Several community banks have carved out a niche as being environmentally friendly and focused on sustainability.
First Green Bank in Mount Dora, Fla., and New Resource Bank in San Francisco are among the institutions that have built ecofriendly strategies that include energy efficient branches, environmentally friendly employee incentives and courting businesses that are concerned about sustainability.
Other banks dabble in the area by building branches that use less energy or launching recycling programs. Overall, demonstrating to clients that a bank is committed to the environment is a way executives are making a difference in their communities and to their bottom lines.
"A lot of people like to support us," says Vincent Siciliano, president and chief executive of the $215 million-asset New Resource. "We talk about how sustainability is a journey and there are a number of doorways into that journey."
New Resource's earnings rose 50% last year compared to 2012, to $1.1 million.
Kenneth LaRoe, who co-founded First Green in 2009, calls himself a "rabid capitalist as well as a rabid environmentalist." He has combined the roles as the $248 million-asset bank's CEO. First Green lends to businesses and nonprofits that promote environmental and social responsibility.
Still, First Green and New Resource realize that being green isn't enough they also need to keep their bottom lines in the black to be taken seriously by investors and regulators.
"No margins, no mission is what I like to say," Siciliano says. "We have to be profitable and we have to grow. It's more that we focus our efforts on areas that are related to our mission."
New Resource primarily lends to businesses in four sectors cleantech, solar energy installation, alternative bio-gas generators and organic food producers. There are no shortage of prospects, especially around San Francisco where being environmentally friendly is important to local residents.
At New Resource and First Green, being ecofriendly has brought in business and allowed them to develop specializations.
First Green has become well versed underwriting loans for solar power projects, something other banks may be less familiar. The bank's profit jumped 62% in 2013 from a year earlier, to $1.4 million, according to regulatory filings. Its net interest margin expanded by more than 30 basis points last year, to 4.5%.
"Our portfolio is diversified and won't end up being lopsided in certain areas like high-density residential development," LaRoe says. "It won't be the traditional sprawl lending that banks do."
Being socially responsible can pay off, even for banks that don't make it their main strategic focus, industry experts say. Many banks are "concerned about corporate social responsibility and being green is part of being a responsible corporate citizen," says Linda Gornitsky, president of LBG Associates.
"Banks are always looking for ways to distinguish themselves," Gornitsky adds. "Being environmentally conscious may help attract certain investors or customers who care about sustainability."
A study from the University of Notre Dame showed that PNC Financial Services Group (PNC) employees who worked in branches that were Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certified were more productive and engaged. For more than a decade, the Pittsburgh company has focused on building or renovating branches to make them better for the environment.
"Building a green bank makes you more connected to your community and customer base," says Brad Pease, director of the signature buildings practice at Paladino. Community banks have "a targeted geographic area and one way to do this is implement an ecofriendly design or practices that connect with the community."
Some banks still struggle with the idea of being green, says David Rose, CEO of C-Level Marketing & Sales Consulting. Some executives fail to see the benefits, or they are unable to define what being green means to the bank. In some instances, managers forget to hold themselves accountable on follow through, he adds.
For community banks that are considering becoming more environmentally conscious, it makes sense to first conduct research on what matters to the community.
"I think customers really do care," Rose says. "There are a lot of opportunities for banks to embrace this. They just can't be scared to do it and they need to provide some accountability to customers."
Overall, the banking industry could benefit from a greater focus on how it influences the environment and the future, LaRoe and Siciliano say. Business that do detrimental things to the environment might be influenced to curb those activities if they struggle to find financing, LaRoe says.
"Banks are the financial engines and should be playing a key role in change," Siciliano says. "It would be good if they were conscious about their impact of what they are financing."