In 2002, Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial Services Group became the first major U.S. bank to pledge that it would apply green building standards to all of its newly constructed or renovated offices. The company already had an impressive record, opening the nation’s largest corporate green building its 650,000-square-foot Firstside Center in 2000.
Today, Pittsburgh’s Three PNC Plaza is one of the largest environmentally friendly mixed-use buildings in the United States, and construction is about to begin on the Tower at PNC Plaza, the world’s largest green skyrise. PNC has more newly constructed Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified buildings than any other company in the world. As PNC Vice President and Energy Manager Nana Wilberforce (known by those within PNC as the company’s “Energy Czar”) recently told the Energy to the Power of Pittsburgh (E2P) public awareness campaign, the company has turned doing what’s good for the environment into doing what’s also good for the bottom line.
E2P: What’s an Energy Czar? And why does a financial services company like PNC — which isn’t consuming energy the way a heavy industrial manufacturers might — need one?
NW: My job at PNC is to make sure we use energy in the most efficient way, and my duties break down to three parts. The first is to make sure that the rates we pay for the utilities we use – water, gas and electric – are as competitive as possible. Second is making sure that the resources we consume are used as efficiently as possible. The third part is making sure that whatever resources we use have the least-possible impact on the environment.
When you look at any company’s expenses – whether it’s a financial services company or a major manufacturer – you find that one of the highest expenses next to payroll is real estate and facilities management. Under that umbrella energy is among the highest expenditures. Now, energy costs tend to increase by almost five percent to seven percent annually. If you look at a period of 15 or 20 years at a company that isn’t aggressively working to control its energy costs, you’re looking at higher and higher energy costs every year. It’s unsustainable for any business. My role at PNC is to help make sure we’re keeping our energy costs down, and we do that in part by making sure that our properties are as energy efficient as they can be.
E2P: It’s interesting that a Pittsburgh-based company has become such a leader in green building and energy conservation given the region’s history, and while becoming one of the largest banks in the country.
NW: It is interesting, and it’s fitting. Look at the transformation of the region — from its industrial roots through dramatically reducing pollution and reclaiming old brownfields to where it stands today. You can observe a real shift from the days when Pittsburgh was known as a part of the Rust Belt to now, when we’re defining what could one day be known as America’s Green Belt. Considering the footprint of PNC in this region, it makes perfect sense that we’re doing all we can to contribute to the greening of this community even as we expand.
E2P: PNC seems to have found a formula that works not only for the environment and for the shareholders. How important has the business case been to PNC’s commitment to the green effort?
NW: We made our commitment to green building and to having as little environmental impact as possible because it was the right thing to do. We looked at our energy consumption and thought about the fact that our natural resources are not limitless, and we made a decision to begin investing with more discipline in materials, processes and construction or renovation that would use less natural resources and have less effect on the environment. As we’ve monitored the results we’ve found that energy consumption of a typical green building is about 20 percent less than a non-green building. Interestingly, we also noticed that the number of financial deposits we’ve seen at green branches are higher than at non-green branches. As you dig into that fact, you find studies, conducted primarily in Canada, that indicate that the attitudes of employees and customers in green buildings are more positive, meaning higher employee morale and higher customer satisfaction. This is a terrific example of doing what’s right is good not only for the environment but also for business.
E2P: Still, there are those who assume that green building isn’t cost-effective. How do you answer those folks?
NW: Maybe 15 years or even 10 years ago the attitude was that the whole green movement was a non-starter for business and that it was crazy to invest in green building materials and technologies. That was kind of the default attitude even among people who had never been involved in a green building project or energy efficiency initiative. But there were some companies – PNC included – that took a chance because it was the right thing to do, and we’ve found that virtually all of our green building projects have come in at or under budget. What’s more, the long-term payoff in terms of our dramatically reduced energy costs have more than made up for any cost difference in construction costs between green buildings and non-green buildings. PNC was something of an earlier adopter of green practices, but I think we’re now seeing a shift culturally to people being more aware of the reasons for going green and better understanding the benefits. This makes them much more supportive today than they might have been a decade or so ago.