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Workshops featuring groups across the region highlight green ideas on sharing food, reducing waste

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - The Green Business Gathering brought together sustainably-minded people from across the region. When you gather a room full of green-minded people together, good things can happen.

Mel Vinson, general manager of Laughing Planet in the Cedar Mill area of Beaverton, shared a strategy her company has implemented to be more sustainable during an event held Wednesday morning, Feb. 27.

One of the restaurant's specials is burritos, which used to be served wrapped in foil. Vinson, who wanted to find ways to save money and reduce the business' impact on the environment, thought the practice was silly. So she made a simple change.

"We now ask customers if they want their burritos wrapped," Vinson said.

Most loved the idea of a "naked burrito" and happily embraced the new way of serving the meal. Each unwrapped burrito saves about a square foot of foil.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Gregg Hayward, with the city of Gresham, said the event was a great way for people to share ideas and inspire each other."The burrito idea was just shared with other businesses who can now copy it," said Gregg Hayward, the city of Gresham's business sustainability outreach coordinator.

Sharing ideas and inspiration was the main goal of the Green Business Gathering at the Oregon Convention Center (OCC) in North Portland. The event brought together more than 100 green businesses from the region. East Multnomah County was well-represented, accounting for almost a third of those who attended.

The gathering was a chance for people to share ideas, preventing the chance of silos forming within the green community, which has more than 800 certified businesses regionally. Attendees took part in workshops, discussions, presentations and toured the Convention Center.

Green teams were on hand from the cities of Gresham, Portland and Beaverton, along with Clackamas, Washington and Clark counties. Sponsors included Metro regional government, the OCC and Pacific Wild Catering.

"We have found a lot of success in bringing businesses together because it helps disseminate knowledge quickly," Hayward said. "Events like this keep people motivated."

Shared interest

A panel of speakers shared sustainable success stories from their own businesses. Speakers included Vinson, Laughing Planet; Julia Person, Widmer Brothers Brewing; Amber DePerro, Delta AV; Janelle Austen, The Partners Group; and Katie Harral, Crave Catering.

Person spoke about engaging the community when it comes to policy changes. Widmer was one of the first area businesses to ditch plastic straws, and the move paid off for the brewery. In the first month of implementing the plan, Widmer avoided distributing 2,000 plastic straws.

"We saved money by using less plastic straws, even when accounting for the more expensive paper alternatives," Person said.

DePerro, a procurement specialist and sustainability coordinator for the Gresham-based Delta AV, said employees passionate about going green can generate support from their bosses.

"Communication is the key to getting what you want for your company," she said.

Her advice is to be vocal about your interests, have data prepared, showcase how green practices can lead to more money and better marketing opportunities.

"We won one of our largest contracts to date thanks in part to our sustainability practices," DePerro said.

Green goals

Austen shared what she learned when setting up a green team at The Partners Group two years ago. She was able to find like-minded people, and began with a monthly meeting schedule.

"It can be overwhelming when you first start trying to decide where to start," Austen said. "You can't force people to be green, so you have to make it more convenient and more fun."

She suggested starting with simple, easy steps like reorganizing how recycling works within an office. Her green team also focused on fun events like office challenges and a holiday recycling collection.

For Harral and Crave Catering, the key is monitoring food usage.

"As a caterer it's easy to see a lot of waste, so we created a policy," she said.

The first round of leftovers are offered to the clients, with excess becoming a meal for the catering team to enjoy. If safe, eatable food still remains, it is donated to Union Gospel Mission. Crave Catering sends the organization almost 200 pounds of food a week.

"What their chefs can do with a leftover pan of enchiladas is incredible," Harral noted. "It's not just about helping the environment, but about sustaining the community."

The leftovers that aren't safe to eat by humans are also dealt with. Veggies go as feed for chickens, while meat is commercially composted.

"Everyone in this room is motivated to stay sustainable," Hayward said. "This gathering reminds people that others across the region care about being green."

Did you know?

During the green gathering, on Wednesday, the Oregon Convention Center showed off some of the ways it is sustainable. The highlights include:

n Mass transit access and bike racks

n Solar arrays that generate a fourth of the building needs

n LED fixtures and motion sensors

n 44,240 surplus meals donated last year

n Composting of food scraps

n More than 1,000 recycling bins

n Rain garden and native vegetation across the campus

n Low-flow water fixtures and green cleaners

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