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Leaders in Sustainability broadens earlier program's goals

SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JAKE BARTMAN - Wilsonville's Rockwell Collins was one of the first businesses in Clackamas County to receive the County's new Leaders in Sustainability certification.Though Clackamas County isn’t bragging in the way it did with its last sustainability certification, the Leaders in Sustainability program reflects a new way of thinking about sustainability in the workplace.

“BRAG (the Business Recycling Awards Group certification) was really to recognize businesses on recycling and waste reduction,” says Julane Potter, a business sustainability advisor for Clackamas County who has helped to design and run the Leaders in Sustainability program. “We really saw from the business community that they were ready to look at broader issues of conservation.”

Leaders in Sustainability was launched in the spring of 2015. More than 80 goals are identified, and depending on the number a business chooses to complete, basic, silver and gold level Leaders in Sustainability certifications are possible.

In many ways, the program is a sign of the times. BRAG was created by the county in 2002, and focused on promoting recycling and reducing waste: Businesses were required to buy recycled paper and products, and to initiate other programs that would cut down on trash production.

At the time, advocates for sustainability and businesses often viewed one another with suspicion. Today the two are increasingly seen as complementary, Potter says.

Potter says that in her opinion, the 2006 documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” was a turning point in the discussion about sustainability. The film, which centers on former Vice President Al Gore’s attempt to increase awareness of global climate change, raised concerns about the widespread use of fossil fuels.

Businesspeople began to mention the film to Potter, and the concept of energy conservation gained momentum. Many took on employees or hired consultants to manage sustainability efforts. Increasingly, municipalities launched their own sustainability initiatives that expanded on the requirements set forth as a part of the BRAG program.

By 2012, it was apparent that BRAG would need expanding to keep pace with the variety of sustainability efforts underway. In response, the county added new components to BRAG that encouraged toxic waste and food waste reduction. It also added elements that encouraged reductions in water and energy use.

But the program still wasn’t accomplishing everything that Clackamas County hoped to with a certification. Potter and others in the county’s Office of Sustainability began to devise a new certification that would be comprehensive and encourage ongoing progress toward sustainability on businesses’ part. It would also help to create a network of businesses interested in sustainability that shared tips and information with one another.

For the basic Leaders in Sustainability certification, 14 of 15 required certifications must be met, including empowering a “green team” or individual to manage sustainability efforts, using 30 percent or higher recycled-content paper, and providing resources or initiatives to employees who use alternative forms of transportation. An additional 20 requirements must be met for silver certification; 40 must be met to achieve gold status.

The program also has more holistic requirements, including a “community action” — for example, donating to a local organization, mentoring other businesses or committing to buy local. Recipients of the certification are also required to name a goal toward which they can continue to work, and to be recertified every two years.

“That’s something else that’s sort of an evolution,” Potter says of the community engagement portion of the program. “It’s an education process to show people that they’re not just benefitting environment, but benefitting employees, people in communities and their profit.”

So far, Leaders in Sustainability has been a success: where BRAG had certified some 60 organizations by the time it was phased out, Leaders in Sustainability expects some 30 businesses to soon attain some level of certification through the program.

Three of those entities are based in Wilsonville: Microsoft, Rockwell Collins and Coffee Creek Correctional Facility.

Chad Naugle, sustainability coordinator for the Oregon Department of Corrections, says that certifications like Leaders in Sustainability have been pursued by Coffee Creek and every other correctional facility in Oregon since he was hired in 2012.

Naugle says that the certification was a natural fit for the department, which had already been taking steps toward sustainability. Coffee Creek’s all-inmate “green team” was responsible for helping the prison to meet the specific requirements of the certification.

“Our biggest accomplishment was reducing our food expenses,” Naugle says. “We were traying up for every inmate, regardless of whether they were eating it or not.” The establishment of a serving line and portion control was an important step toward shaving $1,800 per month off the facility’s garbage bill, he says, although its ongoing goal is to keep reducing waste production.

The facility was also ahead of the game in using 100 percent green cleaning chemicals, which it began using in 2014. Switching to green chemicals is a difficulty for many businesses, according to Potter, since many businesses stock up on toxic chemicals that they don’t want to waste by throwing away.

Rockwell Collins, which occupies a building on Parkway Avenue near Oregon Tech, similarly made the switch to green chemicals and had already met many goals of the certification.

“We were there already,” says Dan O’Halloran, the location’s facilities manager. He says that attaining the certification is something he pushed for as an extension of the corporation’s green policies, which include reducing energy use by installing LED lights and offering TriMet passes to employees.

It was also easier to meet requirements, O’Halloran says, because newer buildings like Rockwell Collins’ are built with sustainability in mind — another sign of the widespread shift in attitudes toward sustainability over the years.

“We’re fortunate that we have a new building here. If we had an older building we’d have a lot more opportunities,” O’Halloran says.

Contact Jake Bartman at 503-636-1281 ext. 113 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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