PNC Bank pushing efficiency toward zero

Imagine a bank giving back more than it takes in. Well, the new PNC Bank branch in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is 50 percent more efficient than existing bank branches, and is expected to produce more energy than it consumes.

Of course, the bank branch isn’t really giving anything away. The excess power is sold back to Florida Power & Light Company through a net metering program. But the prototype net zero branch demonstrates that PNC is committed to pushing past previous benchmarks, and raising the efficiency bar higher still.

In 2002, PNC committed to achieving LEED certification to all newly constructed or renovated bank branches, and now claims 119 buildings -- more than any other single company in the world. The bank also has committed itself to reducing energy consumption by 30 percent by 2020 (2009 baseline).

PNC frequently describes its LEED-certified buildings as green branches. The bank trademarked the “Green Branch” term in 2007, and is not a standard like LEED. It refers to retail branches which contain a combination of energy and water saving technology and recycled building materials -- even design features that have nothing to do with sustainability such as an Internet café.

That said, PNC's efforts on efficiency are clearly more than greenwashing.

Nana Wilberforce, the bank’s vice president of energy management, is a soft-spoken man who nevertheless gets called “energy czar” by his colleagues at PNC. Improving energy efficiency is a priority for PNC, he said, because real estate facilities management represent the largest expense after payroll, with energy as the biggest expense within those facilities.

“My role at PNC is to make sure we keep our energy costs down, and get the most competitive rates for the energy we do use,” Wilberforce said.

To establish benchmarks, PNC uses a tool called the Energy Star Portfolio Manager, which allows it to compare energy usage of its buildings with similar buildings in the same geographic region. The tool also lets PNC rank energy usage between its own facilities.

The bank goes through a continuous process of examining performance and placing buildings into one of three categories, which Wilberforce calls “the good, the bad and the ugly.”

“We look at the ugly ones first and ask, 'Why are you ugly?'” he said.

An ugly building audit ensues. All of the energy consuming components are examined, and the worst offenders identified.

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