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Green giants of business

• 10 Portland companies find benefits in helping the city's environment

Portland Public Schools soon will have a $6,000 check in hand to help pay for retrofitting some old oil-burning boilers that spew carbon pollutants into the air.

The money is the first payment from a unique program Ñ the first of its kind among travel agencies Ñ that offers 'carbon offsets' to anyone booking air travel through the Portland-based Better World Club.

The idea of the year-old program Ñ called Travel Cool Ñ is to offset in a small way an average of almost a ton of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere by each commercial domestic flight per passenger, according to federal government data.

Travelers who book flights through Better World pay a tax-deductible $11 per domestic flight, or $22 per international flight, for the offsets. For members, the club kicks in the fee for two domestic flights or one international flight per year. The money raised through Travel Cool donations goes to projects, like the school boiler program, that will reduce the amount of carbon being emitted into the atmosphere.

On the strength of the Travel Cool program, Better World was selected by Portland's Office of Sustainable Development as one of 10 winners of the 2003 BEST (Businesses for an Environmentally Sustainable Tomorrow) Business Award, being presented today.

'With the carbon offset credits, someone can say, 'I flew to visit Aunt Mabel without contributing to global warming,' ' says Curt Nichols, senior energy manager in the Sustainable Development Office and the man who coordinates the BEST awards program.

Founded by Mitch Rofsky in 1999 to provide environmentally friendly travel services nationwide, Better World also offers, among other things, roadside assistance to bicyclists and discounted rates on electric-hybrid car rentals and ecotourism.

The BEST awards are given annually to Portland businesses that demonstrate environmental savvy and innovation in five categories: energy efficiency, water conservation, waste reduction, transportation alternatives and product development.

Portland in the lead

This year's 10 winners, as well as the 40 or so other applicants, are helping Portland attain its goal of becoming a center for sustainable industries, says Jeff Cogen, policy director for Dan Saltzman, the city commissioner who oversees the Office of Sustainable Development.

'Portland is at the leading edge nationally in businesses thinking about sustainability,' Cogen says. And their efforts are benefiting their bottom lines.

Since his office began handing out the BEST Business Awards in 1993, Cogen says, the 80 award winners have collectively saved $13.2 million a year by trimming energy consumption, cutting water usage and improving storm-water quality.

'These businesses operate more efficiently and create better and more jobs for the economy,' he says.

In addition, the award winners have taken steps that have cut air pollution by an estimated 112,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year, he says. They have decreased annual gasoline usage by some 993,000 gallons and conserved about 868 million gallons of water each year, according to Nichols.

Show and tell

Because they are so visible, the projects of several of the winners are doing double duty as demonstration projects Ñ educating the public about environmentally responsible systems.

At the newly expanded Oregon Convention Center in Northeast Portland, rainwater is being collected from the 9-acre roof and funneled through exterior wall spouts into the Rain Garden, a series of shallow cobbled pools planted with native grasses, dogwood and iris. As the rain flows through the pools, it's cleaned by the plants and cooled before it enters the Willamette River.

'There aren't many sites in an urban environment that improve water before it goes into the system,' says Karl Schulz, senior project manager for the Oregon Convention Center's expansion.

By improving the quality of the rainwater, the Rain Garden reduces storm-water fees by $15,600 a year.

Across the river in the Pearl District, Gerding/Edlen Development's Brewery Blocks Ñ the ambitious five-block redevelopment of the old Blitz-Weinhard brewery and another of the 10 winners Ñ is an advertisement for integration of a photovoltaic solar system into exterior walls that are wired to produce electricity.

The system, which actually produces electricity in the walls, feeds the energy directly into the building's electrical system. That means Gerding/Edlen has to buy less electricity from Portland General Electric, Nichols explains.

'The project is a first in Portland Ñ a place that you don't associate with solar energy,' he says.

Across town, installation of a 'microturbine,' a self-contained unit that the building managers have dubbed 'magic in a box,' has put the 200 Market Building on the map as the first in the country with a system expected ultimately to become commonplace nationwide. The building is managed by 200 Market Associates, another of the 2003 winners.

The building's owner, John Russell, who also is chairman of the Portland Development Commission, has taken pains to show off the microturbine by creating a window-filled room at street level to display it along with information about it.

The refrigerator-sized box generates enough power to run the building's night and emergency lights while emitting 90 percent fewer pollutants than the average natural gas-fired utility power plant.

The system also is twice as efficient as the average plant, because exhaust heat from the microturbine is used to keep the boilers hot, according to Mark Montgomery, chief engineer for the 200 Market Building. The waste heat also is used to help drive the building's air conditioning system.

The combination, Nichols says, is 'a first in North America.'

Wiser water use

Less public and less flashy Ñ but equally effective at meeting the city's sustainability goals Ñ is award winner Sunshine Dairy Foods Inc.'s effort to reduce water use.

In one year, the company spent $10,000 to monitor and cut usage, and saved $75,000 in water costs and sewage fees, says Rick Wolf, operations manager.

'It was no rocket science at all,' Wolf says. 'We were dumb, and we wised up.'

Sunshine Dairy began monitoring its water consumption in spring 2000 to determine how the dairy could alter its usage patterns. The company then changed the settings on some of its equipment and began installing electronic controls.

'We changed one setting from 6.5 gallons a minute to 1.5 gallons a minute,' Wolf says. 'We also put a little automation in. Anybody who uses water could do this.'

Winners in the waste reduction category were DeConstruction Services and the Community Cycling Center.

DeConstruction offers an alternative to standard demolition of buildings, and salvages and reuses up to 85 percent of a building's major components at costs competitive with traditional demolition companies.

Community Cycling recycles bikes and provides environmental education to volunteer youths by teaching them how to tear down bicycles and reuse parts.

In the transportation alternatives category, the Lloyd District Transportation Management Association, a nonprofit coalition of employers in the Lloyd District, was singled out for its efforts to promote alternatives to the single-occupant vehicle: walking, telecommuting, and the use of bicycles, carpools and public transportation.

In the product development category, Coastwide Laboratories, a manufacturer and distributor of sanitary maintenance chemical and janitorial supplies, won a BEST award for its line of Sustainable Earth cleaning products.

These general-purpose glass, washroom, toilet and carpet cleaners, and odor eliminators use environmentally friendly soy- and sugar-based ingredients.

The People's Food Co-op, a natural food store in Southeast Portland, was a winner for the energy-saving technologies it incorporated during its renovation and expansion last year, including natural ventilation, daylighting, efficient lighting and above-average insulation.

The BEST awards were cosponsored this year by the city of Portland, Portland Business Alliance, Oregon Environmental Council, Portland Tribune, Earth Share of Oregon and the U.S. Green Building Council.