This past January, East Coast Credit Union (41,000 members, $677 million in assets) set the tone for 2017 and beyond by giving the green light to green power. In announcing a partnership with Bullfrog Power to buy green electricity for all of its 50 branches and ATMs across Nova Scotia, East Coast Credit Union CEO Ken Shea sent a clear signal that his credit union is serious about investing in clean energy. It’s a power move that Shea believes will pay off in spades. “If we want to make change, we have to be the change,” he says.
Still, an investment in Bullfrog Power is a complex idea to communicate. (Bullfrog is a Toronto-head-quartered energy retailer that offers customers power from renewable energy
sources like wind, low-impact hydro and green natural gas made from organic materials like agricultural waste.) East Coast Credit Union pays a modest premium on top of its existing electricity bill. That premium is used by Bullfrog Power to support renewable energy initiatives around the country, including smaller community and cooperative projects. In Nova Scotia this means wind farms and small-scale solar greenhouse and rooftop installations. The idea is that as businesses and individuals invest in Bullfrog Power, it, in turn, invests in clean energy. Fossil fuel-based sources of energy are slowly replaced with green energy systems.
East Coast Credit Union provides a good case study on how to communicate a complex idea on a limited budget. The partnership with Bullfrog Power’s marketing team began in October 2016, with marketing representatives from both organizations cooperating to decide on the best ways for East Coast to communicate the initiative. Bullfrog Power’s marketing team led communications as the initiative was rolled out and the two organizations continue to work together to spread the word.
“If we want to make change, we have to be the change.” – Ken Shea
When East Coast signed on, Bullfrog Power committed to providing the credit union with tailored website content, employee FAQ handouts and ongoing marketing content to announce and promote the partnership. Because Bullfrog Power’s messaging is targeted based on each client and their region, it is conducive to other regional credit unions exploring whether a renewable energy initiative could be part of their CSR strategy. “We have regional experts who tailor the message,” says Holly Bond, Bullfrog’s vice-president, regional sales, Canada. “So, for instance, we have someone in British Columbia who grew up there and knows the concerns of British Columbians.” The result is smart marketing — local messaging with local insight on employee engagement, CSR and attracting customers.
Green as a brand
For East Coast, embracing Bullfrog Power is an extension of an ongoing commitment to the environment; renewable energy is part of a CSR strategy that is already familiar to—and embraced by—members. In recent years, the credit union has experimented with geothermal and solar power when renovating its branches, promoted loans for members wanting to make energy efficient upgrades to their homes and instituted a car loan program that gives better rates for more energy-efficient cars. “We’ve had positive reaction to these types of initiatives over the years and the agreement with Bullfrog lets us reinforce our commitment,” says Shea.
The beauty of Bullfrog Power is that it’s fast, too. While making green refurbishments to East Coast’s branches is a slow process, taking place as repairs are needed, the agreement with Bullfrog Power allows the credit union to champion its commitment to green in a quick and tangible way. Every one of its branches — new and older — is powered with green electricity. That’s a concept that’s easy to market. “In branding terms, this just adds to our profile. We want to be environmental stewardship leaders,” Shea says.
The future is now
Millennials are an increasingly attractive and valuable demographic as they become established in the workforce. This is a cohort, says Bond, that “is up to three times more likely to want to work for — and buy from — companies that share their values.” Green credentials are something they look for when they decide whether to join a credit union as an employee or member, Bond adds. “With East Coast Credit Union, a CSR strategy that includes Bullfrog Power is perfect because it’s genuine and true. They’ve already shown a commitment to green initiatives, so this adds to that story.”
Shea puts it more simply. “We want to lead by example. There is a cost to buying sustainable energy but the environmental impact of not using sustainable energy is much greater. Our members understand that.” ◊