Tag Archives: portland

Green Line Series PDX | Keynote, Renee Lertzman, Ph.D.

The GoGreen team recently interviewed GoGreen Portland Keynote, Renee Lertzman, Ph.D.,  Author of The Myth of Apathy. Click the link below to find out more about her educational background and motivation to engage communities of stakeholders through communications.

GoGreen: What was your defining moment that influenced you to go into communications surrounding issues with the environment?

R8Renee Lertzman: It really started out when I was an undergrad in college as a psychology major. What I experienced during that time was a cognitive dissonance where I was coming out of my environmental studies classes feeling really devastated and deeply concerned about what I was learning about – going into my psychology classes and anthropology courses with really kind of no mention of what was going on with our environmental situation.

I set out with a focus on connecting the psychological research world with how we communicate and educate people about environmental issues. My main interest is what we can learn and leverage from insights in psychology, specifically clinical or psychodynamic psychology – which has enormous insight into human behavior and how we relate with change, loss and anxiety. My perception is that when communicating about environmental issues we are raising literacy and awareness and need to be exceptionally mindful of the emotional impact — as we are directly informing how people engage with the information and then choose to act on it. It is fundamentally critical that we look at that dimension and not only what people’s values, beliefs and opinions are. We need to always include the emotional and experiential contexts if we want our work to be effective. We are well past the ‘information deficit’ approach, that if people only know more they would activate somehow.

GoGreen: As a communications professional have you seen a gap between individuals connecting and engaging on environmental issues?

Renee Lertzman: I have seen a gap between what people say they value and what they actually value. The orientation that I’m coming from is referred to as psychosocial – we can’t separate out the psychological and social context in which we live and so from that point of view it’s not surprising that we are contradicting.

We often say one thing and do something else. It’s not really a big revelation – the research tools that we use to identify that gap really only reinforces a perception of a “gap” – if we ask people questions, based on surveys, polls, even focus groups or interviews, we often get a very top of mind story, versus the actual, messier reality of how we make choices and negotiate particular dilemmas about how we live. So our methods and the way we are framing the questions have something to do with this “gap” – something I’ve written about extensively and is key theme in the book I’m writing, Environmental Melancholia.

We need to shift from a persuasion orientation and instead think much more about how we can support, facilitate and engage. It’s not about trying to force or coerce (hopefully). It’s about helping connect people with our own creative and caring capacities. One of the main techniques I focus on is designing into our work a way to acknowledge people’s potential experiences; and say we get it and understand that you might be unsure and that’s okay, then move on into what we can do together. If you skip the first step you’re not really connecting with people.

Communications is about humans and human behavior. I don’t think environmental communications is like any other communications — it’s totally distinct from other issue areas for a number of reasons. I think we need to be working to create basically a whole kind of unique and specific approach to the practice of environmental communications, that takes these psychological and social complexities onboard – this goes beyond just framing around values. It also includes insight into how people resist change, manage anxieties, and deal with losses, both actual and anticipatory. Focusing on inspiration and positive solutions is also important, but it is not the full story and is not as effective when we leave out the rest.

GoGreen: What is an example of a communication strategy that you have seen work to engage individuals in environmental issues?

Renee Lertzman: I think that humor, when practiced skillfully, can be a powerful tool. Humor has a capacity to both allow people to engage with difficult issues in a safe way but it also has the ability to be honest. An example would be Brand Cool’s creation of an energy efficiency media campaign called Irreconcilable Differences – a video series in which they used humor to communicate how people in their homes can get into conflicts about how much energy is being used with battles over control of the thermostat. I think using humor is really wonderful and powerful if it’s done right. The campaign has to have substance to it.

The other platform is the use of conversations. Conversations are an under-recognized, powerful behavior change resource, as we tend to learn, change and grow through social interactions. The Carbon Conversations project in the UK, or the Northwest Earth Institute are examples of bringing people together informally to simply talk about how we can face some of these challenges, and come up with some emergent solutions. Conversations provide the support we tend to need to engage with some of the more challenging aspects of responding to our ecological predicaments. We learn we are not alone in how we may be feeling. This is a way to support people to organize and express their own creativity, which is really important. I think we see glimmers of this through online tools where there are competitions of people sending in their own ideas or the model of the challenge. However, creating interactivity is also important. The things that invite people to get involved, engaged and feeling like they are a part of a conversation as opposed to just passive recipients is beneficial.

GoGreen: What are you hoping our organizational leaders at GoGreen will walk away with and gain from your Keynote Address at the event?

Renee Lertzman: It is important for us to think differently about behavior change. It is time for us to shift our orientation in which we’re used to thinking, such as how do we get people to change, towards how can we support and enable people to express their concerns and investment in our world? That’s a fundamental reframe – when we take that on it changes the nature of the work that we do, because it’s less of a sense of pushing against something and more about how we can leverage and support what’s already there. Our innate care, concern for our planet, and our desire to have efficacy, impact and creativity.

I believe every human being fundamentally has an investment in our world. It’s our job to find out what that is and how to really facilitate that. It’s not about pushing and persuading – it’s more about invitation, facilitation and support. For this, we can tap into human insights and specifically our emotional connections, to help us be profoundly more effective in engaging with people.

Find out more about Renee’s book, The Myth of Apathy online. She is also an Independent Consultant currently collaborating with Brand Cool.

Event Details

GoGreen Portland 2014, brought to you by the City of Portland, Multnomah County and METRO will take place on Thursday, October 16th at the Oregon Convention Center, Oregon Ballroom located at 777 Northeast Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard. Tickets are available online at portland.gogreenconference.net or via phone at 503.226.2377. Early Bird rates are good through Tuesday, September 16th, 2014. Single Admission Early Bird Full Conference tickets are $175 and Group Rate Early Bird Tickets are $150 (groups of two or more). Student, government and non-profit registration rates are available.

