Greener Banking with Scott Beckerman

November 19, 2020

Scott Beckerman is a Senior Vice President and Director of Corporate Sustainability for Comerica, Inc. As Director of Comerica’s sustainability program, Scott leads the bank’s enterprise-wide strategy and commitment to conduct its business and operations in a way that enhances the well-being of people and the communities in which Comerica does business. Scott works with colleagues throughout the bank to develop and execute programs and initiatives that eliminate waste, capture operational efficiencies, improve environmental performance and demonstrate the value of socially and environmentally responsible behavior.  In addition to managing Comerica’s environmental footprint, Scott is responsible for Comerica’s external disclosures on environmental, social and governance matters through Comerica’s Corporate Responsibility reporting.

Before becoming Sustainability Director, Scott was the manager of Comerica Bank’s Environmental Risk Management Group. He was responsible for evaluating environmental risk and transactional due diligence for a wide variety of real-estate-based financial transactions. Currently, Scott serves on the Board of Directors for EcoWorks and the Detroit 2030 District Detroit.  Previously, Scott was a member of the Board of Governors for the Environmental Bankers Association, chair of the Environmental Affairs Committee of the Michigan Bankers Association, and participated in various regulatory advisory/stakeholder groups for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

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John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact! podcast. I am John Shegerian and I am so honored to have with me today my longtime friend, Scott Beckerman. He is the Director of Corporate Sustainability at Comerica Bank. Welcome to the Impact! Podcast, Scott.

Scott Beckerman: Pleasure to be with you as always.

John: You know, Scott, you and your colleagues at Comerica are doing so much important and great work making lots of impact to the green world, to the environment with all the companies that your bank at Comerica and your environmental division, but before we get talking about that, I would love you to share a little bit about yourself. I want our listeners to learn about Scott Beckerman. How you even got here.

Scott: So, I like to say I am an engineer that has infiltrated the banking world. I come from an engineering background and I became an engineer because I just did not ever want to have to talk to people or write anything. I just wanted to be a tech or an engineering geek. But, of course, now all I do is write and talk to people. I learned that maybe communication is actually kind of important thing, after all. But, started my career as a Consulting Engineer working on environmental issues and got involved with Comerica as a client of mine, and then was able to join the bank way back in 2002 and work in their environmental risk group. As sustainability evolved as an issue in the marketplace and certainly for Comerica, I began transitioning over into that world and have been in the role for our Sustainability Director and had that privilege to be in that role for the last seven years now, so really lucky to be able to come to work every day and have impact.

John: That is so wonderful. For our listeners out there that want to find Scott and his great colleagues and all the impacts they are making in green businesses, you could go to comerica.com/sustainability. I am on there right now. They have a great video right on their landing page and then they have all the different things, all the different ways they are making important impacts in our world today and making the world a better place. Let us talk a little bit about this. I know because I am very close to Comerica, for our listeners out there, I just want to be very open and transparent about ERI. ERI is the company I am lucky enough to have started with my co-founders. I am the Executive Chairman. I met Scott’s team George Say and Matt Bright and all the great bankers in the Environmental Services Division in 2006 and 2007. They started banking ERI. They became our partners, our banking partners. I would never think of going anywhere else, and they are– and you are, Scott and your team, is one of the great reasons we became a breakout success in the sector that we are for recycling electronics. Now, this show is not about ERI. It is not about recycling electronics, but you bank dozens upon dozens of companies that make impacts in all sorts of other different sectors, and that is what I want to share today. You have almost a billion dollars in loans out to many, many companies, over a hundred companies that are making the world a greener place. Can you share a little bit about that?

Scott: Sure, absolutely. It is a great privilege to be able to work with you and ERI, and I appreciate your kind words. It is really our goal, it is to have that relationship banking experience at Comerica, but we track our reporting [inaudible] on green loans that we make. So we have fourteen different categories of things that we consider to be environmentally beneficial loans or companies and those ranges anywhere from what you might think about with renewable energy, wind, and solar, to a lot in the recycling space, to the landfill gas to energy space, and increasingly, we see a lot of industries that are supporting the green economy, whether it be consulting services or energy efficiency or advanced battery and electrification of vehicles coming from the Detroit area. We are seeing huge, huge shifts in consumer demand and what is going on with vehicles. So, Comerica is looking to be involved in those markets where it is good business sense and where companies and Comerica can align and we can support those companies that have an impact beyond just their bottom line.

