Laura Weiss is packing it in. Or perhaps it’s more appropriate to say she’s packing it out.
Weiss is the founder of GO Box, a Portland-based reusable takeout container business. For the past seven years Weiss and her cargo bike full of Go Boxes have been a familiar sight downtown and in central city neighborhoods.
She sold the business in May and this summer is moving to Bellingham.* "After 20 years in Portland," she says, "it’s time for a change." Her husband retired recently, and the couple wanted to live in a smaller town.
The new owner is Jocelyn Gaudi, a former marketing staffer for Portland Design Works and Alta Bike Share.
As a bike share employee, Gaudi loved travelling to different cities, "plopping down thousands of bikes" and seeing former critics slowly become advocates.
“It was really rewarding to see the evolution of thought," says Gaudi, an avid mountain biker who is also president of the Oregon Timber Trail, a 670-mile mountain biking trail initiative.
Gaudi describes herself as a “mission-driven individual," and says she is looking forward to "providing an opportunity for people to engage in positive environmental behavior."
Gaudi and Weiss declined to disclose the sales price.
Laura Weiss and Jocelyn Gaudi
GO Box contracts with food cart vendors and corporate customers like Cambia Health Solutions and Whole Foods, which serve to go meals in the resusable containers. (The containers replace "clamshells," the clear-hinged plastic containers typically used for takeout.) An app simplifies the process for consumers, who can drop off used containers at various sites around town.
The company started in 2011 with three vendors and a few dozen customers, Weiss says. Today GO Box has 40 corporate customers, 3,500 individuals and 70 participating vendors. The business has eliminated the use of 120,000 disposable containers.
The biggest obstacle to growth is explaining to customers and partners how GO Box works and why it matters, Weiss says.
All too often, she says, people will go into a cafe like Starbucks and not think twice about getting a takeout container. "They know disposable cups are bad, but say, 'it's just one cup.' Well, those one cups leads to billions of cups."
Gaudi says she’s eager to apply some of the behavioral tactics she learned while working for bike share programs to convert new customers.
"Make it as painless as possible."
But she agrees there is a key difference between encouraging people to get out of their cars and onto bikes and getting people to eliminate plastics in their daily lives.
"Cycling has a culture," Gaudi says.
Gaudi wants to grow the business to include more brick and mortar vendors and expand an existing licensing program to other cities and states.
"Laura has built a solid foundation," she says, "and I'm excited for new situations and challenges."
*Is Bellingham the new Portland?
Weiss is not the only Portland sustainability professional decamping to Bellingham.
Ted Wolf, author, tireless advocate for seismic safety in schools and former director of communications for Ecotrust, is also relocating to Bellingham this summer. His wife's parents live there, and, like Weiss, he says it's time for a change, after living in Portland for 23 years.