I-5 Corridor Special For Portlanders To Attend GoGreen ’12 Seattle (PLUS Win Amtrak Tix For Two!)

Photo Credit: Daniel Schwen

Portlanders, we are offering a special deal this week to attend GoGreen ’12 Seattle. Through Wednesday, April 4, register with a friend or colleague under our Buy One Get One Free offer. If you’re one of the first three pairs to sign up, you’ll also win two free train tickets to Seattle on Amtrak so you can ride to the event sustainably and in style!  Here are the details:

  • Check out our killer line-up for 2012 in Seattle and the full program focused on building the business case for sustainability.
  • Register with a friend or colleague under the Buy One Get One Free ticket option by 11:55pm on April 4 and get two tickets to GoGreen ’12 Seattle for the price of one! **You must use the discount code “TWOFORONE” in order to get this rate. After you enter the code, the ticket price will cut in half.
  • The three speediest Portlanders to register under the Buy One Get One Free offer will win a set of train tickets to Seattle! These tickets can only be used for transportation to GoGreen ’12 Seattle. If you win one of the train ticket sets, our team will contact you for your information and take care of the reservations.

Other questions about the Buy One Get One Free offer? Contact us at: seattle@gogreenconference.net.

GoGreen Portland 2011 – Photoshoot!

The Pictures from GoGreen Portland 2011 are up and ready for your viewing pleasure! Thank you again to all of our sponsors, partners, exhibitors, and last but not least – our attendees! We couldn’t have done it without all of you there. Our fourth year in Portland reached new heights and we can’t wait to see what next year brings.

GoGreen Portland 2010 Videos Are Here!

Videos from GoGreen Conference Portland 2010 are here! We affectionately refer to these recordings as green vids (really creative, we know!), so if you see us post about them on Facebook or Twitter, you now know exactly what’s waiting for you here on the GoGreen blog.

The first video we want to share with you is the opening segment from the conference. It includes introductions from Margie Harris (Energy Trust of Oregon), Patrick Reiten (President of Pacific Power) and Mayor Sam Adams. It also has the inspiring keynotes delivered by Dave Dahl (President and Founder of Dave’s Killer Bread) and Chandra Brown (President of United Streetcar)—both of whom blew us away! Whether you missed GoGreen Portland this year or just want to relive the day, we hope you enjoy. Thanks again to all the speakers for supporting sustainable business everyday and for sharing their wisdom with the people of Portland this year.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

GoGreen Portland 2010 Photo Album

Relive the excitement of GoGreen Portland 2010! Photos from the amazing Sara Gray are here + we’re excited to share them with you. Thank you again to all our sponsors, partners, exhibitors—and of course attendees! You’ve pushed this event to new heights and we look forward to next year!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

PDX 2010 Green Line Series: Chandra Brown + United Streetcar Leading A Green Manfacturing Movement in US

Before you lament once more that everything these days is made overseas, Chandra Brown and United Streetcar (a branch off company of Oregon Iron Works) are surging ahead into the future of modern, efficient manufacturing and creating a lot of green jobs in the process. Chandra will keynote tomorrow’s GoGreen Portland and we cannot wait. Her enthusiasm is absolutely contagious and her company is a model for green companies looking to compete in the global market. We know you’ll walk out of this session inspired to continue pushing the sustainable movement for US businesses.

GG: How did you come to United Streetcar? What are your personal motivations for working in a field that is so plugged into the sustainable business community?
How I came to be involved with United Streetcar actually starts a while back. I began working with Oregon Iron Works— which is a large, traditional metal manufacturing company—in the early 1990s. We built boats, bridges, and now wave energy devices. I’d been a vice-president at Oregon Iron Works for several years doing outreach and business development. One of my jobs was always to be on the look out for the next growth opportunity.

So it all started when I was sitting around, actually talking about the city and the old Portland Streetcar with some friends. I live in Southeast Portland and had loved the streetcars. One of the women I was speaking to was Lynn Peterson from Clackamas County, although at the time I believe she was with Lake Oswego, and Shelly Parini, who at the time was with Clackamas Country Economic Development team. We were chatting and they told me there were no modern streetcars built in the United States. I couldn’t believe it. It just didn’t seem correct—I mean streetcars were founded here. I knew that Portland had imported their streetcars from the Czech Republic, but I didn’t know that was because there was no US made option available at the time.

I went back and did a bit of research and found out that, indeed, my friends were correct. There were no modern streetcars being built in the United States. I thought it was a great opportunity. I absolutely believe streetcars have revolutionized downtown Portland and I think they are a great model for other urban centers across the United States. It’s a very green industry and I knew that [Oregon Iron Works] could build them. We had built much more complicated and larger scale products in the past. I was confident in our workforce here and that if I could figure out a way to get the project funded, they could figure out a way to get the cars built. So that was how United Streetcar came to be.

That was four years ago, and the course of these past four years, we have built a prototype—a gorgeous red, white and blue, “Made in the USA” streetcar, which was opened up by US Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, in July of 2009. People always ask where that streetcar is these days and it will eventually be running on the streets of Portland—right now we have it back in our shop in Clackamas, Oregon, because we’re making the car have a greater level of US made content. We have a great commitment, not only to the green community and the sustainable movement, but also to the US manufacturing sector and to creating US jobs. We don’t think just being green is enough. We also want to have all the requisite jobs and work happening here in the United States.

Our first “Made in the USA” car was around 70 percent US-content. That’s instead of a 100 percent European content car. We made it using over 200 vendors in 20 states across the US with a huge amount of local vendors in the Northwest. So it really is the creation of this nation’s new green industry. And the big reason we have the car back in is because we’re changing out one of the largest pieces that was not US content—the propulsion system. Thanks to the Federal Transit System and excellent work by our congressmen—particularly Congressmen DeFazio and Blumenauer—we received an FTA innovation grant, which is allowing us to take out that foreign propulsion system and put in a US made propulsion system. Once that is completed, it will take the car up to around 90 percent US content. After that it will need to be tested for months and hopefully before the end of 2011, the car will be back on the streets of Portland and we’ll all be riding a US built streetcar.

