100 Best Green Snapshot: Willamette West Habitat for Humanity

On June 1st, we will reveal our 8th annual 100 Best Green Workplace rankings at an awards luncheon in the Nines Hotel.  In anticipation of that event, we conducted brief interviews with a few of the organizations on the list regarding their green workplace practices.  Here is the second in a series: a Q & A with Hope Howard, Director of Resources at Willamette West Habitat for Humanity.

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OB: What is the latest green innovation you have implemented?

HH: Much of the green-ness of Willamette is centered on the houses we build and repair. Here are answers for the homes we are building and our administrative offices both.

We have added individual cloth hand-towels in our staff restrooms to cut out the use of paper hand towels. We had an audit by Washington County Solid Waste & Recycling program and improved our in-office recycling of lunchtime items . We also had an education session from Washington County about how to reduce our garbage ahead of time by purchasing items in less wasteful packaging, storing items in reusable containers, and using plates, glasses and silverware at work instead of paper products. For our homes, we have added more efficient on-demand water heaters that save the families more on utility bills, are simpler to maintain, realize a higher incentive return, and are easier to install. We have also moved to blown-in-Bib insulation and whole house ventilation with HRV’s to improve the air quality of the homes.

OB: What is the biggest obstacle you encountered implementing sustainable workplace programs? 

HH:  More than an obstacle was just the need for education. When the trainer from Washington County came out, we all realized how much more we could be doing, and how easy it was really to make a large difference. For our homes, we did have some resistance to change but it was because our volunteers didn’t understand why we were doing it. We overcame it by implementing new programs one or two at a time until we are at our current level. We researched and tested new technologies that fit our needs as they were introduced.  

OB: What benefits did your company/organization realize as a result of green initiatives?

HH: Increasing the energy efficiency of our homes comes with an incentive check from Earth Advantage as we meet higher levels. We estimate that we will receive enough incentive funds in the neighborhood we are now building to completely pay for the construction of one house ($80,000), just using our energy efficiency incentive dollars!

We learned we have been serving as a role model to other Habitat offices around the state; several have implemented using hand-towels in their bathrooms instead of paper products which tickled us.It’s a   great feeling in our hearts knowing that we are providing a long-term home with a safe environment to raise a family.  The green programs also reduce the utility bills for the families so they have more of their paychecks available to improve their lives.
OB: What is the next big green initiative on the horizon?

HH: After having an energy audit with Portland General Electric we will be upgrading our lighting in the office to more energy-efficient LED lighting. Increasing to one inch DOW XPS insulation on the exterior of the homes to improve on air-sealing and increase the R-value for the walls. Will use Eco-Seal + which is a better product to seal up cracks and help reduce utility costs.