On Monday, I had the opportunity to attend the round table discussion “Going Green” at the ABA Marketing Conference. And, having seen a number of institutions jump on the green bandwagon over the last year – I think the conversation missed some important points.First of all, the complete name of the session was: “Going Green: It’s the right thing to do – so how do we do it right?” While many consider adopting green practices to be the right thing to do from an environmental standpoint, the session focused instead on it being the right thing to do so institutions don’t get “left behind.” As we’ve talked about before, making choices so you don’t get left behind only contributes to the commoditization and sameness we’re seeing throughout the industry. And, these kinds of efforts, especially when tied to “going green” (with the increasing awareness and sensitivity to greenwashing), can really do more harm to your institution than good – a point that was never made during the session.
During the conversation, the point was made that going green can be used as a competitive differentiator – in large part because most institutions aren’t pursuing such efforts. But, this conversation quickly shifted to emphasize the fact that institutions that don’t pursue green initiatives will be at a competitive disadvantage. Once again, rather than encouraging institutions to determine on an individual level whether green initiatives makes sense at their institutions – within the context of their markets and their brand positions, attendees were encouraged to pursue these initiatives as means to stay on a level playing field. This was a big red flag for me.
The most important takeaway from the session was: take incremental steps, and be honest and transparent.
I’d qualify this suggestion though – first, determine if becoming a green business makes sense for your institution. And second, recognize the important differences and implications associated with being a green business versus those associated with an institution working to become more environmentally friendly or sustainable.
While allowing customers to sign up for paperless statements certainly reduces paper and the environmental impact of shipping them (not to mention the cost of postage), it’s simply not enough to promote an institution as green. Take a look at institutions like New Resource Bank, Green Bank, and Alpine Bank (the featured bank during this session) as examples of those that have taken significant steps to become more environmentally sustainable – and they did so before promoting it in their marketing materials and campaigns.