GG: There’s the obvious reasons why streetcars are more sustainable than individual auto transportation due to the increased numbers of people they carry. Tell us about the deeper levels of sustainability United Streetcar is building into its product, whether its actual physical components or on the operations side of things.
The streetcar itself is inherently more green. It runs on electricity, so there are zero emissions, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s a catalyst for economic revitalization downtown, which helps increase the overall density of people living there and allows Portland citizens to walk, bike or ride a streetcar to work instead of driving in from a suburb. One statistic that many people don’t know about is that the current Portland streetcar line currently reduces total miles traveled by over 70 million miles per year. That’s people getting out of their cars and taking these short trips on the streetcar—it makes a huge difference. And the density along the streetcar line is much higher, so you’re getting a much more advantageous use of land. In addition, as many people know, there was over $3.5 billion of investment within three blocks of the streetcar line in downtown Portland. So there are a lot of things that make it very sustainable.

Within the vehicle itself, since we’re building an American made streetcar, we do things very differently than they do overseas. We’re much more efficient in our shop. We’re lean, we use highly efficient machines that use much less electricity and draw, we put in things like LED lights and design the car in a different way so that we can use fixtures. That allows us to build hundreds of thousands of things out of the same fixture and every one will be the same and repeatable.

Also, we use a lot of steel. Most people don’t know that the most recycled product in the world is steel. That means everything that we do here has a huge amount of recycled content. It’s recycled much more than paper and plastic, because steel can be melted down without losing any of its properties. In addition, we’re doing things like putting in different flooring that will make the car quieter and decrease the overall noise. We consider noise pollution a green issue as well.
There’s a whole variety of other small tweaks we’ve been making to create a car that is as green as possible. However, I think the biggest thing, which often gets overlooked, is that we source locally as much as possible. There are a huge number of parts and pieces that go into each streetcar, many of which we don’t build. We don’t make seats and wires, etc. here at Oregon Iron Works. We integrate all of those things and put them together, but we don’t actually make them. Our commitment to buying local means that we heavily decrease transportation costs and emissions on the shipping of products. We work very closely with all of our supplier networks. I think that’s a huge advantage versus others manufacturers that buying parts from Europe and have them shipped over here.

GG: How have Oregon Iron Works and United Streetcar managed to be competitive in the green manufacturing space versus foreign competitors? Is it important to keep green, manufacturing jobs in the US?
We think it’s absolutely critical to keep good, green manufacturing jobs in place in the US for a wide variety of reasons. It’s something we have a huge passion for. People don’t often think about it this way, but many times it boils down to being green because of national security and where we’re going as a nation. If we lose the capability to build things here in the United States, we are going to become more and more dependent on foreign companies and countries. We can’t just trade our oil dependence on the Middle East for a manufacturing dependence on China and Korea. It doesn’t make sense. We’re still not helping the country in terms of being in charge of its own security and its ability to move forward in the more sustainable direction we want to take. So it’s absolutely critical to have US manufacturing here.

A simple example is bridges. If we lose our capability to build bridges here, if something were to happen—if an earthquake in San Francisco collapses the Oakland Bay Bridge—we would have to wait months and months to get that bridge back in place. The pieces area so big and so heavy that they cannot be air freighted. They would have to go on a long flow ship that’s large enough to carry the weight of these huge bridge pieces. In terms of damage to a green economy, think about the impact of shutting down the city of San Francisco for months. All the alternate transportation would be less accessible and there would be millions of extra miles added onto commutes as people have to go around while you wait for those ships.

If things can be done here in the United States, you could get a new bridge in weeks. So keeping manufacturing in place is something that’s related to most everything, especially transportation and infrastructure. And transportation is one of the largest issues we have in terms of building a green economy here. That’s just one example of why we think it’s so important.

We’re fortunate that we’ve been able to be really successful—and people always ask us how we continue to compete internationally. The US manufacturing worker is still the most productive in the entire world. So what may take 20 people to do outside the country, because the labor rates are low and they don’t have the same insurance and healthcare, etc., takes one or two people here. Our one person is 10 times more productive. So as long as we’re investing in state of the art equipment and machinery, we’re able to get a sufficiently high amount of efficiency out of our workers that we still can be competitive.

Also, when you take into account decreased shipping costs—because if it’s going someplace in the US, you don’t have to ship the material half way across the world—building it here allows us to use our entire vendor network and reduce the miles things travel. That saves a lot in the costs of transportation and emissions, both for components and final products.

GG: What do you think the role is for alternative transportation options like streetcars in maintaining a sustainable city?
I like to think that streetcars are one piece of an important puzzle to keep our downtown urban centers going. Streetcars can’t do it alone, but I think they’re a critical component, because they produce zero emissions and decrease the total amount of miles traveled to get people from point A to point B. Even more than that, they are catalysts for the downtown areas. They have increased economic development along the entire line, which is even different than the light rail, where you see development around stops, but bigger, less developed areas between them. So streetcars are piece of it. Do you need buses? Absolutely. Do you need light rail? Absolutely. We are big believers that for urban centers to survive and thrive, you need a variety of types of transit infrastructure to achieve the greenest and most efficient way to move people where they need to go.

GG: How do you think supporting streetcars and other alternative transit options help businesses in general? What’s in it for the average business-owner in Portland to get behind these initiatives?
Well if you’re a good business person, you’re interested in decreasing your city’s emissions. We should be supportive of these kind of initiatives because they’ll decrease pollution. We should also be for more alternative transit, because it decreases congestion, which is bad for business because 1) it can delay my workforce and 2) it’s creating pollution and 3) congestion is inhibitive to any business that ships or does any type of product transport.

