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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 26, 2007

Corporate sustainability is 'in'

 •  Clean hotels, the eco-friendly way

By Leslie A. Pappas
The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal

Gina Cimino, marketing manager for Newark Natural Foods, wasn't familiar with "green" banking. But in the past five years, several top financial institutions have launched some type of environmental initiative.

FRED COMEGYS | The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal

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As marketing manager for Newark Natural Foods, Gina Cimino knows which companies sell organic foods, which make quality recycled paper products and which follow fair trade practices. But when asked whether her bank is "green," Cimino was stumped.

"I've never thought of it for my personal banking," the 29-year-old said.

Banks would like to change that perception. In the past five years, more than half of the nation's top 10 financial institutions have launched some type of environmental initiative. Companies everywhere are getting into the act. At this year's Oscars, a number of celebrities pulled up to the red carpet in hybrid Toyota Priuses. Wal-Mart has vowed to cut energy use in stores and raise the efficiency of its trucking networks.

"It's reached a tipping point," said Steve Lippman, vice president of social research at Trillium Asset Management, an investment firm focused on socially responsible investing. "For years, there was this assumption that if you did anything for the environment, it had to be wrapped in brown paper and look bad and be done at a cost."

Today, growing pressure from government regulators, well-informed customers and socially minded, cost-conscious investors has made corporate greening the thing to do, Lippman said.

Also, companies are beginning to realize the greening can improve their stock price and improve their public image.

Sheena Malchand, 19, a sophomore marketing student at the University of Delaware, said she would take note of a bank's efforts to be green. "It wouldn't be a deciding factor, but it would be a bonus." she said.

Americans identified protection of the environment and wildlife as the area large companies should contribute to the most, Ipsos found in a March survey. Forty-five percent said companies should contribute to the environment, ahead of fighting poverty in the United States (42 percent) and education for children and teens (33 percent).

Banks are stepping up marketing efforts and doing what they can to make their environmental initiatives stand out.

New York-based Citigroup's Plant-A-Tree program offers to plant a sapling for every card customer who switches to paperless statements. More than 300,000 cardholders have enrolled since the program started in January.

Citi used to give customers a $5 statement credit to go paperless; now it donates $1 to the National Arbor Day Foundation to plant the tree. On top of that, "We save the postage, we save the printing, we save the paper, and we save on equipment over time," said Rob Rosenblatt, Citi Card's executive vice president.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. has established an Office of Environmental Affairs to streamline its efforts, which range from reducing greenhouse gas emissions to marketing credit cards with rewards for groups such as the World Wildlife Fund.

The majority of JPMorgan's environmental initiatives are driven by business decisions, said Amy Davidsen, director of the environmental affairs office.

For example, the bank might finance an oil pipeline in a developing country. If it doesn't consider the project's impact on the local people and the environment, the project itself becomes prone to work stoppages or sabotage.

Diane Farsetta of the Center for Media & Democracy, a watchdog group that focuses on deceptive marketing tactics, warned that green initiatives often are nothing more than marketing scams, or "greenwashing."

But Dimitri Dandolos, an environmental consultant in Wilmington, called the banks' efforts "tremendous." Sure, the programs save or earn money for the company, he says. But that's the whole idea of sustainability: creating equitable systems that work all-around.