The Bemidji, Minn. bank that has sustainability at its core

At Security Bank USA, president and CEO Tiffany Baer Paine and her team are committed to good stewardship of resources—their customers’ and Mother Nature’s.
By Andrea Lahouze

Nestled between the Mississippi River headwaters and the Chippewa National Forest, and about 90 miles from the Canadian border, the town of Bemidji, Minn., is surrounded by natural beauty. Now, one local community bank is doubling down on efforts to keep it that way.

President and CEO Tiffany Baer Paine says Security Bank USA’s sustainability efforts were a natural outgrowth of a longstanding focus on employee wellness. Starting in 2010, the $140 million-asset bank wanted to create an environment where employees were content, comfortable and excited to come to work. So they assembled a staff wellness committee charged with improving the company’s working environment and culture. Employees were gifted Fitbit pedometers, which they use to compete in quarterly fitness challenges. Yoga, massage and health-care fair days now dot the company calendar, as well as regular picnics and an annual ski hill night extended to family and friends. Even the office music has received an upgrade. “We don’t have the soft jazz, elevator music. We have contemporary, current music that, when people are working, they’re tapping their toes,” Paine says.

Security Bank USA: Bemidji, Minn.


Assets: $140 million
Retail locations: Two
Employees: 43
Founded: 1910
Website: securitybankusa.com

Employees are also encouraged to suggest team-building or community service activities that suit their interests. The result: happier, more relaxed employees who are also more likely to volunteer.

“Community banks volunteer all the time, and what happens at times [is] you get into a slump and it’s the same people volunteering all the time. But by starting this wellness committee, everybody’s engaging in something,” Paine says. Recent activities have included Adopt-a-Highway cleanups and raising funds for United Way.

The planet’s turn
With healthier employees, Security Bank next turned toward the health of the environment by forming a six-member sustainability committee. Greener practices had long been part of the bank’s cultural DNA, including recycling, paperless board meetings, posted signs reminding people to turn off lights, and mobile banking, capture and deposit. To further reduce the community bank’s carbon footprint, committee members arranged an internal energy audit to discover where and when they were using electricity. When the audit results pinpointed solar power and LED conversion as two opportunities for better stewardship of natural resources, Paine moved forward without hesitation.

Team effort—Tiffany Baer Paine, third from left, with fellow staff wellness and sustainability committee members (l-r): Amanda Willis, Carl Johnson, Shannon Eickstadt, Virginia Essig, Laura Nord and Leslie Heinonen

“We happen to be very blessed with a forward-thinking community that really has embraced the sustainability lifestyle,” she says. “Our electrical cooperative just had a ribbon cutting on a huge solar garden, and not just because they’re required to, but because they felt being good global stewards is the right thing to do. And that’s ultimately what it came down to for us: Sustainability is the right thing to do.”

Average monthly electricity savings since Security Bank USA converted
to LED lighting

In the past 18 months, Security Bank has added its own solar array and has completely converted to LED lighting. Both resource and cost savings abound. Since they were installed, the solar panels have reduced CO2 emissions by the equivalent of planting 772 trees. The community bank’s LED lighting has dropped its monthly electricity bill an average of 20 percent.

Benefits have also extended to business relationships. Security Bank USA’s sustainability efforts have initiated conversations with customers who are interested in doing the same in their own homes and businesses. Paine says there is a perception that banks do not finance sustainable energy options for their customers, so leading by example has brought in more business from those customers, who in some cases are completely new to the bank. Earlier this year, Security Bank USA also hosted a sustainability luncheon for customers and community members to learn from one another.

We had many speakers come in, from experts in the field to business owners who have implemented that in their businesses to individuals who have implemented them in their homes,” Paine says. “We had a wonderful turnout. We will make it an annual luncheon. It was a great reaction, and we are still hearing conversation about it.”

Advice for others
For other community banks looking to operate more sustainably, Paine recommends beginning with an energy audit of the building to pinpoint opportunities for immediate energy savings, and knowing the federal and state requirements and incentive programs that are available in your area. (You can research these by state at energy.gov.) She also advises inviting employee participation from the outset to address any concerns and ensure the whole team is on board.

“We asked, ‘What are some ideas that you all have? What would you like to see?’ And we really started it there with everyone involved,” she says. “We live in a community with a deep connection to logging and most of us are related to people, or are neighbors to people, who log. Well, there’s no better conservationist than a logger, because they want trees to keep going, so everybody embraced this on some level and it was a joy to see.”


Andrea Lahouze is deputy editor of Independent Banker.

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