Georgia Bank Gives Green a Thumbs Up

Savannah, Ga.’s United Community Bank recently announced a special financing program for green building projects. It’s not the first bank to offer green incentives, but the bank’s program itself — and really, all programs like it — is a nod to sustainable building.

Here’s the deal: Property owners, qualified builders and general
contractors can receive a 25 basis point reduction in construction financing for
any commercial or residential project that achieves sustainable LEED
(Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the
U.S. Green Building Council or EarthCraft certification from Southface
Energy Institute.

“In the spirit of stewardship and sustainability, United Community Bank
– Savannah wants to do its small part to promote a greener, a healthier
approach to development, an approach that fosters better stewardship of
our limited natural resources,” says United Community Bank – Savannah
President, Mike Lee. “The longterm ‘greening’ of our communities must
begin one person and one structure at a time. Through this special
initiative we hope to motivate and facilitate green construction and
help secure a healthier Savannah for decades to come.”

It is an admirable statement, considering it’s coming from a bank, and not from an environmental group. Banks are, after all, businesses. Businesses that have a tremendous impact on the communities they serve, true. But at their core, businesses.

That’s not to say banks don’t have a heart. I’ve worked with a number of financial institutions in my career, editing publications and creating marketing programs, and many of them sponsored very benevolent educational and assistance programs. One bank spent months creating a program to reach out to its at-risk customers, people who had defaulted on their mortgage. The bank’s marketing team spent weeks agonizing about the best, most sensitive and non-threatening way to reach those people with the intent of trying to work out a plan to save their homes.

But each of those type of projects had a strict budget. Each project’s desired results, while in some ways philanthropic, were to keep customers, which at its most basic level, is a business decision. And it follows, then, that any bank offering sustainability incentives must see green building as a growing trend, capable of bringing in
enough business that it made sense to align itself with the green
community now. Banks are, after all, in business to make money.

That is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a great thing! If lending institutions are jumping aboard the green bandwagon, that’s a more concrete sign that green makes sense. It’s even more telling than the statements from numerous builders who stress long-term savings, or the cries of the environmental advocates who emphasize the need for sustainability, or even the ordinances passed by cities and businesses who voluntarily decide to build green.

Savannah currently has almost a half dozen major LEED projects under
construction, including two loft structures, a youth shelter and a
school. More than 30 homes are being planned for a community that will
be built to EarthCraft energy
specifications, and a historical home is being developed within the
LEED for Homes pilot program. 

Although emotion clearly played a part in United Community Bank’s decision, it stands to reason the bank saw green as a trend that has potential to increase even more. By creating these incentive programs, banks aren’t just saying this could or should happen — they are saying it will.

And they’re putting their money behind it.