By: Cheryl A. Davenport
PSECU, a Pennsylvania-based credit union created by 22 state workers over 80 years ago, was founded to support and secure the financial well-being of state workers when few existed. From these simple beginnings PSECU has grown to include over 400,000 members. The not-for-profit member-owned institution provides many low or no- fee financial products to its members and 24/7 banking services while upholding the ethical integrity members have come to trust. This commitment to its members is just a part of the overall dedication to the community. PSECU promotes financial literacy, volunteer participation and engages in charitable contributions. Environmental community outreach includes sponsoring the Earth Day Festival and Shredding Event, the Walk 4 Clean Water and support of the Rotary’s Clean Water Projects. These events express the organization’s focus on taking a leadership role in environmental responsibility through clean water, recycling, sustainability and green practices.
As PSECU expanded, the institution resolved that it had outgrown its location at Credit Union Place in Harrisburg. This was an opportunity to magnify their community influence and environmental dedication. Discussions began about building a new facility which would be eco-friendly and sustainable while providing prospects for future growth over the next 50 years. A 47-acre site was chosen close by on Elmerton Avenue in Susquehanna Township. The site, with large open spaces, was ideal as the space provides for biodiversity and promotes local habitat. This site footage exceeds LEED open space requirements by 227 percent. After approximately 5 years of discussion, a $72 million budget and design was developed that would make the new building and surroundings save energy costs while benefitting the community, members and employees. PSECU moved into their new facility in January 2014 with extremely minimal downtime and impact on its member services.
The new PSECU building is operated by a natural gas powered turbine system, also known as cogeneration. The turbines generate heat, which is then used by a heat exchanger to produce heat for the building or an absorption chiller to cool the building. This system also heats the water for the facility. Other options were discussed such as windmill and solar power, but these were determined to have a larger footprint on the environment and the cogeneration system was better suited to meet the buildings current and expanding future needs. The 239,000 square-foot facility and site has the possibility for expansion up to 425,000 square feet.
The goal was to be LEED Gold Certified, which was obtained. Per the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification points can be earned in many areas of building development, which address concerns related to sustainability. Four levels of LEED certification are awarded based on the number of points earned – Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum. LEED certified buildings use less energy and water, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save money. The facility received LEED points by achieving an energy cost savings of 38.1 percent due to cogeneration, and lighting methods. The capture and treatment of 90 percent of storm water runoff, water-conserving showers and toilets, and landscaping design which requires no irrigation all assist in saving water. The cost savings of LEED initiatives help to re-coup initial building investments. The cogeneration system will pay for itself within 5.5 years of initial installation. While producing cost efficient heating and cooling, the system also produces a surplus, which is sold back to the energy grid. Last year alone, $85,000 in excess energy was sold back.
It’s not just the final building product that is important when considering the environment and community. Seventy-five percent of the debris during construction was diverted from landfill into recycled materials, and 20 percent of the building components are made of recycled materials. LEED points were also awarded for the use of low-emitting sealants and adhesives. Building materials were brought in from local sources to reduce the ecological footprint by saving in transportation costs while at the same time supporting local businesses. Per PSECU’s vision, local businesses were sub-contracted to support the project. Also as a part of PSECU’s dedication to the community, a percentage of the building budget was dedicated to the hiring of minority and female workers.
The construction also provides for back-up energy. Supplemental absorption chillers, onsite stored water in case of interrupted water service, as well as a diesel-powered generator, which can power the entire building and its functions, all provide for complete back-up. Alan Brunner, Director of Facilities Operation and Organizational Support Services, a key planner and manager of the project emphasizes “We can’t be down, we have to be online 24/7 for our members.” This fits in to PSECU’s philosophy of ‘brick and mortar-less banking.’ As stated on the PSECU website, “We’re not about having a branch on every corner. We’re about giving members account access where it’s most convenient for them. Their living room. Their backyard. Their cell phone. By not spending money on branches, we can give members competitive rates for loans and savings, as well as a host of low or no-cost services.” Digital banking service is not just about customer convenience and cost savings but also reducing carbon footprint.
Saving energy and reducing ecological footprint also impacts employees, and PSECU believes that the LEED certified building reflects its culture. Employees were updated and engaged throughout the entire building process, and a workspace planning committee was established to help with the selection of office furniture. Adjustable height desks, using electricity generated on site, were chosen so the employee can stand and change position throughout the day. Work stations were made at a lower height to allow more natural light throughout the working space. Seventy-five percent of the lighting is natural daylight, brought in through efficient design to reduce cost, as well as provide health benefits to employees. Holistic business cultures enhance the total well-being of the employees – physically, financially and emotionally. This practice reduces stress and increases employee productivity. The campus encourages human interaction with the physical environment. Employee walking trails through the open green spaces are provided, as well as a rooftop garden patio area for lunch breaks, which has the added benefit of reducing cooling costs and storm water runoff. Other employee benefits to improve health and well-being include bike racks, on-site gym, the promotion of non-smoking, on-site daycare and involvement in the community through volunteering. Employees are also offered ride-sharing high-occupancy vehicle and fuel efficient vehicle parking, with electric car stations planned.
Each new employee is given a tour and orientation to the building and grounds to understand the scope of the entire initiative. Aside from environmental benefits, health benefits and cost-savings – the character of the building is modern and stunning. It is a professional inviting building, even under heavy security measures to protect their members – not what one might expect from a cost-efficient building.
The building of LEED certified projects and sustainability movements in Central Pennsylvania is growing, with PSECU serving as an inspiration. Phoenix Contact has also installed a cogeneration heating and cooling system; Messiah College has expanded sustainability initiatives to include an organic community garden, composting and recycling. Dickinson College offers on its website that 96 percent of the class of 2015 had taken at least one sustainability course.
As PSECU has evolved, its vision and mission encompasses not only the members but the community and environment in a relationship that is advantageous to all. Providing cost savings through energy efficiency and sustainability and ‘brick and mortar-less banking’ affords innumerable benefits.
For more information please visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gfjkL3BU-3E