The Green Line Series: Creating Partnerships With Colin Sears (Portland Development Commission)

colinsearsIt’s takes two ba-bay-ee-ee. Well actually, according to Colin Sears from the Portland Development Commission (PDC), it takes three or seven or twelve. In our interview, Colin shared with the Green Line Series the importance of partnerships in building successful sustainable ventures and how the PDC can help facilitate your next sustainable project–whether it’s creating a low-emission technology for one of your manufacturing processes or bringing to life an event space for sustainable ventures.

GG: How is the Portland Development Commission driving change for Portland businesses on the sustainability front?
CS: We’re doing primarily doing two things. We mostly focused on five key industry sectors: Wind and Solar energy, Green Development, Energy Efficiency, Electric Energy and Battery Storage. And at the same time, we’re focused on providing technical assistance for companies who want to become more sustainable through their practices, and we do that through the Zero Waste Alliance. It’s called the Green Gain Program. We offer a matching grant to companies looking to green their practices—and they don’t necessarily have to be within those five sectors.

GG: Tell us more about the Green Gain Program.
CS: The Green Gain Program offers technical assistance up to $15,000 for companies that want green their businesses. For example, Rejuvenation wanted to reduce the use of chemicals in some of their manufacturing processes. They went through that program and developed a zero emissions system for some of those manufacturing processes. That’s one way to do the program—it can be anything, but it’s usually more complex things.

The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability has the Best Business Center, which helps businesses plan things like composting and recycling and other low hanging fruit. Then we have more complex problems like zero waste programs, where they need technical assistance like scientists, etc. We’re not the experts at PDC, but we can connect them with people who are.

GG: Are there any other programs or initiatives that PDC uses to help businesses become more sustainable?
CS: We’re doing our cluster work, with the five clusters I mentioned, but we’re also doing some work with advanced manufacturing companies such as the active wear industry. With the active wear industry there is a project that focuses heavily on sustainable materials in a way that brings industries together. With our sustainable industry clusters I mentioned, we’ve been convening some of the clusters.

One that’s convened itself is the PDX Lounge Partners and they’ve formed themselves into a new association called A VOIS For Oregon. We’ve worked with them as a partner since the convened and we’re contributing to what they call a VOIS Box over at the West Bank Project. We contributed to a grant to help them turn that into a convening and event space that sustainable businesses can use.

We’ve also been working with the electric vehicle cluster and some of the technologies that have been coming in externally and are moving here. We’ve been helping them set up strategic initiatives and go after federal funding to help that cluster build and grow.

GG: Are those funds a part of the Recovery Act Funding?
CS: Yes, we’re going after some of that funding as well as working on some grants coming out of the Department of Energy that would be industry-wide rather than for specific businesses. The really big thing though, is that we have business finance programs that we offer companies to primarily fund things like improvements. Those are available within our Urban Renewal Areas. We also have some citywide capital available for businesses provided they meet certain criteria. We do emphasize our five main sustainable industry clusters, but other industries aren’t precluded from applying.

GG: We’ve been hearing that partnerships are crucial in this environment. What are your thoughts on that?
CS: Everything we do is based on partnerships, with the private sector primarily, but also with the University system. Oregon BEST has become an important partner as well, along with others. Like I said, everything we do involves partners—we’re all driving this bus together. We can’t operate in a vacuum; we have to work together to get things done. But the fact that we are in a place where there is so much going on and where there are lots of folks to collaborate with is great.

GG: Does working in partnership help drive success in realizing sustainable projects and initiatives?
CS: I think it does. I think a good example of that is the Oregon Sustainability Center, which is in the feasibility stages. That’s a project where a large number of parties are involved—the Oregon University System, the Governor’s Office, the Mayor’s Office, City Hall—this is a multi-bureau, multi-agency, non-profit, private sector, public agency project. It’s a pretty amazing project. If we pull that off, it’s going to be the only large-scale Living Building in existence in the world that we know of.

Colin Sears is a speaker the GoGreen ‘09 Conference, October 7th, 2009 in Portland, Oregon. To hear more from Sears and our other 40+ eco-visionary speakers on embedding your business with a sustainable commitment , register today at Tickets are $175 per person or $150 per person for groups of two or more.

For more information about Portland Development Commission, please visit:

To get the latest Go Green ‘09 news, green news and innovative ideas join us on Facebook (Go Green Conference) + Twitter (@gogreenpdx)!

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