A look at three of the top 10 100 Best Green Workplaces in Oregon.
American College of Healthcare Sciences
Photo by | Jason Kaplan
Portland college ACHS practices what it preaches. The mission of the 40-year- old institution (a satellite campus opened in Kona, Hawaii, this year) is to provide holistic online and on- site health education and wellness opportunities.
The school houses a certified organic apothecary that sells books, herbs and essential oils. A “Soil to Oil initiative” donates 2% of the essential oil sales to support global sustainability education initiatives. ACHS reduced its energy use by more than 10% after tracking consumption as part of its B-Corp certification process, instituted a telecommuting policy to cut down on driving and constructed natural clay walls in its newest school building.
“What sets us apart is this concept of sustainability: how everything is interconnected and permeates everything we do,” says president and founder Dorene Petersen.
Low-carbon practices don’t always come easy. Fifteen percent of the school’s 40 Oregon staffers work remotely, reducing energy use and improving morale. But the company had to develop a new plan for engaging far-flung staff, a task that has been resolved through mandatory live-streamed trainings to help build community.
Another challenge is the “sustainability systems have become so permeated on campus that it’s hard to do more,” says chief operating officer Tracey Abell.
The college, which recently received a City of Portland Sustainability at Work Gold Rating, matriculates students from around the country and world, she says. “The next frontier is to cultivate meaningful engagement initiatives in all states where we have graduates.”
Living Room Realty
Photo by | Jason Kaplan
In the space of two days in May, the tenant placement staffer at Living Room Realty logged 120 miles on the company’s electric- assist bicycle. The branded bike serves as a marketing tool while reducing the company’s energy use, says owner Jenelle Isaacson.
“It also brings huge smiles to people’s faces when they see people get off the bike,” she says.
Living Room’s 115 agents work from six office locations depending on what property they are showing at any given time. Instead of working behind closed doors, agents share an open office setup designed to minimize the company footprint. All of the building sites use 100% renewable energy, and the agency’s newest office in Northwest Portland is housed in a LEED Platinum structure.
In keeping with its multiuse ethos, Living Room, a B-Corp, opens up its offices for such events as parenting classes, weddings and bee-keeping workshops.
“It’s a waste if we are going to take beautiful spaces in the community and not share,” Isaacson says.
Isaacson says the B-Corp certification framework helps the company push the envelope on green practices, which she defines in terms of social and environmental responsibility.
“B-Corp is always asking for increased metrics,” she says.
One is around retention and hiring — companies with low turnover net additional points. The scoring system “made us bake low turnover into our policies and procedures,” Isaacson says. “It keeps our team accountable.”
Photo by | Jason Kaplan
Growing marijuana indoors is an inherently eco-unfriendly practice. Instead of capitulating to the challenge, the folks at Yerba Buena, an indoor-grow facility in Hillsboro, rose to the occasion.
“We knew we had to be very sustainable, as it’s a very unsustainable thing we do: grow a boutique plant that requires indoor lights and extreme care to humidity,” says manager Preston Greene.
Yerba Buena tends to its marijuana plants in a former commercial potpourri-drying facility. The building retrofit includes LED lighting, multiple layers of insulation and water-recycling systems.
A certified “clean green” grower — the marijuana equivalent of certified organic — Yerba Buena uses beneficial insects instead of pesticides and, unlike 60% of the industry, recycles its soil. A soil company picks up used soil, remixes it with the proper nutrient balance, then returns the product to Yerba Buena. Waste products are limited to two garbage cans and three recycling bins.
The company’s green workplace practices include a wellness day once a month for all 31 employees, including visits by third-party yoga instructors, and access to the company’s 20-acre garden, which provides vegetables and herbs for all employees. Sixty percent of employees carpool together.
“We grow a plant for a living, so we have people who really care about the environment,” says Preston.
That said, not all the sustainability initiatives have panned out. The farm is 30 minutes from public services, so banning disposable containers wasn’t feasible.
Greening a new industry is a constant challenge, and as the company expands, Yerba Buena is looking into a hybrid outdoor-grow operation to further reduce energy use, Greene says. “The next facility won’t look as it does today.”