Janet W. Lamkin
In February 2007, Bank of America
became a pillar of the new green economy in California when it announced a
10-year, $20 billion environmental initiative to help address climate
change. Since then, it has funded a wide range of philanthropic,
commercial and public sector green projects. From working in partnership
with Chevron to installing solar panels on a school at no upfront charge
to the school district, to providing grants to community groups for
building green coalitions, to financing new technology companies, to
greening its own buildings and practices, B of A has become a lynchpin in
the greening of California.
At the helm is Janet W. Lamkin,
president of Bank of America California. Named one of the 100 most
influential businesswomen in the Bay Area two years in a row, she is
responsible for the integration of the company’s entire operation through
the state. Thirty-five thousand B of A associates call her boss. In this
special interview with Green Technology Magazine, Ms. Lamkin explores the
factors that impel the company to push ever further into financing the new
green economy and her own personal motivations for making sure it has a
solid foundation from which to grow.
What are some
highlights of B of A's green initiatives?
The bank has quite a
legacy in this state. For about two decades we've been a leader around
environmental practices, first focusing on our own practices, like
reducing the paper we use by associates. We've actually been able to do
that by 40 percent. We've been able to set some very aggressive voluntary
goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the company by nine
percent through the reduction of our energy consumption.
the more recent components of what we've done internally is we have
created a program where we reimburse our associates $3,000 to buy a
hybrid. Nearly 2,000 have taken us up on it so far.
We have a long
legacy of managing our own environmental house and providing some
incentives internally. But a year ago February we started to take a look
at the world and felt that as a company, we needed to become a leader
externally, to encourage our various lines of businesses to develop green
strategies and green opportunities for their customer bases. As a result,
such strategies are now in place in our credit card business, our mortgage
business, our leasing business, etc.
We've had some really
interesting results. In the leasing space, a variety of really exciting
deals have come up. One of them is in Rialto, which is in the Inland
Empire. We financed an energy project that is the largest use of fuel cell
technology to convert waste water sludge into energy.
We did a
project with the San Jose School District, taking them all solar—with no
up-front cost to the district—in a deal with Chevron. We’ve done projects
with wineries in Napa Valley, helping them turn solar. So we've had a lot
of success, both in finding green technologies and financing those
technologies and creating products that green companies can use.
are making huge investments in California in our own banking centers. We
are refurbishing them, and the green component has been a strong part of
that. So in our banking center upgrades we're using new HVAC (heating and
air conditioning) technologies in 3,200 banking centers and new lighting
technology in 1,300 of our banking centers on the West Coast. The lighting
project alone will produce the same GHG (greenhouse gas) reductions as 15
football fields of solar panels for 25 percent of the cost. It’s also
expected to save $2.5 million in energy costs. These technologies include
recently developed fluorescent lamps and ballasts and LED exit signs.
B of A’s $20 billion green initiative is a little over a year
old now. How did it come about - an epiphany, or a gradual
This going to sound odd, but it was a little bit of
both. We actually have had it in our culture and in our DNA that we are a
company that cares about these issues. What's interesting is that most
people don't think of a bank as needing to be green. I remember we
actually got a great deal of attention when we announced the initiative.
People said, “Why, what's in it for you?” It seemed to them like an odd
priority for a financial institution. Not only was it in our DNA, in our
approach to the way we conduct our own business, but the epiphany was that
this is a great business move. With the economy changing and new green
technologies emerging, this is where the future is for our customers, and
therefore we need to be there for them.
When you say the
economy's changing, what do you mean exactly?
I think there's a
shift. Famed venture capitalist John Doerr puts the energy market at $6
trillion, calling it the “mother of all markets,” dwarfing the internet
market. I think it's an evolution of technology that is creating real
Why do you think that clean or green
tech companies need to know about your $20 billion
Mainly because we are very actively looking to
invest in them and to finance them. A lot of the companies that are
creating these new technologies think that banks are very traditional in
their lending and risk profiling. In fact, they are, but what this
initiative does is allows us to take a fresh look at what that risk
profile might be and what the financing of something might need look like.
