurs and finance-types, Vancity offers the enviro Classic Visa card, with which you can earn a reward point for every two dollars spent, to be redeemed on Vancity financial services and products.  Five percent of all profits from the enviro Visa card are donated to Vancity’s enviroFund, which has granted over $3.7 million to local groups addressing environmental issues in constructive and creative ways.  With different focuses each year (Ecosystem Preservation in 2011, Sustainable Agriculture in 2010, etc.), enviro Visa cardholders vote to support an area of environmentalism each year to address sustainability from all angles.  They have an enviro Classic Student Visa too!

For the last two decades, Vancity has been a great example of how environmentalism and sustainability is not reserved for hippie-dippie smoothie companies and composting startups.  As a respected and established financial institution, Vancity is blazing the trail for modern businesses by offering green business solutions, adjustments, and incentives, all the while making money, growing a client base and building a strong brand within the community for being much more than just a bank.  Here is hoping that the rest of the high-powered world of finance takes notice and that they are green with envy.