Sunday 20 October 2019

Supporting Sustainability Initiatives: Affinity Credit Union

As a Saskatchewan financial co-operative, Affinity Credit Union believes in building a better world by enabling members and communities to invest in one another. Approximately 6% of their pre-tax profits go back into the communities they serve through donations and sponsorships in four specific areas:

1. Building community assets and facilities (e.g. community rinks, parks, seniors’ centres);
2. Social and financial inclusion (e.g. financial literacy, anti-poverty, job readiness and mentoring programs);
3. Local economic development (other co-operatives, regional development authorities, non-profits engaged in revenue diversification, such as Habitat for Humanity ReStore, Crocus Co-op catering services); and
4. Environmental sustainability.

Community support is provided at a regional level through the district councils and at a provincial level by the head office. Along with the board and Indigenous Council, the districts help the corporate office stay in touch with what is happening around the province. The district councils often fund community assets and facilities, but they also work with the corporate office in considering sustainability projects. The corporate office funds province-wide initiatives as well as larger grants that will have a greater impact.

Environmental Sustainability 
Cara Bahr is the Community Engagement Manager for Affinity Credit Union and works with a six-person team to oversee the Credit Union’s donations and sponsorship program. “We’ve been supporting environmental initiatives for over 10 years. It’s very important,” she says. Here are a few of the many environmental sustainability projects the Credit Union has supported.

Solar-Powered Car Shares in Saskatoon and Regina
With support from Affinity and other community partners, the Saskatoon CarShare Co-operative became the first public carshare in Canada with 100% solar-powered electric vehicles. Affinity is now working with the Regina Car Share Co-operative to bring solar-powered electric carshare vehicles to Regina as well.

Zero-Waste Events
Over the past two years, Affinity has partnered with the Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council to co-ordinate zero-waste events. They would like to expand the program to other major centres across the province but will need to ensure they have sufficient resources. For example, Saskatoon Loraas has a composting facility, which has been very useful in ensuring zero-waste events, but it’s the only one in the province.

Affinity is also providing financial support for many of the upcoming repair caf├ęs being held across Saskatchewan during Waste Reduction Week.

Gasification Boiler
With financial assistance from Affinity, the Northwest YMCA in Regina installed a gasification boiler that converts garbage into biofuel to heat the swimming pool 365 days a year. This has enabled the YMCA to reduce their energy costs by as much as $30,000 a year.

Montreal Lake Greenhouse 
High school students from Montreal Lake Cree Nation built a four-season greenhouse using environmentally sustainable materials and solar panels. In addition to helping with the greenhouse, Affinity provided the students with financial literacy training.

Organizational Support 
Affinity Credit Union has been partnering with the Saskatchewan Environmental Society for at least 10 years on building operator training and energy audits for non-profit organizations. In addition, they sponsor the annual Living Green Expo. The Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council’s annual Waste ReForum is also sponsored by Affinity.

Affinity conducted an internal energy audit of its corporate office last year and is using as many sustainable and energy-efficient products as possible. Their organic waste is collected and composted by Loraas.

Future Plans 
Affinity is stepping up its environmental sustainability initiatives as they believe this is what their members are looking for. “There are going to be some great opportunities to do things differently and move things forward in the next few years,” Cara says.

They hope to help families finance solar panels, perhaps through a line of credit or a 10-year fixed consumer loan. They are also open to whatever opportunities present themselves.

How to Apply 
Online information as well as an electronic form are available to apply for a donation or sponsorship. Applications are considered once a week and Cara recommends applying early in the year as more of the money will still be available at the beginning of the Credit Union’s calendar year.

When reviewing applications, Affinity considers community impact, brand awareness, and whether the project provides hands-on opportunities for member/employee engagement (e.g. employees separating garbage at zero-waste events).

Further Information 
Cutting Down on Waste: Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council
Saskatoon CarShare Co-operative (2015)

Photo Credit: Facebook pages for Affinity Credit Union and Saskatchewan Environmental Society