green bankBanks have always been well known for being green, if by green, we mean having a lot of money. But people who are concerned about the environment might be happy to know that banks are starting to get their environmental acts together as well and are starting to think green.

I caught up with Frank Sherman, TD Bank's U.S. Green Officer, after reading that the institution was in the midst of building a "green" bank, the first of many the bank plans to build. The bank will be located in New York City, in Queens, to be exact, and will be carbon-neutral and environmentally friendly. We're talking solar panels, insulated glass with a low E-coating and more.

I thought TD Bank was one of the first banks to go green, but Sherman was refreshingly honest when I asked him about that.

"In the United States, a number of other banks are also starting to build 'green,' " said Sherman. "PNC, Bank of America, Citibank and Wells Fargo have all been greening their branches. So we don't claim to be the first, and in fact, we feel that in some ways, we're catching up."

No matter. First or fifth, at least they're heading in an environmentally responsible direction. The Queens location, which is scheduled to open April 24, will be made, in part, of wood from sustainably managed forests and materials that release virtually no questionable chemicals. The bank will also have solar panels, which should generate 17% of the electricity needs, and the building is being structured in a way -- from the direction it faces the sun to the type of glass being used for the windows -- that they can "use daylight harvesting strategies," Sherman said.

In all, this branch is expected to be 50% more energy efficient than the bank's more recently built branches.

The new green location is part of a big push TD Bank has been making lately toward becoming a greener company. It recently announced a campaign to achieve carbon neutrality, which, as its Web site says, "means that the energy we use to run our business is offset by our energy-saving practices." They say they're the largest American bank to do this, by having made a huge investment in renewable power. For instance, they've purchased a block of wind energy large enough to power their 2,600 ATMs, and they've bought 31,000 metric tons in carbon offset credits to eliminate their remaining emissions.

Granted, none of this sustainability may change how people do their banking, but on the other hand, it just may. If enough banks go green, consumers may start drifting away from the ones that don't.

Sherman admits that banks in general are probably going green because "we have a healthy dose of competitive nature among the financial institutions," but he adds, "We, like a lot of other companies, understand that it's good business and a good business practice to be sustainable. I personally believe more and more companies are understanding that it's not just a good business practice, but that customers are responsive to companies with good business practices."

In other words, companies are doing the right thing, which pleases their customers, but they're also saving money, which pleases their stockholders and CEOs.

Before landing at TD Bank and becoming their first "green" executive, Sherman worked as an architect and consultant, advising companies on how to construct environmentally friendly buildings. He admits to being "pleasantly surprised" by the direction banks and other businesses are finally moving. "I think one thing is clear," says Sherman. "We have a long way to go, and this is a process of continual learning, and of incremental improvements for the bank. We're committed to be in it for the long haul."

I asked if the new TD Bank's vault would be made of anything different, new and exciting -- maybe recycled rubber tires, bottle caps or refurbished concrete, but apparently I don't have a future as a bank architect. Sherman told me, "I think that's one area where the tried and true is still the best solution."

Geoff Williams is a frequent contributor to WalletPop. He is also the co-author of the new book "Living Well with Bad Credit."

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