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Dennis Cunningham educates branch employees about composting and recycling at Assiniboine Credit Union.Provided

An avid cyclist even in the teeth of a Winnipeg winter, Dennis Cunningham clearly practises what he preaches. As manager of environmental sustainability for Assiniboine Credit Union (ACU), Cunningham oversees the financial institution’s strategies for reducing its carbon footprint by encouraging employees to cycle, walk, carpool or take public transit rather than driving to work alone each day, among other things.

Incentives offered by ACU include subsidized bus passes as well as showers and secure bike lockups at many of its locations for those who physically exert themselves on the way to work.

“Over the past decade, the number of employees who are drive-alone commuters has dropped from 63 per cent to 49 per cent,” says Cunningham, who cycles or runs 5K each way to work year-round. “Remote working, which about half our staff are still doing at least part of the week, is further reducing the level of commuting.”

The commuting initiatives are just one part of a comprehensive effort that has seen ACU cut its overall greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 50 per cent over the last 15 years, even as both its membership and employee base steadily grew.

Among the measures ACU has taken to achieve those results: incorporating greater energy efficiency into new and existing buildings; harnessing alternative energy sources such as solar walls and geothermal; shifting from fluorescent to LED lighting; reducing the number of printers; and transitioning to 100-per-cent recyclable paper and introducing more paperless processes.

Additionally, ACU has purchased carbon offsets and become the first credit union in Manitoba to achieve carbon neutrality.

Founded 80 years ago, ACU today has assets of over $6-billion and is owned collectively by nearly 140,000 Manitobans who use its services. ACU currently operates 17 branches in Winnipeg as well as two northern branches in Thompson and Gillam.

ACU’s green initiatives are very much tied to its overarching commitment to values-based banking and its triple-bottom line of people, planet and prosperity.

“A big part of values-based banking is about engaging with members and employees to make a positive contribution to the community,” says Cunningham. “Our commitment to environmental sustainability is reflective of what we stand for and the impact we want to make.”

For example, a recent new member campaign resulted in a $20,000 donation to Trees Winnipeg’s ReLeaf Program, which is helping to restore the urban tree canopy, particularly in more impoverished areas of the city that otherwise wouldn’t have access to such funds.

An employee-led EcoExcellence Committee helps identify and guide priorities for environmental action. All of the volunteer members of that committee work in ACU departments that directly impact the credit union’s environmental performance or deal with employee engagement.

Cunningham says that recruitment interviews reveal a keen interest in ACU’s environmental undertakings.

“Increasingly, people are looking for potential employers with values that reflect their own personal priorities,” he says. “For many young people, a commitment to environmental sustainability is high on that list.”

The same is true of many long-time employees, including Steven Bennett, a 19-year ACU veteran who is currently financial account manager at the credit union’s Garden City branch, where he spearheaded the introduction of a successful composting program.

“The steps ACU has taken on many fronts to advance sustainability make me proud as an employee,” says Bennett. “I think that’s also true for many of our members. When it comes to our values, it shows we are not just saying these things; we are putting those values into action.”

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