It can also be a benefit, because depending on where your business is located and what industry you’re in, it brings you customers. That’s why there is so much investment along a streetcar line. All the developers, whether it’s for housing or retail, are thrilled because it’s going to help their bottom lines and increase overall profitability. It’s a little bit different if you’re a suburban businessperson, but you would still want it because it enhances the quality of life of your employees. Higher quality of life is a part of a crop of advantages that can lure talented and skilled workers to your city and therefore your company.

GG: What do you see as some of the biggest challenges cities face as they develop alternative transportation systems? Do you have any insights as a leader in your industry on what we, as businesspeople and citizens, can do to conquer those challenges?
Sadly, the biggest challenge facing pretty much any local, state and federal government, is funding. Obviously, we’re in the middle of a federal crisis in terms of funding infrastructure and transit—even roads—across the United States. So each city has to struggle with the prioritization of where to put their limited resources. It’s very challenging. And anytime you’re talking about any kind of transit investment, you’re talking about a long and big investment. It pays off so much over time, but it’s hard to remember that. Our streetcars can last over 35 years. So while there may be a lot of upfront costs, as time goes by, cities recoup all of that back and get other benefits as well. It’s just a difficult thing to put in a new infrastructure project, when it’s fairly expensive for most cities.

Money really is the biggest challenge and fixing that is difficult. Awareness is a tough one too. Citizens really need to understand the benefits, so they’re willing to let some of the city’s or the county’s or transit agency’s resources go towards these improvements. There have been other things that have been pretty successful for renewable energy, like incentives. We’re always looking to see incentives for streetcars, light rail and buses—anything that’s going to decrease miles traveled and emissions. Should we be rewarding that and incentivizing that? Especially in polluted cities? We think so. It’s one of the ways we think the challenges could be met over time, but it’s a complicated equation, no doubt about it.

GG: What are you most excited to share with GoGreen attendees about the work United Streetcar is doing and the success that you’ve had?
I think one of the best things we can do is to show that the US green manufacturing and industry is alive and well. If a traditional, metal manufacturing company that builds boats and bridges, can eventually be building wave energy devices and modern streetcars, it’s a pretty huge compliment to the innovation and ingenuity of the American public and the American worker. To me, that’s so incredibly exciting. We’re creating jobs for this new economy and if we can continue to get the right kind of support, hopefully this could turn into a pretty big piece of the United States’ industry fabric. That’s something I really love sharing. It’s not just about United Streetcar and Oregon Iron Works. Yes, I love my company, and we’ve invested millions to take a leadership role in this, but it takes all these other suppliers succeeding as well to create an industry here in the United States. And I think that’s something we should all be proud of supporting.

Chandra Brown is the CEO of United Streetcar and the keynote speaker at the GoGreen Conference in Portland, Oregon on October 5, 2010. The conference is this Tuesday + GoGreen 2009 sold out, so register for GoGreen Conference 2010 Portland soon to join us: http://www.portland.gogreenconference.net/registration.

To learn more about Chandra and United Streetcar, visit: http://www.unitedstreetcar.com

PDX 2010 Green Line Series: Verde’s Alan Hipólito Talks Equitable Access To The Green Economy

We’ve heard the rumors and seen the proof about explosive growth in what’s called the new “green economy.” But not everyone’s getting a fair share of the benefits. Verde’s Executive Director, Alan Hipólito talks with The Green Line Series on how to better integrate underrepresented populations into this new green economy, the advantages of a richly diverse workforce and why it’s crucial to the sustainable business movement’s success.

GG: Can you give us an overview of Verde’s programs and what your mission in the community is?
We used to say that our goal at Verde was to connect low-income people and people of color with the economic benefits of protecting the environment. But over time that’s evolved into a broader goal of building environmental wealth in those communities. Environmental wealth coming from traditional, natural resources —like clean air, clean water, uncontaminated land, parks, green spaces and habitat—to environmental technologies—like storm water management, ecoroofs, solar installations, weatherization, etc.—and then lastly a third kind of group which involves knowledge and economic opportunity—so environmental education, job training, jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities.

We build wealth in a community in two ways –through social enterprise, and through outreach and advocacy activities.

GG: We obviously talk a lot about making businesses more sustainable at GoGreen–what’s the missing link in your mind that Verde is trying to address?
If you accept, as I think most folks do, that the definition of sustainability involves a triple bottom line or a three-legged stool—highlighting environment, economy and equity—the sustainable movement has done a pretty good job delivering environmental performance and economic performance, but it does a terrible job of delivering equity. It comes down to the fact that most sustainability practitioners do not wake up in the morning and think about how their activities are going to impact lower income people and people of color. They wake up thinking about how they’re going to make money and protect the environment. They’re lacking that focus and so it doesn’t always happen.

GG: Other than the obvious reasons of fairness, what are the additional advantages to bringing those stakeholders to the table?
There are a number of them. One is, as we’ve seen with climate change legislation, sustainability practitioners don’t have the political numbers to consistently carry or achieve their legislative priorities. That’s a big building block right there in front of them, that’s often completely discounted.

There’s also an intellectual benefit, that’s been documented many times, to having diverse perspectives around the table. Instead of coming from one limited perspective, you have broader perspectives that tend to uplift the entirety of a program or movement. And there are competitive advantages to having a more diverse workforce as well, because we live in a global economy and the nation is getting more diverse over time. Monocultural, monochromatic initiatives and businesses aren’t well poised for success as we go forward.

GG: Do you think it’s possible for us to make the transition to a green economy if we leave behind low-income populations and people of color?
No. Absolutely not. It’s not possible. Some states are majority minority now. How are you going to have sustainability when you leave half the population out? You can’t do that.

