As previously published on In Business Wisconsin March 25, 2013 issue

With spring fast approaching, now is a natural time to step back and evaluate your business’s relationship to the environment. It is clear that we must all do our part to reduce the impact we have on the environment. It is the right thing to do, and it is something that customers, shareholders, partners, and employees expect of their institutions. They want to work for and with companies that make environmental stewardship a priority and take proactive efforts to manage the environmental impact of their business operations. Environmental consciousness is no longer nice to have. It’s a must-have.

So what are some smart ways businesses enhance their sustainable practices and bring key stakeholders into the process?

Allow me to share a few examples of what our organization is doing. As a financial institution, Associated Bank is in regular communication with all of our customers. As you can imagine, traditional printed communication requires a significant amount of paper. While we have sought to limit our reliance on paper by communicating via email and other electronic means for some time, we recently launched an initiative to further diminish our paper usage and reduce our impact on the environment.

Associated Bank has partnered with the Arbor Day Foundation, a nonprofit conservation and education organization dedicated to planting trees and increasing reforestation. During 2013, Associated will donate a tree to be planted each time a customer switches from paper to e-statements for business and consumer accounts. For 2013, we have a commitment to plant a minimum of 25,000 trees within the bank’s three-state footprint of Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin and, year to date, we are exceeding that pace.

Internally, we are striving to limit the impact of our business operations on the environment by consistently monitoring our corporate energy consumption and evaluating the responsible daily use of materials and products in our practices. Through these efforts, which rely heavily on the commitment of our colleagues, we have identified and implemented measures to reduce natural gas usage by 23% and water usage by 47% (131,000 gallons of water) and increase recycling by 40% over the last three years. Not only does this limit our impact on the environment, it also has a positive impact on our bottom line.

There are a number of ways for your business to incorporate or enhance green practices in your operations with the help of your customers, employees, and partners. Some examples include:

  • Internal initiatives
    • Enhancing recycling programs
    • Using environmentally friendly products to green your business space
    • Promoting the use of public transportation among employees
    • Encouraging the use of electronic files versus continuously printing paper copies
  • External Initiatives
    • Partnering with a philanthropic organization to promote environmental causes in your community
    • Launching a program to encourage customers to be more environmentally friendly and aware of their own carbon footprints
    • Joining the board of a local environmentally focused organization

In order for these initiatives to become ingrained within the fabric of your company, they must align with your overarching mission, values, and culture. By taking a thoughtful approach to environmental stewardship, it is possible to limit your impact on the environment, strengthen ties with your stakeholders, deepen the relationship with your customers, and have a positive financial impact on your business.