Summit Credit Union’s investment in sustainability has a multiplier effect

Each year, as part of Sustain Dane’s MPower Champions program, we ask area businesses to tackle five sustainability projects. This past year, Summit Credit Union took on seven, one of which multiplied to an additional 19 projects.

What’s the secret to Summit Credit Union’s sustainability success? Inclusiveness.

Summit Credit Union, one of Wisconsin’s largest member-owned financial cooperatives, has 28 locations throughout South Central Wisconsin, Madison, and Milwaukee. When its corporate green team launched in 2012, it faced the challenge of maintaining consistent communication with all locations, according to Kimberly Frederickson, Summit’s vice president of financial education and business development.

“Each location has different needs and parameters, so if we put in place a sustainability initiative, it might make sense for some locations, but not others,” said Frederickson. She pointed to one example — an organization-wide recycling initiative would have been difficult given that recycling guidelines vary by city and county. 

“We [the green team] realized that we wanted to get things out more quickly, and we also wanted to create enthusiasm for Summit’s sustainability efforts at the branch level,” said Frederickson. So the team looked to each branch location for leadership. The team invited the branches to pursue their own sustainability projects, giving each branch a small budget of $100 to get started. 

With just that simple invitation to engage, Frederickson said, “we learned quickly who was passionate about sustainability.” The green team was able to identify a “champion” at each branch — someone who understood the branch’s dynamics and showed a passion for workplace sustainability. Each branch champion acted as a liaison between the branch employees and the corporate green team, posting ideas and updates on the intranet sustainability page, submitting proposals, and sharing information from the corporate green team with their branch colleagues.

Soon after this process was in place, the branches collectively had 19 projects under their belts — everything from switching to reusable utensils, coffee mugs, and green cleaning supplies to holding employee and member contests for green ideas. In addition, some locations had major sustainability projects underway, with additional projects on the horizon. 



As a result of inviting employees across all branches to lead their own sustainability efforts, the corporate green team was able to significantly increase its output, taking on a project load five times greater than the MPower program threshold. More importantly, this spawned a culture of inclusiveness and collaboration at Summit Credit Union.

“With the branches, we’ve been so thrilled to see them engaging and coming up with ideas,” said Frederickson. “Overall our employees are much more aware of what we’re doing around sustainability.” Frederickson said that this awareness has resonated with Summit Credit Union’s membership as well.

“During our 2013 annual meeting at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center, we saw many new connections and conversations around sustainability at Summit Credit Union,” she said.

Inclusiveness and leadership

This story of Summit Credit Union’s sustainability success is a testament to the power of inclusive leadership — a leadership style that values the contributions of stakeholders at all levels of the organization. As Stephan Gilchrest, director of the UW-Extension Center for Inclusive and Engaged Leadership, writes on the center’s website, “No one person or one group alone can bring about and sustain organizational and community well-being. [It] can only be met by creating and maintaining an environment where relationship building and collaboration flourish between and across diverse perspectives, experiences, individuals, and groups.”

Summit Credit Union’s green team created a system that enabled collaboration and relationship building across locations and job types. The team involved stakeholders at all levels of the organization. And, as a result, the team far exceeded its sustainability goals. What can your organization achieve when you begin to define leadership as inclusive?

Emerging ideas and new approaches to leadership — like inclusiveness — are dynamic. If you’d like to gain new perspectives and hands-on skills for the next evolution of leadership, check out the Leadership for a Better World Global Summit June 17-18 in Madison, with post-summit workshops on June 19 and 20. Presented by the UW-Extension Center for Inclusive & Engaged Leadership in collaboration with Wisconsin Public Radio and Sustain Dane, this two-day summit will feature renowned leadership experts, including Eric Lowitt, author of The Collaboration Economy and the Future of Value; Jenn Lim, CEO and chief happiness officer for Delivering Happiness; Tracy Brandenburg, senior lecturer at Cornell University and design thinking coach; and others.

Members of Sustain Dane’s Sustainable Business Network receive a special group rate discount. For registration information, click here.

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