Slashing U.S. greenhouse gases 80% by mid-century as the Obama administration has proposed certainly won't be an easy feat, but a number of financial advisory firms are already embracing strategies to reduce their own carbon footprint. What's good for the environment, they're finding, is often good for business-and vice versa.
"Most of the initiatives we do through the company are geared towards a financial savings rather than a mono-focused approach of 'we have to go green.' We are trying to enact sensible policies that make financial and green sense. Those are not mutually exclusive and can work well," says Phillip Fournier, chief operations officer of McLean, Va.-based Spire Investment Partners LLC.
A major green-related initiative launched by Spire-whose 30-plus consultants manage more than $1 billion in client assets from 14 offices nationwide-is its two-year-old "paperless" computer system which functions as an electric filing cabinet. Run on a central server securely housed and maintained by an IT solutions company, it also provides a virtual instant office for consultants joining the expanding firm, says Fournier.
Although the system was expensive-more than $40,000 up front for licensing, set up and software fees-it's paying off. Each field office is saving about $2,300 a year by scanning documents into the system for electronic signatures rather than printing and sending them daily via UPS to Spire's operations center in Reston, Va., says Fournier. Electronic signatures also don't waste packaging materials, gasoline and jet fuel, he adds.
"As a green solution, it is the multiplier effect. How much does it take to cut down a tree, make paper, ship paper, sell paper, use paper and discard paper? Plus toner, ink, file folders, staples, paperclips and the energy used to make all of those. Comparatively, a server runs at about 20 cents a day," says Fournier. Spire's Virginia locations had previously been spending $300 to $400 a month on office supplies, he says.
Spire's consultants-who are charged $100 per month for system access and unlimited electronic storage space-are burning less fuel traveling between offices thanks to a collaboration tool on the system that allows distant colleagues to simultaneously view and work together on the same spreadsheets and documents. Fournier has also reduced travel by using Glance Network's PC sharing tool to conduct training and recruiting sessions.
Modera Wealth Management, which relocated to Westwood, N.J., in November after outgrowing its previous office space, is already noticing the energy-saving benefits of being in a brand new building.
Office manager Noemi Soto had expected to see a significant jump in the firm's utility bills since it more than doubled its square footage; happily she was wrong. Energy-saving windows may be partly to thank. The new leased space also has two heating zones that give Modera greater temperature control. Thermostats are programmed to shut off the heat during non-business hours. The firm, which installed energy efficient appliances in its new kitchen, plans to change its lighting to dimmer ballasts and use lower-wattage light bulbs, she says.
Modera has been trying to talk with its landlord about starting a recycling program. "It has to come from the building as a whole," says Soto. The landlord has discussed installing solar panels on the roof to cut energy costs in the building's common area.
Modera, which has $450 million in assets under management, started sending more e-mail blasts to clients last year to reduce paper usage; roughly 45% to 50% of the firm's 300 clients have agreed to participate. Soto, who throws ideas back and forth with Modera principal and wealth manager Tom Orecchio, is researching online file systems that enable clients to log in to an electric vault to download and print their documents at their convenience.