By George Stubbs
In late March, Eastern Bank, which has a branch here in Melrose, announced the establishment of a partnership with CERES, the Boston-based non-profit that provides business advisory services in the area of sustainability. The purpose of the collaboration is to help Eastern Bank up its game in sustainable business practices.
The move is hardly the first foray into sustainable and socially conscious operations for the bank. Throughout its history, Eastern Bank, which today has about $10 billion in assets and more than 100 offices in eastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, has attempted to do well by doing good. That philosophy has carried into the modern era as environmental awareness gains ground among the public.
“Eastern has always been environmentally conscious,” says Tom Dunn, Eastern Bank’s director of general services. “When we’ve done capital projects, we’ve always tried to do them responsibly.”
In the meantime, the company would take initiatives to improve its performance in energy and water consumption and waste management, but not necessarily on an organized basis. That began to change in 2012, when Eastern Bank acquired Wainwright Bank, a company that was engaging sustainability at a higher level, in terms of its facility operations.
“Wainwright had a great program,” says Dunn, who is responsible for Eastern Bank’s facilities-related programs in energy efficiency, transportation, waste management, and other facets of internal operations. “Wainwright inspired us to pursue sustainability goals more responsibly and a more coordinated manner.”
David Dolbashian, a co-chair of the company’s all-volunteer Sustainability Network, came over to Eastern Bank in the Wainwright acquisition and saw that Eastern had something solid to build on. “There was an existing green team when I arrived, educating employees and undertaking initiatives.”
With Wainwright on board, Eastern Bank began to bring more “system” to the sustainability efforts of the combined operations, benchmarking capital expenses and developing metrics for facility performance. At about that time, Eastern Bank also contacted the Sustainable Business Network of Massachusetts (SBNM), which agreed to come in and assess company facilities and make recommendations for improvements—for example, upgrading lighting systems to light-emitting diodes (LEDs), installing aerators in sink fixtures to save water, and implementing setback capabilities for heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems.
Eastern Bank began by implementing SDNM’s recommendations at its 155,000 square foot operations center in Lynn, and last year, the company began rolling out a similar program of performance improvements at its branch offices, obtaining SDNM certifications at four locations in Cambridge and Boston. Currently, the bank is continuing the rollout of the program at all of its other 100 or so branch locations, including Melrose.
The Melrose branch has recently undergone a refurbishment that has included re-painting with low-VOC coatings (VOCs are volatile organic compounds, which are released as paint dries and can cause health problems), the purchase of low-VOC furniture and carpet, and the replacement of lighting with LEDs. The Melrose branch is awaiting an SDNM audit, a necessary step for certification as meeting SDNM’s sustainability standards.
The Melrose branch has also brought more organization to its waste management practices. Kevin DeVinney, Eastern Bank’s vice president of business banking and a co-chair of the company’s Sustainability Network, recalls the days when he would load up his car with the Melrose branch’s recyclables—as with any bank, cardboard and paper are the big items—and take them to the Department of Public Works yard on Tremont Street. Today, an outside cleaning crew takes trash and recyclables from the Melrose, Stoneham, and Wakefield branches to dumpsters in Wakefield.
What CERES will help Eastern Bank do is pull together the various measures of what the company has accomplished and generate a report that will tell a coherent sustainability story. That will take a bit of time. In the meantime, there are metrics available now to offer some “digestible bites” of sustainability performance improvement, according to DeVinney.
The company “conserved enough energy in 2016 to power 8,200 American households,” he says. “In waste management, we diverted almost 20,000 cubic yards of waste from landfills last year, and through our recycling efforts, we’ve been able to save 3,800 mature trees.”
Eastern Bank is also delivering a sustainability ethic to its customers, through its lending practices. “We’ve provided $185 million in financing for 17 separate solar farms over the last two or three years,” says Dolbashian. More broadly, the company is active in sustainable, responsible investing (SRI), supporting companies like makers of water filtration systems.
Kevin DeVinney reports that the bank has also issued a number of loans for solar installations on homes. And it is one of the largest lenders, if not the largest, supporting the state’s Mass Save HEAT Loan Program. These loans facilitate oil-to-gas conversions and other measures designed to help homeowners save energy. The bank made 1,371 of these loans during 2016, including a number in Melrose, for a total value of about $15 million. Over the lifetime of the HEAT Loan Program, Eastern Bank has executed more than 7,200 loans valued at more than $76,662,000.
Improving environmental performance is not without its challenges. Perhaps the biggest challenge for Eastern Bank, as with many companies undertaking such initiatives, is behavior change. You can set your copiers to print double-sided, but “there can be pushback,” says DeVinney. “That’s where our Sustainability Network has been a big help.” He adds, “every year, it gets a little easier.”
In addition to working with CERES in benchmarking its own performance and seeing where it stands with its peers in the banking industry, Eastern Bank will continue to expand its initiatives into new areas. One aim for 2017 is to address commuting alternatives for its employees. “We’re going to start a pilot project in Lynn to encourage employees to take the bus,” says Dolbashian. “We’ll do other small-scale projects and expand from there.
“We’re always going to be aggressive.”
This article was published in the Melrose Free Press on May 18, 2017.