There’s a train of thought out there, which recognizes that a lot of sustainability involves adopting practices that low-income immigrant communities never got rid of. So these notions of basic reduction of consumption, and reusing items that have already been purchased, local economies, bartering and exchange, local economic networks, alternative transportation—these are behaviors that low-income immigrant communities use all the time. Granted, some of them are forced upon these communities because of economic marginalization—they can’t afford a car or to dispose of items purchased that could be used again. But there are a lot of sustainable practices that already exist within these communities that the mainstream culture is just trying to reorient itself towards.

GG: How is the green economy specifically suited to provide high-quality jobs to historically underserved populations?
It depends on which people you’re talking about. For adults and specifically adults of a certain age, generally speaking there are more limited career pathways available. A 47-year-old immigrant laborer has less of a chance to become a wetland hydrologist or an environmental engineer as opposed to their son or daughter or granddaughter or grandson, who are exposed to issues of environmental protection or environmental careers early on, and have the opportunity to make decisions about their future that a lot of other people make all the time.

For us, the way we always identify appropriate business avenues is through a combination of market demand–what environmental industries or businesses seem to have demonstrable demand for the foreseeable future—capital needs—how much do these businesses need to get started—and training needs—what are we training people to do and what’s the skill set required for the job. If, given the adult population that we want to serve, it doesn’t make sense for us to be heavy on professional services then we won’t. With the population we’re working with in Portland, you can see why we would have a nursery, and landscape and weatherization contracting businesses based on our populations criteria.

Speaking more broadly, a number of organizations exist at the community level that have begun to develop resources and programs to help take individual community members, who might be underemployed or unemployed, with some or multiple barriers to employment, and provide them with both the support and training necessary so that they can be ready for a long term job or career opportunity in the green economy. We have programs like that which have started up over the last three to four years—which was not happening before—in which we’ve started to see the community-based organizations that serve low-income people, people of color or a given geographic area, really try and figure out how to take somebody from where they are all the way to a good job, that’s going somewhere, at a green business.

GG: What are some of the best practices, methodologies and things that need to happen in terms of legislative support or government support to manifest a shift towards a more diverse and equitable sustainable movement?
I won’t jump into all the things that need to happen in our education system to support the children of low-income families and youth of color, because I’m not really qualified to speak to that—other than to mention that what we try to do is bring them real world examples from their own community that can say: “I’m your neighbor or someone who lives down the street. I look like you and talk like you and I have a green job. I have health benefits and am getting job training. We’re improving your neighborhood. We built that playground over there and planted that tree over here and weatherized the homes on your street—and you can do it too. In fact, you can do things beyond what I can do. The physical work that I do is good and honorable, but you have even more choices. And myself and my partners want to tell you what they are.”

But that’s just a small part of the solution to support disadvantaged youth in our communities. Governmentally and with other organizations, there are two big things. The first is concerning governments, and this is something we work on quite a bit with our partners, where we’re looking for progressive or inclusive public contracting mechanisms. These kinds of best practices are pretty late to come to the sustainable movement. In the past, many people all over the city and country have worked really hard to develop models and practices that help incentivize participation by minority and women owned businesses, support a diverse work force, etc. And those have, to a great extent, happened on large construction projects like stadiums and skyscrapers.

These practices are late to come to sustainability for a lot of reasons, although we’ve started to see a change in that over the last couple of years. But if environmental policy makers—who are trying to incent the growth of an ecoroof industry or the green building industry, or who are trying to bring the Oregon Sustainability Center to life—if they adopted progressive and inclusive contracting practices they would make a big difference in the economic lives of low-income citizens and people of color in the community, not to mention the businesses that employ them. When government comes to the market place it can make a big difference and government is certainly coming to the marketplace around sustainability.

The other thing that I’ll say is that one of the challenges that has existed in connecting disadvantaged community members with good, green jobs that are going somewhere, is the current and historical disconnect between these communities and the environmental movement. So, for example, there are people in the community and at community-based organizations who know all about these inclusive contracting practices and all about designing a job-training program to meet the needs of a certain employer or sector. They know how to create public contracting models that would incent and employer to hire a diverse workforce—but they don’t know a lot about sustainability. They generally don’t know a lot about the specific job skills that are required for a particular green business or sector.

On the other side of that divide are the business owners and industry advocates. There are folks who know everything you every possibly want to know about how to fund, build and operate a bio-fuel facility or to grow the alternative fuel industry in the region or the state. They know everything about ecoroof design and construction, and what kinds of public policies would encourage further ecoroof use in the region. But these practitioners, correspondingly, don’t know much at all about how to create jobs for low-income people and people of color.

What we see is a real need to bring those two arenas together—the people who know how to create jobs and know how to train people with the sustainability practitioners who know what kind of job their businesses are going to need and know what is driving demand for these jobs.

GG: If I’m a business owner, and I want to integrate progressive and inclusive hiring practices into what I’m doing. What are some things I need to start thinking about and resources to reach out to in order to start the process?
Obviously, we’d encourage you to reach out to us, but only because we’re part of a larger group of community-based organizations from the Native-American community, the Black community, the Latino and immigrant communities—and we’ve come together to design a comprehensive training pathway to connect our residents to good green jobs. Together with the workforce system, trainers, apprenticeship programs and some employers, we were awarded a $4 million Federal grant to further design this pathway. So if an employer knows they will have a need for four weatherization technicians and six solar installers, and so on—then that’s the arena to engage, because we’re designing the training to meet the needs of the employers.

Alan Hipólito is the Executive Director of Verde, a Portland-based non-profit working to provide green career opportunities to disadvantaged citizens and communities. He’s also a featured speaker at the GoGreen Conference 2010 in Portland, Oregon on October 5, 2010. The conference is next Tuesday + GoGreen 2009 sold out, so register for GoGreen Conference 2010 Portland soon to join us: http://www.portland.gogreenconference.net/registration.