John: Not all banks are like that. How did that evolve with Comerica and why did your banking institution decide to go all-in on the Environmental Services Division of the banking industry.

Scott: Yes, I think that is something that Comerica historically has done a nice job of is identifying industries that might be a bit underserved or where we see opportunities to come in and really develop a real depth of knowledge around an industry and find ways in financial solutions to help customers in those industries, and our Environmental Services Group is a fantastic example of that of identifying needs and developing the bench strength to go out and serve the industries in that category.

John: With regards to banking and sustainability, do you see more banks coming into this space because they see your massive success at Comerica?

Scott: I do. I think globally and certainly here in the United States. This is a growing business area. People are not involved in green business for purely altruistic reasons. There are very good financial reasons to be involved in this growing sector of the economy. So, as that becomes more mainstream, I think you will certainly see many banks participating there and different organizations may get involved in different industries and develop their different strengths based on their individual business models, but I think, across the economy, it is an area of growth.

John: It is not only about banking green companies and environmental services companies, you have led at Comerica, Scott, also initiatives for Comerica to be a greener company, a better corporate citizen. Can you share some of the goals? I have them up here on the website. For our listeners out there that want to find Scott and his colleagues and all the great work Comerica is doing in sustainability, go to comerica.com/sustainability. I have them up here in front of me. 48.1% reduction in GHGs, 33.3% reduction in water consumption, 30.3% reduction on waste to landfill, and 56% percent reduction in office copy paper usage. How do you get– how do you lead on those kinds of issues and get buy-in from a company that has multiple offices across the country, a diverse workforce in multiple states, and get such success in all these areas?

Scott: Yes. It is absolutely a team effort, Comerica, from the top of our organization down through all of our employees. We are really committed to reducing our impact as an organization and in the categories that you mentioned, greenhouse gas emissions and water and waste and paper, those are our big things, our tangible environmental impact. So we want to work to manage those and minimize them. We have got about over four hundred facilities across our footprint, and so we have made a lot of different investments, whether it be advanced building management systems or relighting our facilities both inside and outside of the facilities. We are even taking all of our Comerica signs, that familiar blue trapezoid and gutting the old insides of them and refitting them with LEDs to make those more efficient. So we are doing lots of projects at the facility level, and our partners in real estate and the folks that help us manage are just doing a fantastic job really driving down our electricity and natural gas consumption as well as our water use for things like irrigation, and making sure that we are using technology-enabled tools to make sure we are not watering the grass when it is going to rain the next day and things like that.

Scott: So, lots of individual products add up to big results over time and I think that is what we are able to demonstrate with our progress there, and we continue, we do not plan on letting up on those. We have managed to hit some of our greenhouse gas reduction goals, and we are well on the way to our next goal, which is 50% reduction by 2025, and ultimately, out to 100% by 2050, kind of in line with that climate science goal of keeping climate change well below the two degrees sea level. The last thing I think I would add there and how we are able to do this, we very intentionally work and engage with our employees on sustainability, and even through the pandemic, we are engaging with them virtually to help them learn more about sustainability, why these issues are important, and really how they can put the principles to work both in their personal lives and within their job and whatever that might be at the bank. So we have over five hundred colleagues participating in one of our education programs around sustainability and it is really a key to maintain that momentum.

John: I love it, and for our listeners also, what I love about Comerica is their transparency. Scott, you have done such a great job. Again, on that website, comerica.com/sustainability is literally the entire corporate responsibility report in terms of the highlights. I got to tell you, I look at a lot of different corporations, sometimes you cannot even find the cheat sheet like this if you spend an hour on their website. Yours, you click one button, the entire highlights come up and there are some very, very important things that I want to point out, sustainability, ESG, circular economy goes way beyond just being green. You have some great, great facts here. 65% of Comerica’s workforce is women, 40% of Comerica’s workforce are racial-ethnic minorities. You have gotten a top hundred ranking from Newsweek’s Baron and Corporate Nights on responsibility. I mean that is well-earned. They just did not give you that ranking, that is well-earned, and these tons of other facts on the highlight page of your corporate responsibility report of all the other things that you guys are doing in terms of your diversity on your board, how much you spend with diverse suppliers, all the volunteer work Comerica employees do. It is beyond incredible. So you are leading a very important direction at Comerica in terms of leading on ESG, circular economy, and sustainability issues that other companies can get inspired and actually follow your paradigm. It is very impressive stuff.

