LEED Gold Branch for a True-Green Credit Union

Columbia Credit Union is just about as green as financial institutions get. They have green business practices, an E-Go Green Auto Loan, a Living Green Mortgage and they have tips for greener living on their website. They even gave away a Mercedes Smart Car last year. So the decision to go green with branches was an easy one for this eco-conscious credit union.

Originally designed to the goal of LEED Silver, Columbia’s first green branch project ultimately attained the higher level LEED Gold certification, making it the first financial institution in Washington state certified at the Gold level.

To meet strict LEED standards, 75% of construction waste must be diverted from landfills. Builders must carefully separate scrap metal, wood and concrete for transport to certified recyclers in the nearby area. Construction sites must also be contained to protect drainage systems from soil runoff. Builders and subcontractors have to review material lists to ensure supplies contain the right percentage of post-consumer recycled content. For example, the recycled metals that makes up the siding on the Washougal branch may have come from recycled soda cans or automobiles.

For the new green branch prototype, Columbia tapped EHS Design and Weber Marketing Group. (Weber Marketing has its own LEED Gold certified headquarters in Seattle.)

The architects and interior designers at EHS Design developed a new green prototype branch prototype that leverages several abundant local resources — harvesting rainfall, maximizing natural daylight, and interacting with the temperate climate through auto-sensor controls and operable windows.

Weber Marketing created an “Eco-Tour” of the branch’s green features, where members can read about Columbia’s environmentally-friendly ways at different “stops” throughout the space (see the list of descriptions at the bottom of this article).

Weber Marketing’s financial merchandising team designed features that relied on sustainable hardware, green inks and completely recycled materials. Use of laminates and adhesives was minimized to reduce the impact on the environment. Some displays were made by applying water-based coatings directly to recycled substrates, thus avoiding harmful inks and pulp-based papers.

Columbia COO Steve Kenny says, “We’ve created a healthy environment for our members, a productive atmosphere for staff, and invested in a sustainable future that benefits everyone.”

Columbia expects its green branches will save up to 50% in energy costs along with 13,500 gallons of water every year.

The Washougal branch is just the first of multiple branches to come. Columbia has already completed its second LEED-certified branch.


Here’s an excellent 2-minute video detailing Columbia’s green branch prototype.


“Iconic Pyramid Skylight
A skylight lets in natural sunlight, reducing the need for interior lighting.  It’s always a good idea to have signature architectural elements incorporated into the design of your branch exteriors.

“Porous concrete
Porous concrete in the parking lot aids proper drainage of the site prevents runoff from contaminating local bodies of water.

“Rainwater recycling
A cistern harvests rainwater for landscape irrigation and non-potable plumbing indoor use. This reduces the need for public water and lowers monthly water bills.

“Native plants and local materials
Native landscaping requires less frequent irrigation and fertilization. Stonework came from local quarries, requiring less energy to get to the construction site.

“The right stuff
All wood was certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, ensuring it was harvested in a way that protects the environment. FSC-certified lumber is used throughout the building.

“Fresh air
Vented windows provide natural ventilation, reducing the need for air conditioning and the amount of energy used during warmer days.

“A bright idea
Auto-dimming lights cut electricity use. Dimmers and compact fluorescent lighting (CFLs) drastically reduce the need for electricity. Columbia also purchases 100% of its energy from the local public utility’s‘Green Lights’ program, which supports the development of renewable energy.

“Breathe easy
Ensuring excellent indoor air quality is a key component of LEED certification. Paint, flooring and other finishes and materials should emit no- or low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can irritate the eyes and respiratory system.

“Recycled and sustainable furniture
A table in the waiting area was made of lumber salvaged from urban parks and neighborhoods. Lounge chairs feature 100% post-industrial recycled fabric. Guest chairs were made from recycled seat belts. The staff’s furniture system is up to 69% recyclable at the end of its useful life. Most of the furniture was certified by Greenguard, ensuring high standards for indoor air quality.

“Corn cubes
The fabric on workstation panels comes from 100% renewable, corn-based fiber, making the fabric completely biodegradable. It’s naturally stain resistant, and it doesn’t hold odors. When finished with it, the fabric can be completely composted in just three days.

“Sustainable casework
Casework features Kirei board made from the leftover stalks of Sorghum plants, a food crop grown around the world. Other parts of the casework were made from wood industry waste and recycled wood fibers.


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