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Jobs Watch: The best in green

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Ben Jacklet
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
Between the endless Oregon drizzle, the unpredictable financial markets and the seemingly unstoppable flood of crude oil gushing forth from the ocean floor, it’s been a rough month for morale — and for the planet. So it’s refreshing to step back from the headlines and pay respect to some forward-thinking businesses and nonprofits that are doing things right.

There is no shortage of companies out there talking about sustainability. Until recently one of the biggest talkers was BP, which apparently used to stand for Beyond Petroleum. By contrast, the organizations that comprise Oregon Business’ 100 Best Green Companies to Work For are not talkers. They are doers. They are out there experimenting every day with new ways to do business with minimal impact on the planet. They are setting up compost bins in office kitchens, redesigning restaurants to run on recycled vegetable oil instead of fossil fuel, streamlining manufacturing processes to reduce waste, venturing out to clean up neighborhood creeks, installing solar panels on their roofs, investing in transit passes and bikes for employees and counting watts the way others count beans.

Adam Lane, CFO and COO of Ecotrust, speaks on mission-based prosperity.
About 300 people showed up yesterday for the magazine’s second annual 100 Best Green event yesterday at the Grand Ballroom of the Hilton Hotel in downtown Portland. The theme of the event was the search for that sweet spot where mission and money merge into one unified strategy. Keynote speaker Adam Lane, Ecotrust’s CFO and COO, pointed out that disasters such as the financial meltdown and the Gulf oil spill have caused many people to reconsider the profits-at-all-costs nature of the capitalist model. At the same time, idealistic nonprofits are increasingly hard-pressed to find resources, to the point where only the savvy will survive. The result has been a blurring of lines between mission-driven organizations and profit-seeking companies, with some enticing new models emerging that serve the interests of employees, communities and the environment — as well as shareholders.

Lane didn’t have to look far in that room to find prime examples of mission-based prosperity. Beaverton-based Vernier Software and Technology (#10) has a worm composting project and rooftop solar panels and organizes an annual creek cleanup day. The Neil Kelly Company (#9) has invested in biodiesel, ZipCars and low-flow toilets. Ashland-based Standing Stone Brewing (#3) has developed a heat recovery system that cuts fossil fuel expenses by $10,000 and used $9,900 of that money to purchase bikes for employees. Gerding Edlen Development, which finished first for the second year in a row, raises the standards of green building with each new project. All of these companies operate under the principle that green investments pay dividends in employee morale as well as customer loyalty. 

But Lane also sounded a warning. He called sustainability the “little black dress of the business marketing world,” and cautioned that consumers are growing ever-more sophisticated about seeing through ploys. In other words, don’t say you’re Beyond Petroleum if you aren’t. Not that he needed to remind this year's 100 Best Green winners that actions mean more than words. These organizations are the real deal.

The 100 businesses and nonprofits who made the green list represent every sector of the state’s economy, from construction to lodging to craft brewing. And we weren’t the ones who selected them. Their employees were. The results are based on 26,000 confidential employee surveys collected and analyzed by Oregon Business research editor Brandon Sawyer and Su Midghall of Davis, Hibbitts & Midghall. And while not every organization on this year’s list comes as a surprise, many of this year’s winners were surprising and inspiring. The success of companies such as Culver’s EARTH2O (#74), Central Point’s Rogue Creamery (#22) and Eugene’s Isler CPA (#6) serve as compelling reminders that while it is far from easy in these times to balance the financial bottom line with the needs of the planet, it is possible.

Ben Jacklet is managing editor of Oregon Business.
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