Scott: Well, we hope that is what they do. I mean, we do not view this as exclusively our intellectual property. We view corporate responsibility as something that all companies benefit from. The whole ESG issue, the environmental social and governance, and the company’s management of those topics are becoming so important and it is great to see others come along that path as well. One of the fun things that we do that I think is a great example of tying the environmental and social together and sort of that triple bottom line approach is our community shred days. So we do these in our bigger markets on an annual basis where we invite the community to come in, we partner with our friends at Iron Mountain, and people bring in their old documents so that they are securely shredded and recycled, and so it helps prevent identity theft which is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States. It supports recycling and then we collect donations to support local food banks in our community. So, last year, we collected nearly a million pounds of paper and provided nearly a quarter-million meals to those who need them in our communities, and we even collected used electronic equipment here in my home state of Michigan. We hope to expand that to other markets as well. So it is a great way that we can use our resources and support the things that matter in our communities and for our customers.

John: Eight hundred eighty-two thousand pounds of paper recycled last year. You are doing a heck of a job, Scott, on every level.

Scott: It is a lot of paper.

John: It is a lot of paper. Hey, for our listeners out there, if you are just joining us, we have got Scott Beckerman with us today. He is a Senior VP and Director of Corporate Responsibility at Comerica Bank. You could find Scott and his colleagues at comerica.com/sustainability. Scott, we are still having this discussion. I am sitting in Fresno, California, you are sitting in Michigan. Two great states, California and Michigan, and we are still living through this tragic covid-19 period in world history, not only US history but world history. Can you share a little bit about how this has impacted and altered how Comerica does business and how you guys have stayed flexible and adjusted so you can keep doing the important work of banking America’s companies for success?

Scott: Well, I think what you highlight there is the connection between all of these topics, the ESG and the idea of resiliency and resilient businesses and I have been so amazed and proud of how resilient my colleagues at Comerica had been and how strong our leadership has been throughout the pandemic, and certainly our hearts go out to all those who are affected by covid-19. At the bank, in many senses, it is business as usual. We have our colleagues working in the banking centers and in the front line serving our customers, whether it is customers coming into the lobby or more and more coming through the drive-through in our banking centers. We are doing that as we always have. We are adapting to new ways of doing business and certainly looking to leverage the government programs that are out there on behalf of our customers to see that they are getting the relief that they need to keep them going. Many of our colleagues are now working from home. I have been home since March, and the joke is that I, you know, calling from the sustainability bunker in my basement but it is just a new way of doing business in some respects, but it really goes back to our fundamental belief in the importance of relationships and finding new ways to continue to maintain those relationships with both our colleagues and our customers through different channels. So, things are different now, we are hopeful that we return to some sense of normalcy, whatever that might be in the future, but for the time being, we are committed to continuing to see that our colleagues and our customers have the ability to thrive throughout the pandemic.

John: Scott, this is definitely not a political show. I welcome everyone on this show. I love diversity, diversity of people, diversity of ideas, and sharing inspiring stories and inspiring companies that are making an impact in making the world a better place. You and Comerica definitely fit in both of those categories, but we are living in the wake of a fresh election. You and I both were talking off-air before starting to tape this show about what is going on right now in America and we do not know yet who the winner will be but share some thoughts that you have with regards to environmental issues, sustainability, and banking if either candidate wins, which one will win, what does that mean? Will there be any altered state of Biden wins versus Trump or Trump wins versus Biden or do you believe it will be business as usual and ESG marketplace will continue to grow in the sustainability, marketplace will continue to grow in the next four years ahead of us?

Scott: Yes. So much to cover and so much going on in that space right now, and a little bit of uncertainty as to how the elections will turn out, but at the end of the day, for me, it does not matter who is in the White House, who controls the house, who controls the Senate. What matters is that our stakeholders as a company, and stakeholders in all sorts of companies here in the United States and globally are really expecting people to make progress on environmental issues, social issues, governance issues in that ESG space, and so the election here in the US, I think, it will have some impact on environmental issues certainly, but in a large pack, that impact is going to be less a question of if something happens but when. So, I think, under a potential change in administration, you see an acceleration of the adaptation of ESG principles and incorporation of that into various policy initiatives, but it is no longer a question of if, it is just a question of timing. I have tremendous faith in business and that businesses are going to be responsive to the needs of their stakeholders, be that customers, or investors, or the communities in which they do business. Businesses really need to move at a pace that is a lot faster than the election cycle.