To learn more about the awesome work going on at Verde: http://www.verdenw.org

PDX 2010 Green Line Series: Brewing up a Green Storm With Ann Widmer

Ann Widmer GoGreen ConferenceWidmer Brothers Brewing Company is a Portland institution and a national ambassador of our beer culture. But they’re also doing a lot to promote sustainability as an important—and profitable—part of being a business in the 21st century. The Chair of Widmers’  Sustainability Committee and GoGreen Portland 2010 speaker, Ann Widmer, chats with us about their values, how they implement sustainable initiatives and where the conversation needs to go from here.

GoGreen: Widmer is a staple of the Portland community and an ambassador for the region in other areas of the country and world. How does your team tackle that responsibility as far as sustainability is concerned?
Ann Widmer:
We take sustainability seriously, but we also have fun with it. I should say that sustainability, to us, is not just about the environment. We include financial, social, and employee responsibility as well. So, as our CFO reminds me, we must be fiscally responsible, so that we can afford our environmental programs. We are also in the process of becoming an ISO 14001 company, which helps us build a management structure that supports sustainable practices in our breweries and our restaurants like the Gasthaus.

GG: How does Widmer leverage its overall success and success with sustainable ventures specifically, and roll it into the narrative that you’re building for the company?
It’s a part of our brand. It’s become who we are—authentic–not just a line in our brochure.  It includes the fact that Kurt and Rob [Widmer] were and continue to be incredibly honest about sustainability.

There are these parts of your brand that illustrate who you are as people and what you believe in. For us, sustainability is one piece of that, along with honesty and quality. So if the beer isn’t up to our standard or that of the tasting panel, we don’t sell it. We’re also innovating in sustainable ways. I know these are really old values, and they probably sound really hokey, but they’re important to us.

GG: Brewing beer is a very technical business. There are a lot of intricacies and complexity built into your value chain. What have been some of your challenges in taking sustainability to scale and how did you craft solutions that fit your business?
There are many levels on which we try to implement sustainability in our company. The first is all of the things our employees do. I’m really fortunate—I didn’t have to ‘sell’ sustainability to our employees. I get more suggestions from employees on what we can do to be more sustainable in a year than we can possibly ever do. And they’re really good ideas that usually don’t cost a ton. So we try to keep all our employees engaged, because they’re so valuable in this process. We are presently working on a system to support and reward employees for their contributions, and I would welcome any advice from others about how best to do this.

The other thing is that I’ve always had executive backing for the bigger things that have to do with our distribution chain and brewing operation such as our usage of natural gas, electricity and water. We’re really proud of the fact that we have one of the lowest water to beer ratios in the craft brewing industry. Those are big initiatives that go through multiple departments and the executive team, because they often require expenditures and changes in the way people work.

GG: You went into how you engage your employees in this direction, but how do you engage the broader Widmer community in these initiatives?
We recycle everything at our events and in the Widmer Gasthaus. We also support other causes that are working to enhance the environment  through donations to other organizations that support sustainability. There’s this cyclical effect. It’s not just about us. We try not to throw things out into the community that represent our work poorly, or are not sustainable. We have point-of-sale touch points—everything from the beer labels, packing materials, cups, and wearables We  try to make sure that as many of those are biodegradable or recyclable as possible.

GG: Do you feel that in Portland and the Northwest (and maybe a few select other areas around the US) that there is a growing expectation that companies be sustainable? And if so, do you think that kind of peer pressure is a good thing?
Yes—Usually incentives are good, because they raise awareness. I have no problem with people asking me, ’how much water do you use?’ or ‘what do you do with your spent grain?’ The key, to me at least, is whether or not companies can demonstrate what they do through monitoring and metrics. We do very extensive monitoring on all of our energy use, our water use, recycling and transportation costs.

I think the consumer is starting to demand this kind of behavior from businesses. The other thing is that we sell beer from coast to coast. I think it becomes our job in the Northwest to be a beacon on this issue. I mean, not become the environmental police, but Oregon products that do hold high standards turn into ambassadors of sorts.

GG: What advice can you give to a business owner that wants to take things up a notch and get their business to a darker shade of green? What do you tell a business that’s already using recycled paper and off-setting their energy use with renewable energy credits (RECs)—what’s the next step for them?
Many businesses are doing a great job—some much better than us, but I would suggest getting in touch with the Portland’s BEST Business Center and requesting someone come out and do a site appraisal. They are not going to tell you how bad a job you’re doing. They’re really good at taking a snapshot of where you are and pointing out places where you can improve. They can tell you what is feasible within your budget and can even help you prioritize.

Maybe something you were looking into doing wouldn’t have much effect, but another initiative that is about the same in cost would have a much bigger impact. They can help you understand what will get you the most bang for your buck, and can often recommend resources that are available to help you.

The other thing I would suggest is to recognize that many components of sustainability are not very expensive in the long run. There are some things you can’t do—we couldn’t buy every employee an electric car, for example—but many initiatives are ultimately good for your bottom line. I think it’s important to make those choices now—particularly in this economy. This is a newer concept in accountability that also considers the “top line” value of long-term sustainability.

GG: You mentioned at the beginning of our conversation that sustainability is about more than just the environment. Where do you think the conversation on sustainability—as it becomes more sophisticated—needs to go and what are the issues the green business community needs to tackle in order to make progress?
That’s so complex. It’s a book! One is to realize that sustainability has to be global. I think we’ve passed the point where acting locally is the only thing we need do. That’s still important, but we have to recognize there are decisions we’re making, politically and financially, as a country, that are having global environmental impacts.

And locally, we are in a tough economy and people need jobs. We need green employment opportunities—ways to transfer the technology and knowledge from the present working generation to the next.

I also think that universities need to find ways to bring environmental and social responsibility into all areas of their course work, rather than just a few select areas. It should be a thread that runs through the humanities, the sciences, health care, business, etc. in order to instill a greater respect for the diversity of people and our planet.

