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|Articles - June 2013|
|Tuesday, May 28, 2013|
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BY SUSAN G. HAUSER
These days Sattie Clark, once the darling of the ’80s and ’90s Portland folk-rock scene, sings only to her 8-year-old son, August. But it was on a fateful day at Berbati’s Pan when she looked into the eyes of Eric Kaster, the drummer for the next band to take the stage, that Clark unwittingly took a giant leap toward Portland’s future as a center for green business.
A lot happened in between: His band broke up, her band hired him, they fell in love and, in 2002, got married. But what is most important in terms of the local sustainability movement is that two years before tying the knot, they started a company together. That business, Eleek (a combination of Eric’s first and last initials and his middle name, Lee), is now more than 12 years old and is considered a pioneer in the design and manufacture of energy-efficient lighting.
Eleek, with 12 employees and occupying an 8,000-square-foot warehouse near Legacy Emanuel Medical Center, has won multiple design awards and gained national recognition for both design and environmental practices. And partly to share all she learned at Eleek as co-owner and director of marketing, Clark in 2009 founded Voice for Oregon Innovation & Sustainability (VOIS) to promote and support responsible business practices.
“Sustainability became that thing that really grabbed me,” says Clark, 48, who admits that in the company’s early days, when she and her husband were mostly making aluminum logos for trade-show displays, she couldn’t imagine devoting more than a year to the company’s marketing efforts. But Kaster’s work as an industrial pattern maker, combined with his penchant for design and his practice of using recycled materials, took Eleek in an exciting new direction. By then Clark was in it for the long haul. Working with 100% recycled cast aluminum was the first step in Clark’s green journey. Next Eleek turned to the Natural Step Network USA, a Portland-based nonprofit that provides businesses with a framework for achieving sustainability.
The process gave Clark “aha” moments regarding Eleek’s environmental impact, as well as its opportunities to practice “social sustainability,” improving relationships with employees, colleagues, vendors and neighbors. “I think it was one of the first times I’d ever encountered that concept, and it was very inspiring.” Her Natural Step education also inspired a new direction for Eleek marketing efforts, to capitalize on the company’s unique direction in lighting.
Gunnar Langhus of Ankrom Moisan Architects, who began working on projects with Kaster and Clark about 10 years ago, says Eleek’s lighting designs were standouts from the beginning, mostly because of their exclusive use of energy-efficient LEDs, while other lighting manufacturers favored cheaper, less efficient and less sustainable options. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, there’s only one business here that’s done this. They seem to be out in front a bit.’”
Langhus first commissioned Eleek to create custom lighting and ornamental features, including door handles and hardware, for the Elizabeth Lofts in the Pearl District. “It’s cool design with an artistic side to it, and so straightforward, honest and well-built,” he says.
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