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Mid Tier

Johnson Financial Saves Green by Going Green

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Johnson Financial Group's headquarters take up a square city block in busy downtown Racine, Wis. An impressive structure of concrete and glass, it is built on a spot where once stood abandoned homes so dilapidated that their roofs had long since crumbled into their basements. Constructing the bank's new home required thousands of square yards of rubble to be carted away. Instead of moving the junk to a landfill, where it would degrade for generations, Johnson Financial hauled the majority of the debris away for recycling.

"We spent a lot more money to recycle the rubble," says Richard Hansen, CEO of $6 billion-asset Johnson Bank. "It didn't seem right to truck it away into the landfill."

Today, recycling building materials is not the most innovative green initiative. However, it was surely ahead of its time when the headquarters building was being constructed nearly 10 years ago. But it's part of an environmentally-focused culture that's made the bank a green innovator from its founding in 1970 to today. "This company and the entire Johnson family was thinking sustainability long before it was popular," he says.

This is why it's no surprise why now, almost a decade later, the building serves as an example of environmental responsibility to local businesses. Officials from a city agency recently took a tour to examine the initiatives Johnson Bank employs to decrease energy consumption, cut down on its carbon footprint and cut costs, something that the recent economic turmoil has made more crucial than ever.

That culture took a step forward when group of volunteer employees from information systems, facilities and operations business units banded together in 2009 to form the Green Team. The team's first order of business-cut down the power usage of all desktop computers. From that project stemmed dozens of other ideas. "We started our green initiatives by focusing on technology first, then we widened that out," says Matt Coss, vp and information systems, applications and storage manager.

In July of last year, the bank rolled out its Night Watchman software from vendor 1E, allowing officials to control when PCs where powered on and off. The initiative is currently saving Johnson Bank nearly $40,000 annually, on top of the $16,000 rebate from Focus on Energy, a local organization that works with eligible Wisconsin residents and businesses to install cost effective energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. That is one of several rebates and grants, to date totaling $73,600, that Johnson Financial has received for its environmentally friendly efforts. Bank officials say the money gained from cost savings is a nice side benefit, but is not the main driver behind Green Team's motives.

In addition, Johnson Financial Group installed similar energy management controls on heating, cooling and ventilation systems in its corporate headquarters, which saved 500,000 kilowatts-hours of electricity and 17,000 therms of natural gas. Overall, in 2009, the bank cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 1,016,988 pounds and reduced the amount of waste destined for landfill by 22,351 pounds, according to bank officials.

After achieving efficiencies in its datacenter, such as consolidating 10 old servers into five Energy Star-compliant ones and deploying 167 virtual servers, the group's overall vision is to get involvement from business areas outside the information systems and facilities business units. "Holistic business approaches, such as company-wide green initiatives, have to be driven from the top," says Rodney Nelsestuen, senior research director at TowerGroup. "A piecemeal approach is not going to make a big difference, to the environment or to the firm."

None of Johnson Bank's many green initiatives would have gotten very far if it wasn't for the institution's management structure. "Leadership is so accessible here, there's open communication," says Brent Hess, avp and facilities operations manager. The top-down drive for environmental sustainability eliminates a major roadblock experienced at other mid-tier financial institutions when it comes to green ideas, Nelsestuen says.

To get a better handle on its sustainability initiatives' progress, Johnson Financial Group is working with Wisconsin Energies on a study of the bank's facilities, breaking down energy usage per square foot to benchmark the data against the industry, as well as to mark Johnson's own improvement, Coss says. The study will look at energy consumption aspects such as lighting, heating and cooling.

Working late one night, a Johnson Bank associate noticed the office cleaning crew going about their business. Taking a look at the cleaning schedule, the employee got concerned-why is the office being cleaned so many times a week? He brought his ideas to management. The bank now works with CleanPower, a local cleaning service that has been certified in the Cleaning Industry Management Standard-Green Building. CleanPower was the first building service contractor in Wisconsin to earn CIMS-GB, according to bank officials.

"Having this environmental friendly awareness in our associates is very important," says Carmen Tenuta, public relations manager for the bank. "The founders of the bank used to say: Don't think for the next quarter, think for the next quarter century," she adds.

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