GG: What can business owners do to help push the process? Is it to focus on ourselves and do our own thing? Or do we need to get more involved?
I think business owners influence more than their own companies  by their choices—both upstream and downstream. For instance, we influence it by selecting vendors who enact sustainable principles and use green products.  Increasingly there are certification processes in place to rely on. When you select those vendors who are investing in certification and sustainable actions, you are encouraging people who want your business to participate in best practices.

Businesses buy as well as sell. If we can’t know the genesis of a product because it’s made in a place we can’t environmentally monitor, then I think we have to reconsider that purchase even if the price is less. If companies keep engaging in this cycle, everyone will eventually have to improve, and at some point that becomes the standard. The Northwest is further along in their expectations that businesses be sustainable.

GG: Anything else you want to add before we wrap up?
I just want to emphasize how important it is to be in sync with what your employees believe and what they want. You are far more likely to be successful if you start with what your employees value and believe in. Listening is the key, then prioritizing and choosing what people want to do and can afford to do. We’ve been really lucky to have employees and a sustainability committee who are passionate about their company, their community and the environment. They really are the heart of our efforts.

Ann Widmer is the Chair of Widmer Brothers Sustainability Committee and Emeritus Professor at Concordia University’s School of Management. She is also a featured speaker at the GoGreen Conference 2010 in Portland, Oregon on October 5, 2010. To register for GoGreen Conference 2010 Portland, please visit: http://www.portland.gogreenconference.net/registration. GoGreen ‘09 sold out, so make sure to sign up soon!

To learn more about Ann Widmer and Widmer Brothers Brewing Company, visit: http://www.widmer.com. Follow them on Twitter at: @Widmer_Brothers.

PDX 2010 Green Line Series: B-Line’s Franklin Jones + His Sustainable Yellow Delivery Trikes

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Franklin Jones began B-Line Sustainable Urban Delivery with a penchant for cycling, a business model that solved the “last mile” dilemma of the distribution network by sustainable means and the desire to add to the growing green collar jobs sector. Now in his second year as a sustainable business owner, Franklin is speaking at GoGreen Portland in October 2010 and was kind enough to get in front of our cameras for a sneak peek into why his yellow trikes are taking over the Rose City.

Franklin Jones is the founder of B-Line Sustainable Urban Delivery. He is also a featured speaker at the GoGreen Conference 2010 in Portland, Oregon on October 5, 2010. To register for GoGreen Conference 2010 Portland, please visit: http://www.portland.gogreenconference.net/registration. GoGreen ‘09 sold out, so make sure to sign up soon!

You can learn more about Franklin and B-Line at: http://www.b-linepdx.com. Follow B-Line on Twitter at: @BLineDelivers

PDX 2010 Green Line Series: Going Green Is Tasty Too w/Burgerville’s Alison Dennis Shares Their Recipe For Sustainability Success

Burgerville Director of Sustainable Programs, Alison Dennis, holds an enviable position. Not only does she serve as the conduit between Burgerville’s sustainable programs and the communities they inhabit, but she also gets to indulge in their delicious blackberry milkshakes—among other tasty treats—for free! We’re just hoping she brings us some treats in October to munch on while she speaks at GoGreen Portland. She’s a speaker you don’t want to miss—offering a wealth of optimism, ingenuity and authentic determination for taking your business further down a sustainable path one cage free egg at a time.

GoGreen Conference: What is your role with Burgerville and what do you do for them?
Alison Dennis:
I serve as Burgerville’s Director of Sustainable Programs and that means working first and foremost with our food supply chain to ensure that our values are present at each link in the chain—from the grain farms, ranches, bakeries and cheese makers we work with—through to our restaurant environments and dining rooms in things like our composting and recycling programs. We want to make it easy for our restaurant guests to be active players in our sustainable supply chain.

I also work on our other sustainability initiatives, such as our food oil recycling program and our 100 percent wind power purchasing program. I look at every aspect of our business through a sustainability lens and work to find ways to invite everyone within the Burgerville family, and the greater community we serve, to be a part of what we’re doing.

GG: Fast food restaurants aren’t really known for making choices that take the environment into account. Since you operate in this industry, how have you been able to be successful in breaking a mold that seems pretty well established?
Well, Burgerville turns 50 next year, so I wasn’t here when the company was first forming, but I don’t see that we have ever been formed by that mold. Right from the beginning in 1961, Burgerville was not interested in competing in price wars—they call them the 19-cent burger wars. Instead the differentiators of the brand have always been sourcing quality ingredients—Burgerville has always served fresh, never-frozen beef since the first burger was flipped—keeping as many of our dollars within the local business economy as possible—which is still a core value of the company—and a deep commitment to community service and charitable giving. Those values have sustained us since day one and informed how we make decisions.

GG: Has sustainability always been a part of those core values—at least in some form, even if not by name? Or was that a conversation that came later in Burgerville’s lifecycle as a business?
I think all of those values I just described—focus on quality ingredients, keeping money in the local economy and charitable giving—are pillars of contemporary definitions of sustainable business leadership. They’ve just been a part of who we are since long before there was ever a business community conversation about “green” or “sustainability.” So it’s been very natural for the company, over the decades, to continue to ask ourselves what it means to be a good corporate citizen in today’s world and continue to be progressive. It’s especially important in this region to have a contemporary guest space, because there is a strong tradition of caring about people, air, land and water—and preserving our local environment and agricultural traditions.

GG: Why was it so important for the founders and then the leadership, as these 50 years have gone by, to take on those tenants as a core part of their business and integrate our modern definition of sustainability into what Burgerville is doing so rigorously?
Our mission is to serve with love. As a supply chain and sustainability professional, I can’t imagine a more heartfelt place from which to source my work. How can we serve all kinds of people with access to the most sustainably produced, best local ingredients? How can we serve our regional agricultural community and ensure that another generation of families can make a living farming? Our mission truly invites us to look at the food industry and restaurant industry with fresh eyes and engage our local food community from the heart. That’s why I think it’s so important and why we approach things as rigorously as we do.

