Brattleboro Savings & Loan is a force for good

Dan Yates
Dan Yates, president and CEO of Brattleboro Savings & Loan, encourages other community bankers to consider the B Lab’s certification or factoring in the nonprofit’s high operating standards. | Photo by Kelly Fletcher Photography

Brattleboro Savings & Loan is the ninth bank in the country to become an official B Corporation, a designation that certifies the community bank’s commitment to its community, the environment and strong corporate values.

By Roshan McArthur

Name: Brattleboro Savings & Loan
Assets: $277 million
Location: Brattleboro, Vt.

In 2018, Brattleboro Savings & Loan in Brattleboro, Vt., signed up to be a Certified B Corporation. One of only a few banks in the country to do so, the $277 million-asset community bank has joined the ranks of outdoor apparel company Patagonia and ice cream makers Ben & Jerry’s in putting social and environmental responsibility before profit.

According to president and CEO Dan Yates, the decision was about living up to the bank’s core values—or, better still, exceeding them.

In 2006, B Lab, the Berwyn, Pa.-based nonprofit that created the B Corp status, began awarding it to for-profit organizations that voluntarily meet high standards of transparency, accountability, sustainability and performance. The B stands for beneficial, and B Corps are required to consider the impact their decisions have on workers, customers, suppliers, the community and the environment. To date, there are nearly 4,000 B Corps in more than 150 industries and 77 countries.

The idea of becoming certified was suggested by Joe Little, senior advisor to the community bank’s wealth management division. He recognized that the community the bank serves is exceptionally conscientious about its social and environmental impact and that Brattleboro Savings & Loan had already achieved many of the required goals.

For example, more than 80% of the electricity needed to power the community bank’s offices is offset by a field of solar panels about a mile from its headquarters.

“[The solar array] was really our first big step toward saying, ‘Look, everybody can contribute to reducing our carbon footprint, and here are the steps that we as a bank have taken,’” Yates says. “Not only did we like the idea because of what it meant for our commitment to the environment, but there was also a lot of financial incentives for putting in a solar array. So, we got to do something that we felt very strongly about while at the same time ensuring that it was a responsible investment.”


Committed to doing better

As Brattleboro Savings & Loan completed the B Corp certification—a rigorous nearly year-long process that involves completing an 80-point assessment—the team found they had revisited their core values, expanded on them and updated the bank’s mission statement. While the community bank was already hitting many of the requirements, the process was also an opportunity to grow as an organization.

“We completely buy into B Lab’s mantra, which is that businesses must be a force for good.”
—Dan Yates, Brattleboro Savings & Loan

Yates is proud to quote the bank’s updated mission. “As a 100-plus-year-old institution,” he reads, “we’re committed to work toward reduced inequality, lowering levels of poverty, a healthier environment, stronger communities, including the creation of more high-quality jobs with dignity and purpose.”

Brattleboro’s mission also includes commitments to serving at least 85% local and/or independent customers, hiring primarily local staff and managers, and supporting underbanked and under-resourced people. “We completely buy into B Lab’s mantra, which is that businesses must be a force for good,” Yates says.

This meant hiring locally and sourcing products and supplies locally. As a result of the process, Brattleboro Savings & Loan introduced a mandatory composting scheme within its locations, which reduced the amount of waste going into landfills by 50%.

In addition to eco-friendly initiatives, the community bank looked at better corporate governance, including boosting employee engagement and transparency. “I have always felt,” Yates says, “that, other than things that for some legal reasons we might not be able to share, the more our staff knows about what the bank is doing, the better they’re going to be as employees [and] the more a part of the organization they are going to feel.”

And that meant getting staff more involved at all levels of the organization. For example, the community bank’s management team recently chose five younger and “technologically savvy” employees to select a new online banking platform.

“They did a great job,” Yates says. “We accepted their recommendations and moved ahead with a different online banking platform, and I think they came away from it feeling very fulfilled.”

Furthermore, Brattleboro moved to a $15 minimum wage several years ago, offers new employees 15 paid days off in addition to 10 paid holidays, pays 75% of employees’ health insurance costs and contributes to higher education costs. It also offers employees two full paid days a year for volunteering, and it donated 7% of its profits to local organizations, from food banks to the local modern art museum, last year.


More work to do

This summer, Yates will be working on creating a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) task force to encourage people from different backgrounds to apply for jobs at Brattleboro Savings & Loan.

“As a young banker,” Yates says, “I used to look around and go, ‘Well, there’s a lot of women that work here at the bank, but none of them are running it.’” Today, women make up 56% of the bank’s officers and 45% of its board.

Yates says he would like to see many more banks join the B Corps’ ranks, even if they only use the concept as a checklist for potential organizational improvements.

“I would say to any bank … even if becoming a certified B Corporation may not be something that you can pursue, look at what it means to become certified,” he says. “Because if enough of us do this, we actually can be a force for change.”

Roshan McArthur is a writer in California.