Apr 26 2010

Credit Union Social Responsibility: A Sustainability Road Map

Report  
Number  
207

This is a guide for credit union executives, staff, and board members who are interested in the opportunity of generating business and community value through the development and implementation of a sustainability strategy.

Coro Strandberg
President
Strandberg Consulting
Report Number 207

Executive Summary

The genotype of credit unions includes sustainability. Sustainability, which also goes by the names of corporate social responsibility and corporate citizenship, is the premise that businesses, as participants in society, have a responsibility to improve society. Combine a cooperative founding, democratic governance, and a business imperative to put members first, and credit unions are case-in-point examples of businesses with a tangible altruistic mission—“people helping people” and “people before profits.” Credit unions’ history of serving common folk, encouraging thrift, and writing loans that others won’t lands them solidly in the sustainable camp.

Yet, despite their history, today’s credit unions are in danger of missing out on an important trend in consumer demand: the expectation that businesses should provide value both to the individual customer and to the broader community.

What is the research about?

Strandberg outlines a straightforward process for credit unions to place themselves on the sustainability continuum—anywhere from pre-CSR (compliance-focused) all the way to mission- driven CSR, where sustainability suffuses everything the credit union does.

Beyond describing the many facets of sustainability, however, Strandberg calls out ways for individual credit unions to identify and execute their own sustainability priorities. This includes a 10-step plan and relevant case studies for making sustainability improvements, regardless of where you start. The steps include critical how-tos for committing, researching, implementing, reporting, and more.

What are the credit union implications?

Readers will discover where they stand on the sustainability spectrum and learn about the consequences of moving in either direction. They will learn whom to involve in conversations about improving their sustainable footprint. Most usefully, perhaps, they will learn from eight separate credit unions—with widely divergent priorities—from Australia, Canada, and the United States.

Regardless of your credit union’s phenotype, this report offers tangible steps and an opportunity to reassess the core sustainability principles that launched credit unions in the first place. Social responsibility will look different in every community, but it’s deep in every credit union’s genotype. How will you express it?