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Taking the LEED

PeoplesBank Branch Achieves Gold Status for Green Design

The branch pre-treats stormwater runoff

The branch pre-treats stormwater runoff with a landscaped and vegetated rain garden, so that about 80% of suspended solids in the water are removed on site before entering the stormwater system.

In the world of banking, the terms green, silver, and gold have always signified wealth. But locally PeoplesBank is changing that perception — and President Doug Bowen says the institution, and its customers, are richer for it.

Peoples made news in 2011 when its new branch on St. James Avenue in Springfield received Silver certification from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a program of the U.S. Green Building Council that promotes energy-efficient and ecologically friendly construction across the country.

This summer, PeoplesBank exceeded that benchmark with its new branch on Memorial Avenue in West Springfield, to which LEED has awarded Gold certification, only the second community-bank branch in Massachusetts to achieve that status. Bowen says it won’t be the last.

“For years, PeoplesBank has been supporting the community in a variety of ways. That’s what community banks do,” Bowen said. “We have taken that thought — supporting the community — and extended it to the environment.

“These green branches, built in a very responsible way, are a natural progression for us,” he added, noting that customers have been receptive to a host of environmentally conscious efforts — including the bank’s financing of more than $50 million in wind, hydroelectric, and solar-energy projects throughout the region.

“They’re a key part of why we do this. It’s a value that’s important to our customers, and whenever we can, as a company, we try to align our corporate values with those of our customers, community, and employees.”


On Point

LEED operates on a system of points, which developers amass with each ‘green’ feature implemented in a building project. Among the amenities at the new PeoplesBank branch in West Springfield are:

• A healthy interior space that utilizes low-VOC paints, coatings, adhesives, sealants, furniture and carpets. VOC stands for volatile organic compounds, which can be unhealthy to breathe in;

• Improved indoor air quality using high-efficiency air filters and dedicated room exhaust systems;

• Cool-roof materials that reduce the amount of solar heat absorbed and radiated back into the environment;

• Increased natural daylight in the building, reducing the need for interior lighting;

• Installation of recycling bins for metal, plastic, glass, paper, and cardboard;

• Drought-resistant landscaping and irrigation systems to reduce water consumption;

• Systems that reduce clean-water usage by more than 44%;

• Energy-saving HVAC and lighting systems; and

• More than one-third of all building materials were extracted, harvested, recovered, or manufactured within 500 miles of the project site, reducing the need for fossil-fuel-consuming transportation.

The building also scored points for replacing an existing structure, rather than using undeveloped land, Bowen explained.

“West Springfield is not a new construction,” he said. “We used the footprint of a building which had been at that location, and when you reuse land, reuse an existing property, you’re keeping waste and demolition material from landfills. In fact, we recycled 95% the [demolition] material that was there. By reusing materials and recycling, it certainly reduces the impact on the landfill, and that gets greater credit in the LEED process.”

Because the building operates more efficiently than a conventional bank branch, the improvements will pay off over time in cost savings. That’s true of the St. James Avenue site as well, but the West Springfield site went beyond that first LEED project in other ways, contributing to its Gold status.

“Here, we’ve got a rain garden that collects water runoff, and we’ve got drought-resistant landscaping. Those were two features not fully implemented with St. James Avenue,” Bowen said. “And then we’ve got the usual high-efficiency water, and we’ve made strategic use of lighting, which reduces utility costs. And the low-emitting paint is also a green element — all these things make buildings better and healthier for people to work in.”


LEED by Example

Ludmilla Pavlova-Gillham, chair of U.S. Green Building Council, Massachusetts Chapter, West Branch, noted that PeoplesBank is in many ways a community organization with responsibilities in its cities and towns. “It is a bank that supports local investment is already tied to the community in a big way. So when then choose to do something better, everyone benefits.”

The bank’s environmental investments have far-reaching effects, Bowen said. For instance, the hydroelectric power generation financed by Peoples will help supply energy to the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center in Holyoke.

“We want to bring that care for the environment into our core banking activities,” he told BusinessWest, and so the green branches are an expression of that.”

Expect such branches to become the norm, too, as PeoplesBank expands. It has already broken ground on a new branch in Northampton which will seek LEED certification, and another to follow in Wilbraham will do the same.

“We’re committed to building all our branches green” going forward, Bowen said. In addition, the bank is installing electric car charging stations at its West Springfield and Northampton locations, as well as its corporate headquarters in Holyoke — reflecting what the president calls a green-centric culture throughout the company.

“We have an active environmental committee that runs an Earth Day Fair every year, in addition to many other activities, to keep us focused on being green at home and work,” he said.

“Being green and doing business in an environmentally friendly way and supporting energy efficiency and community efforts that accomplish these same efforts — that’s all part of our values. That’s where our passion lies, and it’s that passion that makes PeoplesBank unique.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

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