Suncoast Credit Union Takes on Climate Change with Its New Zero Energy Branches

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With the effects of climate change becoming an undeniable reality, and the near-universal acceptance that humankind's activity has accelerated the process, the onus is now firmly on everyone to do what they can to reduce harm to the environment as much as possible.

The bulk of the responsibility for negating the effects of climate change must naturally fall to the industrial and commercial world. Running the huge buildings and sites necessary for many of the goods and services we rely on takes no small amount of energy, and companies must reduce this consumption where they can.

With the sun in its logo and name, and being located in the Sunshine State of Florida, it should come as little surprise that Suncoast Credit Union is ready to do its part to fight climate change by, among other things, harnessing the power of our nearest star.

Zero Energy Branches

The first step in Suncoast's plan is to build six brand-new state-of-the-art branches. Not only will these locations be packed with the very latest in smart branch technology, such as multi-function ATMs, but they will also be built to consume zero fossil fuel energy and be entirely self-sufficient.

This is achieved by fitting the buildings with renewable energy gathering solutions such as solar panels and ensuring they only consume as much power, or less, than they generate through these means.

Suncoast has been trying to fight man-made climate change for over a decade through recycling initiatives, among other things. The company realized it could do more, however, and began retrofitting many of its branches with renewable energy solutions. However, these six new planned locations represent the company's first attempt at building a zero-energy branch by design.

"In 2013, we started looking at what could be done to save energy with our buildings," said Director of Facilities, Energy Efficiency Engineer, and Sustainability Specialist for Suncoast Credit Union, Bakari C. Kennedy. "The ensuing work included lighting upgrades, installation of hybrid HVAC systems, advanced metering systems and solar retrofits. We're currently building a 108,000-square-foot new administration building in Tampa scheduled to open in November 2018. It will have a 400-kW solar array and other smart technologies that we've used at our branches. It will be one of the most advanced, energy-efficient buildings here in the state."

A Company-Wide Responsibility

Fitting zero energy buildings with the means to generate their own power is only part of the puzzle. These measures are all for naught if the staff working inside the branches aren't also given procedures and processes to follow and drive down energy consumption.

Energy use intensities (EUIs) are the standard unit for measuring energy consumption in these buildings, and zero energy locations have a median EUI of between 15 and 30. In order to have zero energy status confirmed by the New Buildings Institute, these branches must have an EUI of 18 or lower, with EUIs between 19 and 24 considered to be on the right path towards zero energy status.

"The dialogue on advanced education must change from the burden of the costs of getting operators training and resources to the cost of not getting them," said New Buildings Institute Research Director, Cathy Higgins. "A building that lacks a strong and supported operator is a building that will have tenant complaints, reduced leasing, higher operating costs, and lower asset value and ultimately fail to meet new performance-based policies and carbon accounting that are under consideration. Giving operators the elevated recognition and tools they need and deserve today will increase real estate value for tomorrow."

Thankfully, due to technology such as the Internet of Things, it's now easier than ever to measure the environmental performance of a building's various systems. Advanced sensors can provide feedback to central servers in real time, and powerful AI can analyze the data and suggest improvements to help bring down EUIs.

Final Thoughts

While it's great to see the banking industry taking its responsibilities regarding climate change seriously, there are lessons to be learned here which can apply to all industries.

Green Offices is set to be a hot topic atFuture Branches Boston, taking place in July.

Download the agenda today for more information and insights.

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