GG: You mentioned the 19-cent burger wars—which are more like 99-cent burger wars today. How do you compete with that? Are these more encompassing sustainable programs good for you bottom line or are you just willing to take in a little less profit to do well by your community and the Earth?
: Where we focus our energy, and the kinds of conversations that we engage in, are really about bringing true value to the table. So, making the best ingredients as affordable to as many people as possible is very important. At the same time, we’re looking at many other ways to ensure that we’re bringing that value to the table as well. Does the person serving you your food have access to affordable healthcare at work? We believe that’s a part of true value.

Purchasing 100 percent wind power credits to fuel our restaurants is another way we believe we’re bringing additional value to the table. All of those decisions—and the commitment to local purchasing and so on—we think they add up to true value, not just a price conversation. And it’s absolutely profitable. We wouldn’t be able to give as generously to the community and continue our tradition of charitable giving here if we weren’t running a profitable business. That’s a big part of running a sustainable business.

GG: What do your customer’s think of your focus on sustainable and socially responsible values?
Every day we receive comments—through conversations in our restaurants, through our guest chair line (where people reach out to us), our website and social media channels—that share how these decisions are making a meaningful difference in our customer’s lives. That on-going dialogue with the community about what sustainable business looks like today and what they’d like to see us do next is where I get a lot of my ideas and energy.

GG: What has been one of the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome? How were you able to maintain your values and stick to your guns?
Inertia. I’d say the best example is when we rolled out Burgerville’s composting, recycling and sustainable packaging program—which is a topic I’ll be focusing on at the GoGreen Conference later this fall. When we first started, we got a lot of feedback telling us we just wouldn’t be able to do it; that we wouldn’t be able to put sorting stations in our dining rooms and expect fast food eaters and workers to engage and take time out of their busy lives to sort waste into the most appropriate and responsible receptacles. So we had to get experimental and put some things out there before we were sure if they would work.

We had employees in our restaurants design how they thought sorting stations and table busing stations should be integrated into their restaurants. From there we started figuring out how to have conversations about that and how to invite all different kinds of people to join in. If you flash forward to today, we have one of the most comprehensive composting, recycling and sustainable packaging programs in the food industry and certainly for our kind of restaurant.

GG: What do you see as the biggest payoff from putting such a big emphasis on integrating these values so deeply into your business and taking on such initiatives?
It’s definitely playing an authentic, positive role in creating sustainable communities in the region that we serve. We want to find ways in which the presence of our restaurants in a community can actually be making a positive impact. If a Burgerville is in your community, does that mean there are more jobs in that neighborhood with access to affordable healthcare? Does it mean your citizens have access to composting and recycling programs, because we’re there, that might not otherwise be available? Those are the areas in which we really strive to make a difference.

GG: How deeply is sustainability integrated into even the nitty-gritty areas of your business? What are some examples—beyond composting and sourcing—where customers might not be able to see it happening, but that it’s still going strong?
The composting is a great, hands-on example and don’t think it gets any more nitty-gritty than that. One that’s more behind-the-scenes is our five-year anniversary of recycling all of our used 100 percent canola cooking oil into bio-fuel. And if you’ve never cleaned out a grease trap before, that’s about as front lines of sustainability as you can possibly get.

GG: Was that your initiation into your job? Cleaning grease traps?
Ha ha. I actually do a lot of cross training and spend a good deal of time engaging with our restaurant team and the talent behind-the-scenes as much as possible. They’re the ones who have the first-hand experience about what it will really take to integrate a sustainable framework and a sustainable decision-making paradigm into the ways various people with various roles do their jobs everyday.

GG: GoGreen has morphed into a diverse audience. Some of our attendees are looking for ways to get to the next level of sustainability and some are just getting started. You guys have been at this for a while—what does sustainable business 2.0, or 3.0 even, look like for Burgerville? How are you taking it to the next level?
I’ll just briefly highlight a couple of new directions we’ve been exploring. We’ve just rolled out company-wide a program where we’re printing nutritional information on our receipts. So when you place a Burgerville order, you’ll get customized nutrition information about the food you just ordered and even tips for the next time you order on ways to, for example, reduce the calorie count by ordering a blackberry smoothie instead of the milkshake you got today. It’s a pretty profound, new social experiment we’re engaging in and we’re getting great feedback from our guest base and nationwide about taking that step and adding that next layer of visibility to empower people’s food choices.

I’m also working now on taking our alternative transportation program to the next level. Last year we opened up all of our drive-thru windows to be bike friendly and that’s gone really well so far. We’re looking to build upon that and find the next generation of initiatives and projects we can take on to invite and reward people for choosing and using active forms of alternative transportation.

GG: To wrap up, there are a lot of business owners and decision-makers who are on board with the idea of taking their business into the sustainable realm, but who don’t see how their individual actions as a business can make an impact on the entire industry. How do you see Burgerville’s actions impacting your industry and changing how business is done in the future?
One tip I would give businesses who are just getting started is to look at making progress one cage-free egg at a time or one napkin at a time. Really look at where your business is having the biggest impact and make decisions based on your unique profile. Pick one project at a time and pick projects that are meaningful that engage the hearts and minds of your audience and talent-base.

I’ll close by saying that I believe that the most profitable companies in the future will be those that take the best care of people and the planet we share. And I’m excited to gather this fall with the GoGreen community to collaborate on the next generation of sustainable business innovation.

Alison Dennis is the Director of Sustainable Programs at Burgerville. She is also a featured speaker at the GoGreen Conference 2010 in Portland, Oregon on October 5, 2010. To register for GoGreen Conference 2010 Portland, please visit: http://www.portland.gogreenconference.net/registration. GoGreen ‘09 sold out, so make sure to sign up soon!

To learn more about Alison Dennis and Burgerville’s sustainable programs, visit: http://burgerville.com/sustainable-business. Follow them on Twitter at: @BVSustainable.