Banking on a green tomorrow

By+Susan E. Miller

Up until a few years ago, terms like wind turbines, clerestory windows, or LEED® certification were known mostly to architects, builders, and those focused on transforming buildings into sustainable structures. But in today’s socially conscious society the green phenomenon, and all the jargon surrounding it, is understood by the average person.

In towns around the country, local businesses are pausing before they add just any old building or addition. Businesses like First Federal Savings Bank are in the forefront of green commercial construction. The Rochester, Indiana-based bank opened its first green branch on April 21, at 906 W. Edison, Mishawaka. It has the privilege of being the first LEED certified bank branch in Indiana.
According to the U.S. Green Building Council Web site, the group that established the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Green Building Rating System™, “LEED encourages and accelerates global adoption of sustainable green building ... in five key areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality. (Learn more in the related sidebar.)

The 5,800-square-foot First Federal project incorporates these green features (and more).

Exterior walls:
The exterior and interior load-bearing walls are Agriboard, a structurally sound wood panel with an insulation core made of reclaimed straw. Eight-inch thick walls have an R-25 insulating value. Environmental benefit: Zero waste during manufacturing.

Heating and Cooling:
A geothermal system uses the earth and/or ground water as a source of heat in the winter and cooling power in the summer. Environmental benefit: Fewer emissions than conventional systems

Photovoltaic (PV) panels collect sunlight and convert it into electricity, which is stored in conventional battery packs, sent to a power inverter, and converted to conventional voltage. Environmental benefit: Reduced need for electricity from utility companies.

Also helping power the building are wind turbines, one of the most visible and talked about features of the building. Branch Manager Andrew L. Haeck said they are looking at possible ways to offer financing for wind turbines.

A V-shaped roof maximizes the PV panels’ ability to collect sunlight. It is covered with a waterproofing membrane and topped with soil and vegetation. Environmental benefit: Reduced storm water runoff.

Clerestory windows (originally designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright) are a band of narrow windows along the top of the wall. Environmental benefit: Reduced electricity usage.

Permeable Pavement:
A permeable surface allows the movement of water and air through the paving material. Environmental benefit: Removes contaminants by filtration.

Additional Features:
Office furniture, laminate materials, carpet and door mats are made of recycled materials. Paints and adhesives used were low VOC (volatile organic compounds).

To encourage customers on their own green path, there is a bicycle post and a “Hybrid Parking Only” spot in the parking lot. (Belcher himself drives a hybrid.)

Haeck said employees and customers love the building. “The employees went from a storefront with one window to this. I think the customers are finding it fun to be part of it.”

One way customers can make a difference is through the new Go Green Checking plan. Launched around the same time the branch opened, it is an effort to reduce paper waste. Customers receive e-mail instead of paper statements and earn 20 cents for each purchase made with a debit card.

While the final LEED rating is still being processed, Haeck said they will definitely be silver, but hopes they’ll make gold. While a green building costs about eight to 10 percent more than a conventional building, estimates on reduced energy costs will pay off the initial difference within three to four years.

First Federal began as a local mortgage company in 1966, known as First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Fulton County, changing its name in 1984. The bank, with locations in Rochester (headquarters), Winamac, Bremen, Plymouth, Mishawaka, and Elkhart, employs 160 and services more than $1.3 billion of first mortgage home loans.