Gresham: Sustainability in the time of COVID
At the beginning of the pandemic, the city of Gresham Green Team pivoted along with the rest of the community.
"We had to meet the needs we were seeing," said Gregg Hayward, business sustainability outreach coordinator. "The first months of the pandemic we used our green business community and email chain to share information about financial grants."
"Sustainability took a backseat as the Gresham Green Team focused on keeping business alive," he added.
Since those early, critical days, things continue to look different. The monthly coffee hours were local businesses show off new innovations they have adopted to be more sustainable have gone virtual, and other gatherings were shuttered for distancing.
"It wasn't easy, but we have found ways to keep celebrating sustainability," Hayward said.
This year there have been plenty of green strides to herald even as the pandemic lingers.
Bickmore Auto Sales Gresham and La Carreta of Gresham both received Gresham Green Business Awards; Maggie Mae's Kids Bookshop and Delta AV both were recertified through the program; and a few others are nearly through the process.
"We are all in this together to enhance our community and make sure we are more resilient in the future," said Shannon Martin, solid waste and sustainability manager.
At a local children's bookstore, the focus is on the reuse of the famous sustainability saying, "Reduce, reuse, recycle."
Maggie Mae's Kids Bookshop, 43 N.W. Third St., receives a lot of donated books, but sometimes the condition is poor enough they can't be sold on the shelves. Rather than just toss those out, the store donates them to local nonprofit organizations and gives them for free to kids and families.
"It's really important to be a part of being sustainable and caring for the planet," said Soshanna "Sho" Roberts, owner of Maggie Mae's.
In October, during a Boo-k Day event, Maggie Mae's distributed 100 free, gently used books and advanced copies, to visiting kids. The store also recycles the boxes books are shipped in, repurposes cardboard display stands, and reuses packaging to send books to customers.
This March will be the bookstore's 4th anniversary, and pretty much from the onset Maggie Mae's has been involved with the Gresham Green Team. The store was recertified last spring. And Roberts is always looking for ways to increase her green-impact.
"We would love to host more events on sustainability and teach more about recycling to kids," she said.
Maggie Mae's isn't alone in making a difference in the community this past year.
At La Carreta, the restaurant has done an admirable job of tracking and reducing food waste. They created a whole internal system to see what foods were being consistently thrown-out, and either reduced how much they purchased or found community partners to donate the unused food to.
"Food waste is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions," Hayward said.
La Carreta also added LED lighting, an energy-efficient fryer and a smart thermostat.
ON Semiconductor significantly reduced its energy consumption in the past two years of the pandemic despite only keeping a skeleton crew onboard.
Using resources from Energy Trust of Oregon, they have reduced usage by 7.9 million kilowatt hours — the equivalent of driving a car around the circumference of the Earth 565 times. The company also certified as a Green Business in Gresham.
"That was an awesome win during the pandemic for their green team," Hayward said.
The city of Gresham has completed several large projects this past year focused on improving sustainability.
In early 2021 they received a $280,000 DriveChange Grant from PGE to increase the number of public electric vehicle charging stations and to expand an additional 12 charging stations for the Gresham fleet of electric vehicles.
The grant money covers 100% of the charging station costs. The city is also leveraging part of the grant to buy down the cost of 8 new electric vehicles.
"This is giving us the opportunity to advance our city vehicles from fossil fuel to electric," Martin said.
In the coming weeks this January the city will upgrade the electric vehicle charging stations in downtown Gresham, and build two new stations in Rockwood — one at the Rockwood Public Safety Building on 181st Avenue, and the other at the soon-to-be-opened Rockwood Market Hall along Stark Street.
The city also signed a contract with Oregon Shines to purchase about 332,000 kilowatt hours a year of renewable energy from the solar project. That will go online in the coming weeks, with no upfront costs for the city. The estimates are it will reduce Gresham's electricity bill around $40,000
"That is a pretty cool project for us to get additional renewable energy in our city," Martin said.
Other projects the Green Team have been involved with include consulting on the Rockwood Market Hall to help strengthen the food systems and support the future entrepreneurs; and supporting Play Grow Learn and Outgrowing Hunger's Peoples Market in Rockwood this past summer.
On a high level Gresham has used the time during the pandemic to connect with businesses in new ways.
"We have looked at diversity, equity and inclusion in our programs — especially with the materials and how we can educate the public in a more equitable way," Hayward said.
Through a collaboration with other regional green teams, Gresham now has stickers in six languages that show what can and cannot be recycled right on the bin. Those new, clearer recycling boxes have then been distributed for free to local businesses.
There are also recycling decals, posters and more in multiple languages. All can be requested online at bit.ly/3sHUO8R
"The idea is making being green more accessible in our community," he said.
Gresham Green Team
The city's recycling and sustainability staff are looking to connect with community members, businesses, schools and nonprofit organizations to find ways to reduce waste and promote green practices.
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