By JAMES B. HALE
EDGEWATER (Oct. 1, 2009)—Tricia Murray is used to working at an HSBC bank in the prairies of Canada's Saskatchewan province.
But for two weeks, the bank paid its assistant manager to drop what she was doing and work with a kind of green found in the remote forests of Maryland.
HSBC sent 12 employees to work with researchers at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater as "climate champions." They were directed to learn about climate change and come back with ideas to make the company more eco-friendly.
The global bank sends 2,200 employees each year to scientific research projects around the world through Earthwatch, an international non-profit organization that connects volunteers and researchers, said Anna Janovicz, a communications director for Earthwatch. Throughout the week, the team brainstorms "green" ideas to take back to HSBC, and methods to convince coworkers to embrace them.
To help gain an appreciation for the environment, the team members spend the bulk of their time in the woods of the environmental research center, performing a number of tasks from collecting leaf samples to tagging every tree within a defined area. Each task is part of a research project run by Smithsonian scientists.
At night, the team comes back together to learn about the science of climate change and discuss ways to change their daily lives to help conserve the environment.
"Just being in the forest is an amazing experience that's a lot different than I'm used to," said Murray.
HSBC has been sending employees like Murray to the program for eight years, 12 at a time to the North American program in Maryland, said Janovicz. Although the resulting ideas aren't necessarily game-changers, they still help, she said.
"(HSBC executives) are trying to stimulate a culture change within the business," said Janovicz.
Geoffrey Barker, a forest ecologist with the Smithsonian, said the program also helps the researchers. Trying to pay a team of regular volunteers to collect data is simply too expensive.
Barker said the data they collect is crucial to the research, and the number of volunteers the research center gets through HSBC is an incredible help. The precision-based nature of the banking profession makes gathering information even easier, he said.
"Being bank employees, they come from a culture of numbers. So you don't have to tell them how important it is to get the numbers right before you analyze them," Barker said.
Smithsonian researchers rarely run into problems working with the inexperienced bankers, he said.
"This isn't rocket science, we're just measuring trees," Barker said.
In fact, Murray seemed to have little trouble collecting the data. As she scanned each inch of the day's sector of woods, she measured and identified trees almost as well as any scientist. She had no qualms about the work, other than the occasional spider.
She said she hopes to take the information and experiences back to Saskatchewan to spread through her bank branch and local community. But for the time being, she was just enjoying going to "work."
"It's exciting," Murray said. "We're in this program for a reason, because we want to learn. It's not a hard thing, it's something that we're doing because we're passionate about it."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.