For an unfortunate number of people, sustainability is just another buzzword. Like “Organic” or “Eco-Friendly,” it’s just a bit of hippie dippy hooey that businesses pay lip-service to for PR reasons. In other words, it’s just a Marketing thing.
Well I think that attitude is not just sad, but frustrating. It’s outright bogus and not groovy at all. (Am I using that right? Just checking. I’m a millennial.)
But naysayers aren’t actually the biggest problem. The most common issue I see is that quite a few credit unions aren’t talking about sustainability at all. They’re staying quiet, and that tells me that a lot of credit union folks don’t know what it means to be sustainable. Because if they did, they’d realize that credit unions are already an incredibly sustainable business.
So let’s get down to brass tacks, ya dig?
What does sustainability mean for credit unions?
Let’s start with the word itself. Sustainability doesn’t just mean “environmentally friendly.”
Sustainability refers to long-term viability in regard to three ‘pillars’: society, the economy, and the environment.
This means that for a business to be considered sustainable, it should be able to exist (and yes, profit) for the foreseeable future without damaging or draining those resources.
As I’ve already mentioned, credit unions tick a lot of these boxes already. Sure, there are always ways to be more equitable, more supportive, and to better protect the environment. However, responsible credit unions around the country are already incorporating these elements into their strategy and business practices, so why aren’t they talking about it more?
Let’s take a look at each of the pillars of sustainability and see what needs to be done.
Social sustainability means pursuing equity
In this case I’m referring to equality of opportunity, specifically for your members, staff, and volunteers.
In terms of sustainability, the social pillar is one of your credit union’s strongest assets. Credit unions are way more sustainable than most businesses due to their focus on and commitment to their members. This is one of those horns that you should be tooting at every opportunity. Honestly, it’s hard to get more socially sustainable than a credit union.
Or course some credit unions do an undeniably better job than others in this respect, but I’m not here to point fingers. One of the most important things is that your CU is actively working to improve the lives of all of its members, and not just its favorites. The other important thing? That you’re not leaving people out who should probably be included.
Economic sustainability involves promoting growth
This means economic growth for your members, your employees, and your local economy as a whole. Again, this shouldn’t be an area where credit unions need to be terribly concerned, because their entire raison d’être is to make financial services better for everyone. Again, this is something CUs could stand to brag about more.
The credit union model is worth bragging about, but that doesn’t mean you should call it a day. It’s nice that credit unions forgo shareholders in order to offer their members better rates, but some CUs could be doing so much more.
The good news is we see more than a few credit unions stepping up to the plate, here. They’re promoting local small businesses, offering their members unique financial support and exceptional financial education.
Environmental sustainability requires conscious action
Finally, environmental sustainability is exactly what you expected all along. It’s your carbon footprint, your Green supply chain, and your renewable energy sources. And it’s all about improvement.
No business becomes environmentally sustainable overnight. It’s a commitment and a long process, and it’s arguably becoming more and more necessary each year. The important thing here is that you keep getting better and moving forward.
Just like the other pillars, you can and should be promoting environmental sustainability for your members as well. This could be “Green” loans, aimed at electric cars, e-bikes, and solar panels. Or it could be part of your financial education, showing the benefits of investing in renewable energy sources. There are a lot of opportunities to go ‘green’ and improve the bottom line as well as your community.
So why are credit unions staying quiet about this?
While I’d like to believe a lot of the silence is due to a lack of awareness, there’s a good chance that negative attitudes toward environmental buzzwords are largely to blame. Environmentalism has become somewhat tied to certain political perspectives, and it’s certainly possible that credit union decision-makers out there are trying to stay ideologically neutral.
But if there’s one thing I’d like you to take away from this, it’s that sustainability isn’t just about your environmental impact. It’s also about future-proofing your membership and building a stronger community. It’s about serving your membership in new and creative ways.
And that kind of thing is why credit unions are totally far out and groovy, if you ask me.
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