John: So true.

Scott: Yes, we cannot wait for a two or four or six-year political cycle. We need to be delivering business results every single day. At the same time, we have to have a much longer-term thinking to address topics like climate change and racial diversity that requires a much longer time frame than the typical election cycle. So, sometimes, moving at the speed of business is moving very quickly and nimbly, sometimes it is thinking very long-term. But, I think, for the financial services industry, I think a big development that hit earlier this fall was a report from some, you know, not something that everybody may have their radar on but the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission or the CFTC issued a report from their climate-related market risk subcommittee, which is a mouthful, but the report was a very long and detailed report on climate risk in the US financial system. It included numerous recommendations to address what they called the profound risk to the US financial system posed by climate change and a couple really key things to come from this report, first, it notes that in general, the existing legislation and policy frameworks are already in place for US financial regulators to be managing climate change risk in the financial system as it stands today. The second thing with this report is many people see it as a roadmap for future and future policy in regulatory changes, but certainly, the adoption of that road map or the implementation of that roadmap would be accelerated under a change of administration. So I think that the CFTC report is something that we will be keeping an eye on, many people in our industry will be.

John: That is so interesting, and Scott, I want you to have the last word here. I always want you to be able to come back on this show and talk about your journey and sustainability but before we have to say goodbye today, I want you to share anything else you want to share with our listeners before we break for today.

Scott: Maybe just a couple of things here. One of them relates to your comments earlier around the pandemic and working from home and practicing good self-care. I was cleaning out the garage earlier in the summer and came across a fishing pole that I honestly had not used since I was probably in high school, and I say, “Yes, I wonder if I get back out and enjoy some fishing out.” For the listeners, I am well past High School age now.

John: [laughing]

Scott: So I got out and I started fishing and not hitting the great lakes or anything like that but local small lakes and ponds and things and just getting out into nature and spending time, really cool moments. One day, I was fishing along the Huron River near Ann Arbor early in the morning, and a big heron wades by right in front of me, and I am pretty sure that bird got a lot more fish than I did that day, but it was great just to be there, to reset yourself, provide that sense of calm and harmony, particularly with everything that we are going through today and that relates back to sustainability. I want my daughters and all the future generations to be able to engage with the natural world in that sort of way, and that is, to me, a great example of what sustainability is all about.

John: I love it.

Scott: The last point I think would be that our stakeholders as I have mentioned, be those customers, colleagues, the communities in which we do business, our investors, our supply chain, all of them expect us to be making progress on ESG issues. That is what we are going to continue to work towards. The time is coming or maybe it is even here when companies would not be judged solely on their quarterly profits but how they are working to make the world a better place. I am proud to be at a place where we take those issues seriously and see it just as another way that we can raise people’s expectations about what a bank can be. So those are my thoughts on the topic.

John: I love it. I fully agree with you Scott. This is an opportunity during this covid-19 tragic period, personally and professionally, to not go back when we get on the other side, and we will get on the other side. Science will win. The vaccines are coming. When we get on the other side, not to go back to a new normal, but I think, if we take this opportunity and use it the right way just like you are with reconnection to the environment and fishing and just birds and fish and just all the things that make this great country and this world wonderful to be in. We can go back to a new better, in the new better there is a new better on the other side. That is what I am so hopeful about. Also, having great people like you that inspire me, that work with great brands like Comerica, and for our listeners again, to find Scott and his colleagues and see all the inspiring work they are doing as a company and as people at a company that are committed to ESG, circular economy, and sustainable behavior and leadership, please go to www.comerica.com/sustainability. Scott, I am lucky to have you as a friend. I am more than lucky and honored to be working with you and your partners that I have at Comerica. You are not my bankers. You are my partners. ERI would never exist in the form that it does today without Comerica bank, and the beauty is, not only do you create inspiring work at Comerica with all the green and sustainability behaviors that you do as a bank stand alone but with a billion dollars or nearly a billion dollars out to over a hundred environmental related companies like ERI, the impact that you are making on this planet is literally massive. It is almost you cannot even quantify it with all the different green and environmental services companies you guys are banking. So I just want to thank you for your great leadership, your inspirational leadership, for making all the impacts you make, and making the world a better place. Thank you again for joining us today on the Impact!, Scott Beckerman.

Scott: Oh, thank you so much. It is an honor and a pleasure always to be with you.