What's interesting is that it's not unlike what happened when the ag
(agricultural) industry first emerged at the turn of the century or the
entertainment industry first emerged in the 1930s. They both required high
capital initially with long term return. They required a different way to
look at how the financing could be applied to be successful. We kind of
started the first financing in both of those industries with that
approach. It's ironic that in many ways green technology is analogous to
that. In the ag industry you need capital to plant crops, and you don't
harvest the crops for a certain amount of time. Their cash process is on a
different timetable than banks were accustomed to at that time.
(Note: In 1904, A.P. Giannini founded Bank of America and made its
first agricultural loan. Having been raised on a farm, he knew the needs
of the industry and continued to maintain a close relationship with
growers, input suppliers and processors.)
We had a very interesting
conversation with the Environmental Defense Fund here in San Francisco.
Right now one of the things we’re doing, in addition to looking for
investment and finance opportunities, is talking with leaders in this
field who can help us continuously improve this effort and this
initiative. The EDF people were sharing with us that often existing
industries are interested in doing their business in a green way, but are
faced with a huge financial hurdle to get there initially. So there's a
real opportunity for companies like ours to come in and figure out the
financing to get through that initial hurdle. The San Jose school district
deal is a good example of that. We lease solar panels to them. They were
able to install those panels without a capital outlay. It will save the
district $20 million in energy costs over the life of the solar power
system. It also will give the district budget stability and predictability
through known energy costs; a 25 percent reduction in the district’s
demand for utility power, a reduction of 37,500 tons of carbon dioxide
emissions, the equivalent of planting 400 acres of trees.
the public responding to offerings such as “green” credit cards, where the
bank donates a percentage of credit card use to environmental causes?
Yes, we have found a level of interest. I would say, though,
we have more to learn about how we can bring this to the consumer. We know
that they're interested, and we do have a credit card affinity program. We
offer a half dozen different credit cards highlighting leading
conservation organizations, with reward points converting to money donated
to those organizations, and our Brighter Planet Visa card with points
going to investments into new renewable energy projects in the U.S.
Because our initiative also includes philanthropy, we have made a
number of foundation grants around environmental efforts. On the
foundation side there's a lot of opportunity for helping us to either fund
various environmental organizations or to help a non-profit figure out an
environmental strategy. We did a particularly interesting package in San
Diego, where we made grants to several non-profits. These grants played a
leadership role in bringing together the rest of the economic development
community to work out how they could approach the issue of sustainability
on a regional basis. We also provided support to a non-profit health
center to help them build a new building to LEED standards.
other piece that we're also exploring is the green workplace - workplace
development is a very critical priority for our efforts to rebuild
neighborhoods. This, again, is a smart thing to do. With all these green
technologies coming online, marrying workforce development with the green
economy through curriculum development is also a really wonderful
The green economy is growing in the midst of
dramatic shifts in the mortgage and banking industries. Worries about the
economy have surpassed all other issues in recent polls. How does a
company like Bank of America manage to stay focused on the future when
there is so much pushback on all these different levels?
that across the line with business in general. That is the challenge of
running a large company, setting your goals and keeping your eye on that
long term goal while managing the short term challenges that you face.
Whether it has to do with the green initiative or any other component of
our business, that's our challenge. On the green piece, again, we think
this is a strategic move. We are doing this to make money, and we think
it's a smart business move to make. Notwithstanding all the benefits to
the environment, we are doing this because it makes good business
What do you expect to see ten years into the future as a
result of your efforts, and how do you see B of A positioned in that
I think there will be a number of technologies that
have emerged that will very much change the way buildings are built, the
way people live their lives If you look back a few years to where the
internet was to now, and all the numerous companies and products that have
emerged from it and been leveraged by it, I think we're going to see
something very similarly happen with the green economy in
I think that we will be seen as leaders, as having
brought this to the forefront, not only our thought leadership around
promoting the notion that this is an emerging part of the economy, but by
virtue of our lending practices. The other wonderful component about
implementing green initiatives, in economic sense, is that not only do
they save on the emissions side, but there is also evidence and data that
shows that costs are actually substantially reduced.
happen if everybody got so caught up in economic and other problems today
that green efforts stalled?
