How one agency makes the environmentally sustainable choice while exceeding service levels and its financial commitment to their clients and stakeholders.
CommunityAmerica Insurance Agency was formed in 2017 as part of a credit union service organization owned by CommunityAmerica Credit Union. We work hard to provide the right services to our members and give back to the communities we serve through financial literacy and stability programs, as well as finding ways to strengthen our neighboring communities.
With a strong foundation of helping the community thrive, our agency wanted to create an identity that was distinct from others in the industry. By looking at the heart of what our employees are passionate about, we carved out our niche and got our “hands in the dirt" to support organizations and projects working toward conservation and sustainability.
We started with a simple mission: Our agency will make the environmentally sustainable choice while achieving and exceeding our service and financial commitment to our clients and members.
We have committed to engaging in a continuous series of small, repeatable and sustainable acts—much like taking breaths—that were woven into the fabric of our agency. With this vision, we created the CommunityAmerica Insurance Agency AIR (act, inform, repeat) Program:
- Act: What we do.
- Inform: How we make an impact.
- Repeat: Continue with activities that make progress toward conservation and sustainability in our community.
To implement the AIR program, we created a series of repeatable acts and an information loop that would inform our clients, staff and community about what we did and why. In turn, we solicited and received feedback to influence our future acts. We repeated those acts that worked, and we changed or removed those that didn't. This cycle—acting, informing, repeating—has worked to establish a sustainable process, moving both our conservation efforts and our agency's success forward.
How We Bring AIR to Life
There's no better way to demonstrate AIR than to outline examples of some of the projects we've worked on:
Kids and wildflowers. Each CommunityAmerica Credit Union department, including our agency, hosts the children of employees for Take Your Child to Work Day. In 2021, we asked our college interns to help make the day exciting for kids while connecting to our mission. After a quick introduction to insurance, the department and the interns led the kids in a discussion about conservation and made wildflower “bombs" consisting of seeds and soil for the children to plant at home.
Sourcing supplies. We have a commitment to our member-owners to be fiscally responsible while pursuing environmental sustainability. To further this goal, we order supplies from a local online provider, and our agency operations manager checks for sustainable options, such as eco-friendly ink, recycled paper and more. As long as the price is within 10% of our “normal" option, we order the sustainable choice. In our weekly staff meeting, we discuss these choices and seek feedback that will inform future selections.
Helping keep Brush Creek clean. Stream Teams of Missouri, supported by the Missouri Department of Conservation, have a passion for keeping streams clean and healthy. Our agency adopted a segment of Brush Creek in the heart of Kansas City and near one of our financial branches. We schedule days for monitoring and cleaning up and invite families and co-workers to join. “It's fun to get outside and get our hands dirty—and we are doing it right in the middle of the community where we live and work," says Jennie Darby, insurance agent, CommunityAmerica Insurance Agency. “It's super fantastic!"
Rechargeable batteries. It's frustrating when the battery in a computer mouse suddenly goes dead. Historically, we would toss the old batteries in the trash to sit in a landfill and make the trek to our Solution Center for replacements. But now we have a couple of small rechargeable battery packs in our office area. When our batteries expire, we simply swap them for new ones and pop the old batteries in the charger. A four-battery charger costs around $20; a small investment that provides significant returns in support of our sustainability mission.
Tree giveaway. We are planning a tree giveaway for clients of the agency in the spring of 2023. We will offer a sign-up program for clients to request a tree and will use the event to educate the community on the risks some trees present, as well as host a meet and greet with our clients. We are currently researching trees that are best for our area and do not create damage to roofs, powerlines, foundations or cause service line issues. We've also reached out to carriers to obtain data on “good" and “bad" tree species from an insurance risk perspective.
We will work with The Heartland Tree Alliance (HTA), which is part of Bridging the Gap, a group of nonprofit environmental initiatives working to make the Kansas City region sustainable by connecting the environment, economy and community. HTA's mission is to engage people of the greater Kansas City region to act and advocate for a healthy community forest. Our agency participated in planting 18 trees in a morning of volunteer work with HTA in Liberty, Missouri, where we have three nearby CommunityAmerica branches. Each tree planted has the potential to offset 48 pounds of carbon each year.
Supporting our passion financially. Ranchland Trust of Kansas (RTK) works with ranchers and conservation partners to voluntarily create perpetual conservation easements. These partnerships help not only the environment, wildlife and ecosystems of Kansas, but aid land stewards in achieving successful financial goals for their operations and family. A $250 donation conserves approximately 12 acres of Kansas grassland, according to Lynn Gentine, executive director of RTK. When CommunityAmerica Insurance Agency was recognized by Safeco's Agent of the Future Program and awarded a $5,000 donation to a charity of our choice, we chose RTK.
Ceramic mugs or plastic foam cups? Sometimes when we're doing the AIR technique, we find an idea that we think will make an impact but something prevents us from repeating it. One such action was adding ceramic mugs to our existing foam cup selection. For a time, we would offer our guests coffee or tea served in a ceramic mug. These mugs were washable and reusable, and a generic supply was less than $30. Our carrier partners also frequently donated to the selection. However, due to health and safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic, we went back to disposable cups. We hope to bring this back, but in the meantime, we'll continue to evaluate this and other ideas.
How do we know if we are effective? Just like any other organization, CommunityAmerica has financial performance objectives that incorporate key metrics, such as employee retention and morale.
Our agency, however, also tracks environmental aspects of our business: carbon footprint, environmental influence on our partners and the volunteer hours we spend on environmental projects. The credit union has developed a multi-capital scorecard that tracks key performance measures related to economic, social and environmental capital.
These metrics are quantifiable, verifiable and tracked by internal and external sources to assure we are using accurate data to gauge our progress toward our goal of being a green insurance agency.
We have also ensured our partners take part in our passion. For example, we ask our partners for environmental sustainability policy statements. In 2018, long before environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria were popular, we asked each of our major partners to provide a copy of its environmental sustainability policies and tracked the responses.
In the first year, we received only a handful of responses, along with a lot of questions. In 2021, we received responses from most of our partners. These ranged from simply providing a copy of their policy or referring us to a specific section on their website to requesting sample policies for guidance as they build their own. By simply requesting their policies, we let these organizations know this is something we value in a partner, and many of them were encouraged to act.
Our environment plays such a big role in the risks we seek to mitigate for our clients. Whether it's fires, floods, damage from snow, ice or wind, we believe that in a small way, we are helping to prevent those risks, particularly in the long term. In the process, we are engaging with our clients, building relationships and meeting them in the neighborhoods where they live and work. Your agency can, too.
Scott Strickland is president of CommunityAmerica Insurance Agency LLC. Strickland has over 30 years of experience offering risk management solutions to the members and customers of financial institutions across the United States.