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The green edge: Workplaces embrace sustainability

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Articles - June 2010
Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The 100 Best Green Companies to Work For are doing whatever it takes to
improve workplace sustainability: cutting waste, buying bikes, even Dumpster diving.

Neil Kelly CEO Tom Kelly has been a longtime leader in Oregon’s green building sector.
Recycling is so passé. All of the 100 Best Green Companies to Work For in Oregon are doing it — making sure paper, plastic, metal and any other recyclable material ends up in the blue bin and not the trash can. Many employees are even willing to reprimand their co-workers over matters of waste disposal, and when necessary, Dumpster dive.

Suzie Atkin is one of those green knights. Atkin, a designer for Neil Kelly, which ranked No. 9 on this year’s list, readily admits to reaching into the compost bin to grab something recyclable. It comes down to awareness, she says. Atkin would know. She’s a member of Neil Kelly’s “green team,” a group of employees charged with making their workplace more sustainable. Two things stuck out to Atkin about making that a reality: the low-hanging fruit and getting people to follow through.

“It’s been a constant education and learning process for everyone,” she says.

Those low-hanging fruits have been picked at Neil Kelly, along with some high-hanging morsels as well. Half the lights are permanently off throughout company headquarters. Low-flow toilets conserve energy and water. Outside, a Zipcar sits in the parking lot. In the back, an old biodiesel tank used to fuel company cars harkens back to earlier green efforts.

Other winners from our 100 Best are switching to green cleaners, compact fluorescent bulbs, and programmable thermostats; they are investing in solar panels, upgrading their buildings to meet LEED standards, cutting down their waste streams, buying bikes for loyal commuters, giving allowances to employees who buy hybrid cars, and thinking of new ways to overcome challenges presented by equipment, costs and other constraints.

Over 26,000 employees from 503 Oregon companies and nonprofits completed the surveys on which the 2010 rankings are based, rating their satisfaction with and the importance of their company’s sustainable practices. Companies also provided a report detailing their green efforts.

Oregon’s entire business community, in terms of geography and industry sector, is represented. Newbie businesses energetically committed to green ideals join businesses with long traditions of incorporating sustainability in the workplace.

And they are going beyond the ordinary and expected, even though finding fresh ways to be sustainable can be just as difficult as cutting costs and finding a profit in this economy. To be a sustainable business in Oregon means thinking creatively, investing in your values, and above all, listening to the employees. For the most part, that’s where the ideas come from.

Central Point-based cheese making company Rogue Creamery (No. 22) used to generate two garbage bags full of wax every day. The wax is used to store aging cheese, and it can’t be cleaned or used again. Kristine DeMaria, a quality assurance manager at Rogue Creamery, spearheads the company’s sustainability efforts. She says finding a way to reuse the wax was an obvious goal. DeMaria and her colleagues started by looking for a candle maker. They never found one, but they did find a manufacturing company who has taken the wax and put it to use. That cut their waste stream by 30%.

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