I think that would be a real
mistake. There's so much understanding now that we have to move quickly
and that the very smart, creative people who are out there creating this
technology are moving at light speed. So I think that if we don’t build up
an infrastructure to sustain that and propel it, it would be, not a lost
opportunity, but a real mistake.
Maybe it's our proximity here to
Silicon Valley, but I don't see a slowing down. I think there are enough
brilliant, committed, smart, creative people who are fast on this track,
creating the technologies. And I think the technologies will be compelling
in and of themselves, even the person who may not have this in their
everyday frame of mind. As green technologies develop, and the benefits of
them become clear, it will be transformational for that person.
of the most interesting demonstrations of our commitment to green, and our
belief in it, is the new Environmental Strategic Investment Group that
we've established as part of our environmental initiative. For us to have
set aside capital to invest in these companies, which is usually something
that venture capitalists do, I think speaks of a very strong demonstration
of the commitment on our part, and the fact that we think it's a smart
What do you think is the role of
I think, first of all, leadership. I think that we
have wonderful leadership in this state, and that's part of how and why
green technology has had so much attention and why so many of the green
industries in California have flourished. What we're finding when we talk
to municipalities is that there are a lot of best practices that they can
learn from each other. It's easier to scale a solution when governments
work together. For example, the city of Berkeley working with Bay Area
government to collectively assess their efforts so that what the private
sector might bring to work with them can be scalable.
in developing coalitions to scale the solutions is one thing. The second
is continuing to create and maintain financial incentives. The tax
incentives that are so prevalent in this state strongly encourage green
projects. This is true particularly now, when the industry is kind of at
its cusp of liftoff. Incentives are incredibly important in making the
decision to do something or not.
As a woman in leadership here
in California, you have a lot of people watching you. You're a leader in
business, and with this initiative, you're also an environmental leader.
What are some qualities someone would need to fill your
I think a personal commitment to community is really
critical, and in this case a personal commitment to community is
expressing itself in understanding the value and the benefit of this green
initiative. Community matters to me; quality of life for our communities
matters to me. So whether it's our green initiatives, or some of our
community development programs, the fact that this institution has a
platform, and very deliberately directs a lot of our resources to
improving the quality of life in our communities, matters to me. I think
having it matter to me is important, because I spend a good portion of my
day managing that process. My personal commitment makes the work more
effective. If I didn't care about that, if our 35,000 California
associates didn't care about that ultimately, I'm not sure how good the
work would end up being.
What are some personal attributes that
you feel serve you well?
One of my skill sets that I fall back
on continuously is being able to assess people's strengths and playing to
them in order to develop a good team environment. There's a book that I
read early on in my career that is now very well-known called GOOD TO
GREAT: WHY SOME COMPANIES MAKE THE LEAP... AND OTHERS DON'T by Jim Collins
(HarperCollins 2001). It talks about leadership qualities, and it's all
about choosing the right people. That is fundamentally the most important
role, assessing skills and matching the right skills to the right role,
and then building a team that functions well is.
you to become part of the Green California Summit?
compelled us to be part of it was the fact that we are wanting to play a
key role in driving this agenda. So that said, we felt we should support
this and help bring this to fruition. Our experience was very positive. I
thought it had a great, diverse set of perspectives and companies. We were
there, Cisco was there, WalMart was there. You had high-tech, you had
retail, you had financial services. I thought there was a diversity of
experiences that we shared that was really interesting. And we just had a
terrific experience. We learned a lot. It was nice to connect with other
companies and government officials who have green objectives.
been to conferences that have been just business, and that's interesting,
but there always seems to be this hidden, this missing element of the
other important partner, which is government. From my perspective,
bringing business and government together makes all the