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Key Bank invests in GHG reductions, Case toward carbon neutrality

Marc Lefkowitz  |  10/09/15 @ 3:00pm  |  Posted in Clean energy, Green buildings

Publicly traded banking giant, Key, and the namesake of Cleveland’s University Circle, Case Western Reserve University, are adding significant pieces to their sustainability portfolio at a time when “corporate responsibility” has taken on greater visibility, from the classroom to the boardroom.

<br />Case campus with wind turbine and coal-fired power plant in foreground.<br />Motorcars Honda received a $1.6 million loan from Key Bank for this 335-Kw solar canopy at their Cleveland Heights dealership.

Andrew Watterson and Stephanie Corbett, full-time sustainability managers at Key and at Case, gave an idea of how much to the Corporate Sustainability Network—an affiliation of Cleveland State University’s Monte Ahuja College of Business which has hosted early morning roundtable discussions for more than a decade.

Watterson talked about the ramping up of the sustainability program at Key since he joined the Cleveland office two years ago following a stint with sustainability consultancy, BrownFlynn, and as the City of Cleveland’s first director of the Office of Sustainability.

This year, Key set a target to reduce carbon emissions by 30% (below its baseline year of 2009, and to reach that by the year 2020) for its banking operation, which spans 12 states, Watterson reports.

He explained that the bank, with its 994 branches and its $93.8 billion in assets, will look for emissions reductions in categories known as Scope 1 (i.e. power sources owned) and Scope 2 (i.e. power provided) in carbon reporting schemes. Key’s own carbon footprint analysis traced how the company produced 76,000 tons of greenhouse gasses (GHG)—from using coal-fired energy, but also from executives using a corporate jet and employees driving 11.6 million miles for work.

Key’s energy reduction goal of 25% is achievable, Watterson said, since they will track energy use in all of its buildings, and plan to invest in efficiency upgrades.

“We believe investing in green banking is a differentiator in the market place, and attracts employees and business,” Watterson explained.

Green banking is how Key explains its investment portfolio. For example, the bank has $2 billion invested in 76 megawatts of wind and solar plays, Watterson reports, making it the largest bank investment in renewables in the U.S. Locally, Key loaned $1.6 million to Motorcars Honda in 2015 that the Cleveland Heights dealership used to purchase a 335-kilowatt solar canopy.

“We’re in it not just for saving the planet,” Watterson said, “It’s good business for us.”

Case made a leap into sustainability in 2008 when newly appointed President Barbara Snyder signed on to the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). With one stroke of the pen, Snyder placed Case on par with 600 institutions of higher learning who are targeting nothing less than climate neutrality. “Most of the (university) presidents aren’t climate scientists,” says Corbett. “They are putting their reputation on the line.”

In the last seven years, Case completed and updated twice a GHG report, and submitted a Climate Action Plan which outlines actions, such as, adopting a green building standard (LEED-Silver).

Like Key, Case’s biggest source of GHG is its energy supply. Unlike Key, Case owns a utility, the oddly named Medical Center Company (MCCo), which burns coal in a 1930’s-era power plant to make steam heat and chilled water that is piped around campus (and to others in University Circle). Case is achieving about 5% annual carbon reductions by focusing on moving MCCo off coal and to a state-of-the art ‘co-generation’ system of natural gas micro-turbines. It is also reducing the use of energy through targeted reduction strategies, like LED light bulb replacements.

“In 2012, we reduced total emissions by 200 metric tonnes of carbon,” Corbett says. “We put that to trustees in terms of how many scholarships that funds.”

Case’s biggest challenge happens to be its reason for being—research labs, which are huge energy users. Case’s 117 buildings produce the same carbon footprint as the entire City of Lakewood, Corbett says. They are looking at how to make more efficient use of classrooms— possibly by extending hours into weekends—and opening up labs to be more flexible spaces, she says.

“Society needs to make choices about where we spend our carbon, and maybe higher ed is the place to do it.”

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