Mike Brandt

Evergreen CU rooted in sustainability

Efforts lead to substantial asset, membership, and income growth.

October 10, 2016

He’s more likely to hug a dog than a tree.

But Mike Brandt, Fox Valley Humane Association Board member and all-around animal lover, also is a passionate credit union leader who embraces environmentalism as a way to make one of the smallest credit unions in Wisconsin’s Fox Valley stand out.

When Brandt took the helm of $34 million asset Evergreen Credit Union in 2011, member growth was slowing and the Neenah, Wis.-based institution was losing money. Brandt knew he needed to differentiate to turn things around.

The idea struck while brainstorming with colleagues on the way home from a Wisconsin Credit Union League conference: What if Evergreen could become the nation’s greenest credit union?

Brandt put together a plan and sold it to the board and staff.

Then he hired a sustainability manager—a bold step for a 15-employee organization in which the CEO also does payroll.

To Brandt it was critical. This wasn’t a marketing campaign. This was going to be a fundamental shift, and Brandt knew he needed a professional who could bring more expertise, insight, and creativity about sustainability than he had.

“Just because I’m not the stereotypical hard-core environmentalist didn’t mean I couldn’t do this right,” he says.

Evergreen launched its sustainability plan in 2014, and members notice when the credit union sponsors local bike rides or offers loan specials for hybrid and electric cars.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Brandt says. “And people have to borrow money for them anyway.”

The credit union also has 198 solar panels on its roof and makes most of its own electricity.

A zero-waste facility with a negative carbon footprint, Evergreen cut water consumption by 60% when it replaced all of its restroom fixtures.

On the business side, member growth has turned around, assets are up nearly 40%, and income has tripled since Brandt took over.

This year the credit union met its total 2016 lending goal by the end of June, and knocked out nearly 80% of its three-year environmental plan in the first 12 months.

“We’ve grown membership more in six months of this year than we have in any year in the last 10 years,” Brandt says. “This is real.”