Portland Employers Find Its Easy Being Green

By Michelle Rafter

Feb. 26, 2009

In Portland, Oregon, your company isn’t really green unless you’ve got a bike cage in the parking structure, a compost bin in the lunchroom, fume-free paint on the walls, recycled glass on the lobby front desk, and nary a plastic water bottle, paper cup or soda machine in sight.

Portland’s strict land-use laws, burgeoning renewable energy industry, mass transit system, bike culture, parks and clean water are only some of the reasons it has been voted “Greenest City in America” by Popular Science and “one of America’s top 10 cleanest cities” byForbes.

The everyday practices of local businesses have helped the Rose City earn its green bragging rights.

But companies have ulterior motives. Despite the recession, Portland employers have to tout their green know-how if they want to attract the best possible job candidates, according to Lois Brooks, HR committee chairwoman of American Electronics Association’s Oregon chapter and HR director at WebTrends, a Web analytics and online marketing company.

“It helps your brand in the marketplace,” Brooks told several dozen chapter members attending a November 2008 seminar on going green. When it comes to green initiatives, employees need an advocate, and HR can fill the bill, Brooks says.

Tripwire Inc. is a good example of green practices some Portland companies are putting in place and of the input that workers have in the process.

In November, the 12-year-old online security company moved 170 employees into new headquarters in 33,000 square feet on two rebuilt floors of a downtown Portland high-rise. At the same time the company was pondering moving, employees had begun requesting that managers step up their commitment to sustainability.

It eventually fell to HR generalist Barbara Salegio to coordinate the move and spearhead a newly created employee sustainability committee. One of the committee’s functions: help decide which green upgrades to buy with $1.2 million the company received from its new landlord for tenant improvements.

With the committee’s input and management’s blessing, Salegio opted to use the money for such things as an open layout that lets natural light into 90 percent of the area; low-volatile organic compound paints to cut back on fumes released during application; upholstered furniture made from skins and frames that can be taken apart and recycled; and a cafeteria with reusable dishes and utensils, dishwasher, composting bins, a minimum of disposable paper products and no garbage disposal.

The vending machines there don’t offer plastic water bottles or canned drinks. The espresso machine has a paperless filter. A cage in the building’s parking lot holds up to 18 bikes.

Going green hasn’t been 100 percent easy.

Tripwire chose not to apply for certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System because the additional expense wasn’t in the budget.

Despite Salegio’s best efforts, paper cups keep appearing in the lunchroom. And there’s a lot more on her wish list, including dual-flush toilets, light sensors throughout and using more renewable resources for the company’s energy-hogging 3,000-square-foot data center.

But it would have been difficult to have gotten even this far anywhere else, Salegio says. Originally from Chicago, she has shared some of her green lessons with HR colleagues there.

“They all think it’s nice and dandy, but they’d never adopt something like that. It wouldn’t look as right,” she says.

Portland’s green reputation has become a magnet for companies looking to improve their green practices, such as Vidoop. Every one of Vidoop’s 37 employees moved from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Portland in September after CEO Joel Novell decided the 2-year-old security software company needed to be closer to its primarily West Coast customers.

After a search, Novell and his employees decided Portland matched their lifestyles better than Seattle or San Francisco.

Today, the majority of the company’s employees commute by public transportation, bike or foot, including Novell, who lives within walking distance of the firm’s headquarters in downtown Portland’s Old Town district.

“I had three cars in Oklahoma and I have none now,” he says.

Maybe the biggest testament to Portland’s green scene: Shortly after Vidoop moved, the economy tanked, requiring the company to let nine people go.

To date, none has returned to Oklahoma.

Workforce Management Online, March 2009Register Now! 

Michelle Rafter is a Workforce contributing editor.

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