Transforming utility customer service: Bank of America’s push for a low-carbon future

Utility customers are becoming increasingly concerned about climate change, its societal repercussions, and how it impacts their businesses. As a result, many commercial & industrial (C&I) customers are developing, publicizing, and executing on corporate sustainability goals. This series of articles seeks to explore how utilities are helping customers meet sustainability goals and facilitate a transition to a low-carbon future. This article presents a case study on how Bank of America (BOA) pushes its sustainability agenda forward with some interesting twists, such as their focus on LEED certification as a key metric.

Bank of America has developed both internal operational sustainability goals and external lending goals to help enable a low-carbon future. BOA’s external sustainability efforts are driven through its Environmental Business Initiative. Through this initiative, BOA has deployed capital to help finance activities related to energy efficiency, renewable energy, and sustainable transportation amongst other sustainable activities. The company had set an initial goal of deploying $125 billion for the Environmental Business Initiative by 2025 but was able to meet the goal six years early in 2019. A new goal of deploying an additional $300 billion by the end of 2030 has now been set.

BOA’s ambitious internal operational sustainability goals include achieving carbon neutrality for scope 1 and 2 emissions, purchasing 100% of electricity from renewable resources, reducing energy use by 40%, and reducing location-based GHG emissions by 50%. BOA has taken the innovative approach of setting additional goals that help in the achievement of the broader sustainable goals. A prime example is BOA’s goal to maintain LEED certification on 20% of the company’s owned and leased space. LEED certified buildings are amongst the most efficient and employ numerous green building strategies. This, in turn, reduces energy usage and corresponding emissions.

BOA has a history of innovation and leadership within the energy efficiency space. BOA reports separately on energy efficiency savings and, in 2018, it projected annual energy efficiency savings of almost 180,000 gigajoules, enough to power nearly 5,000 homes. These energy efficiency savings are generated from a wide variety of activities. As previously mentioned, BOA has put an emphasis on LEED certification. BOA has 217 financial centers with a LEED certification and over 19-million-square feet of LEED certified workspace. Obtaining LEED certification presents an excellent opportunity for companies to work collaboratively with their local utilities, as utility efficiency programs often provide incentives for building efficiency upgrades that help achieve LEED certification.

BOA’s relationship with its utility in Northern California, PG&E, is worth highlighting as an example of how companies can work with their utilities to achieve meaningful energy reductions.  PG&E and BOA worked together at over 300 locations to implement energy efficiency retrofits such as HVAC upgrades, the installation of variable frequency drives on fan motors, upgraded pump motors, lighting retrofits, and lighting/HVAC controls. Many of the BOA facilities also participated in PG&E’s demand response programs, lowering electric loads during times of peak electricity demand. PG&E dedicated a team to BOA to help evaluate their facilities as part of a portfolio approach and present a holistic solution that took advantage of multiple energy efficiency programs.

BOA again showed its commitment to sustainability and innovation by participating in the Department of Energy’s Commercial Building Partnership Program. The BOA project was geared towards a substantial reduction in facility energy consumption as compared to the relevant ASHRAE standard. Key applications for this project were to ensure that operational factors were considered with the project still providing an appropriate internal project rate of return. As an example, exterior lighting retrofits still had to meet lighting levels for security and safety requirements. Pre-project monitoring showed that plug loads were not as high as initially estimated and more efficient lighting reduced the heating load, allowing for HVAC right sizing. Beyond the lighting and HVAC retrofits, additional envelope/insulation measures led to a 48% total reduction in energy consumption at the BOA project site. Lighting and HVAC retrofit projects are the hallmarks of utility energy efficiency programs and an opportunity for businesses and utilities to collaborate.

BOA has been successful in developing both internal and external facing sustainability metrics. In many instances, BOA has met and exceeded initial goals and subsequently set more aggressive goals. BOA has worked with its local utilities and other agencies to help push its energy efficiency agenda forward while maintaining key operational and financial considerations. BOA’s record of success in this area shows that the setting of sub-goals that help achieve overall sustainability goals is a unique and effective way of ensuring that overarching objectives are met.

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Michael Goldman is a Director on the Energy Efficiency team at Eversource Energy, the largest energy delivery company in New England. He is a frequent contributor to conferences and articles on distributed energy resources and their impact on the evolving grid.

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