Navy Federal Credit Union’s Pensacola Campus Gets Gold Star for Green Efforts

Lean, Green and GrowingNavy Federal Credit Union’s Pensacola campus gets gold star for eco-friendly effortsBy Maggie Kelly

The largest credit union in the world is also the greenest credit union on the planet, serving 3 million members worldwide.

In 2004, when the Navy Federal Credit Union opened a state-of-the-art-facility in Pensacola, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification was still relatively new in Florida. Dubbed the "Pensacola Project," the credit union now holds the distinguished honor of being the first LEED Gold-rated project completed in Florida, with plans to add a fourth building in Heritage Oaks.

Although the campus is a little off the beaten track, it’s worth the drive. Heading out along the two-lane road into the country, you will reach a point where you think you’ve gone too far.

Then, suddenly, the campus emerges before you. For Navy Federal, green is an attitude as much as it is an operating platform. As energy prices rise and budgets shrink, it stands tall as a leader in Northwest Florida — an example of how a good energy policy can improve performance and grow business.

"It’s unbelievable. You drive out there and you go, ‘Where’d this come from?’ It blows you away," says Gov. Charlie Crist, whose administration has promoted a host of green living initiatives and who recently spent time touring the credit union campus. "It’s a great project. They are a great example of a very good business model, providing service to the people and doing it in a way that promotes the beauty of Florida."

Requirements for LEED certification fall into six categories: energy savings, water efficiency, carbon dioxide emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts. Navy Federal has set the bar for green building in Northwest Florida and although they tread lightly on the environment, they carry a big stick economically — which includes hiring more local workers — in part due to their decision to go green.

The original plan was to build a 10,000-square-foot call center in a city with great labor resources and a reasonable cost of living. "We looked at more than 40 cities nationwide and found that Pensacola’s labor force was highly skilled and educated and preferred to maintain residence after college," says Debbie Calder, senior vice president for Greater Pensacola Operations. "But the truly endearing factor has been that people have welcomed us here both professionally and personally. It speaks to the character of the people and that translates to the workplace and the development of good employees."

In the first quarter of 2009, the credit union hired more than 75 new employees and has plans to hire another 150 before the year ends. "Luckily for us, the economic challenges facing the banks today have not impacted us. Our lending practices have always been conservative and our business is doing well," says Calder.

In addition to the work force, Pensacola’s real estate opportunities and state incentives combined to push Navy Federal forward to expand — to a 300,000-square-foot architectural model of green design. Charles Wood, senior vice president of Economic Development for the Pensacola Chamber of Commerce, worked with credit union officials on the front end, from the initial site selection in 2002 to the development of a workforce recruitment and training program that is still in place six years later.

"(Navy Federal) has been a phenomenal corporate citizen, not only from an employment and economic investment, but from an environmental perspective as well," Wood says. "A Green Building Council was formed by Greenhut, the builder, to provide education and networking for businesses that are looking to design, build and maintain green projects."

The impact made by the credit union project, he adds, has had a resounding effect statewide. The University of West Florida has just completed the College of Science and Engineering, a LEED Silver building, and Escambia County has plans in place for a Development Services building complete with a grass roof, another first for Northwest Florida.

While laying the groundwork for green development in Northwest Florida, Navy Federal faced significant challenges in order to meet LEED Gold requirements. Janice Kilgore, Business Continuity Planner for the credit union, says, "Our design team was very conscientious to provide product and material specs that met most, if not all, of the requirements to use materials and resources within a 500 mile radius of our job site."
However, translating specs into reality did pose challenges.

In the materials and resource category, one credit for certification is attained if 20 percent of the materials are manufactured locally, a requirement Navy Federal easily satisfied. An additional credit is achieved if 10 percent of materials are "harvested" locally. But the required Forest Stewardship Content-certified wood products are not grown locally. Also, it was difficult at first to find a local vendor to deal with managing the construction waste. The general contractor collected, sorted and managed the removal of the waste to local recycling centers. Beyond the environmental return, Navy Federal saved more than $20,000 in "tipping" fees which would have been incurred had the waste been taken to the landfills.

Despite the hurdles, Kilgore believes the choice to go green has made significant improvements to the quality of an employee’s work life.

"Volatile organic compound emissions from paints, carpeting, sealants, and workstations all met stringent air quality measurements. Entryways are outfitted with special flooring to capture dirt particulates and other pollutants from entering the building," she explains. "Only environmentally friendly cleaning products with neutral disinfectants are used throughout the facility. Heating and cooling are distributed under the floor to maximize comfort and minimize consumption."

With these measures, energy savings are tangible. The average cooling consumption in commercial buildings typically measures 300 square feet cooled per one ton of cooling pressure, but Navy Federal’s energy efficient chilled-air cooling system offers more than 800 square feet per one ton of cooling. Kilgore adds, "Further improvement is expected over time. An indoor air quality management plan was developed for use during construction and pre-occupancy and subsequent indoor air quality was tested and showed zero impurities. It is Navy Federal’s belief the air quality contributes to reduced absenteeism of employees."

Most energy saving efforts pay for themselves in just a few years. Navy Federal’s projected cost impact for Building 3 shows a savings of 53 percent over the annual industry average for commercial building.

Situated on 65 acres of live oak natural wetlands, 90 percent of all occupants in the credit union’s campus buildings have a view of nature. Entire walls of each building are constructed using all glass. Exterior walls have translucent materials to admit daylight while keeping harmful rays out. The use of natural light in the building interior is supplemented by energy-efficient, indirect lighting systems. All appliances and computer devices are Energy Star rated. Flat panel monitors that consume 60 percent less energy and produce 60 percent less heat reside on all desktops. An Energy Star white roof that reflects more than 80 percent of the sun’s rays is used to minimize heat gain. Workstation furniture products are manufactured in such a way that eliminates environmentally harmful materials and processes.

Lush foliage and natural sound is everywhere. On breaks, employees walk or run on the fitness trail around the campus. An on-site gym and health clinic also help to keep the focus on wellness and preventative care.

"We have seen employee turnover reduced," says Calder. "Our original intent to become an employee-focused workplace is what has made Navy Federal Credit Union an employer of choice.

Cost/Benefit of Building Green

Photo by Scott Holstein.

Building Green Utility Cost Impact

Navy Federal Credit Union Heritage Oaks Campus

Annual industry average utility cost for commercial building: $5.51 per square foot

Building 1

  • Actual annual cost: $4.34 per square foot (including natural gas usage)
  • Annual cost savings: more than 21% (expected to increase this year due to control system modifications)

Building 2

  • Actual annual cost: $2.52 per square foot
  • Annual cost savings: more than 54%

Building 3

  • Projected annual cost:$2.57 per square foot
  • Projected cost savings: more than 53%


Building Green EmploymentHeritage Oaks Campus

 Start Date #of Year-End Employees
 2003 61 2004 255 2004 400 2006 665 2007 835 2008 1,165 2009 1,290 (estimated)
 2014 2,100 (estimated)