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Certified sustainability

Local businesses are working with a Lake Oswego citizens group and Clackamas County to boost the city's economic and environmental health


REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Kyra Bussanich has worked with Duke Castle of the Lake Oswego Sustainability Network to reduce her businesss carbon footprint. For their efforts, Kyras Bake Shop has been named a Leader in Sustainability. Maybe swapping compostable cups for containers made from post-consumer recycled materials doesn’t sound like a big deal, but to Kyra Bussanich, it was a revelation.

For the owner of Kyra’s Bake Shop, sustainability is important. Protecting the environment is essential. And so when Bussanich learned that she was serving coffee drinks in cups that didn’t break down in an efficient way, she worked with the Clackamas County Office of Sustainability to find an alternative.

“They have been instrumental in helping us,” Bussanich says, “and just opening our eyes to different materials that could be recycled.”

The advice couldn’t have come at a better time.

Bussanich recently moved her gluten-free bake shop to a new location on A Avenue. The space is five times the size of her previous shop, but Bussanich still wanted to reduce her business’s carbon footprint. And so she joined a freshman group of companies taking part in a pilot program called Leaders in Sustainability.

Working with the county and the Lake Oswego Sustainability Network, Bussanich discovered a wealth of environmentally friendly practices. She learned about those compostable cups, for example, and that other materials she had always assumed were waste — like the shrink wrap used to contain raw cookie dough and to cover trays of baked goods — could be recycled.

Making those kinds of changes helped Bussanich earn gold certification from the county as a leader in sustainability. And it also helped align Kyra’s Bake Shop with the goals of the Sustainability Network, which believes that environmental, economic and social best practices can improve the health not only of a business but also of the community where it thrives.

“The idea is just to sort of get away from the polarization that comes up with community issues,” says Duke Castle, one of the group’s founders, “and to look at how we can work together to build a community that's resilient — something our children and grandchildren are going to want to live in.”

A sustainability checklist

Seven Lake Oswego businesses have begun the Leaders in Sustainability certification process: Kyra’s Bake Shop, Babica Hen Cafe, Gubancs Pub & Restaurant, Accessories from the Heart, Chuck’s Coffee House, Lamb’s Market and Tucci Ristorante.

Here’s how it works: Applicants are given a checklist of more than 80 “best practices” — actions ranging from putting computers in “sleep” mode while out of use to providing a living wage to all employees. If a company practices 14 specific actions, sets one new goal and demonstrates at least one community engagement action, it receives basic certification. Additional actions can earn it a silver or gold certification. Certifications last for two years, and must then be renewed.

“Our network's going to promote these businesses, and we’re working with the Chamber of Commerce to promote them more widely,” says Castle, a former marketing manager for Hewlett Packard and a longtime sustainability consultant. “All that’s required is for you to have a willingness to sit down with the county and go through the checklist.”

Sustainability is hot right now, Castle says, and in marketing parlance, it’s a buzzword that plays well with younger generations. The Lake Oswego business community would be wise, he says, to take that to heart — especially in a city where the median age is on the rise.

“We need more young people,” Castle says, “and there are some studies, like one done by the Pew Research Center, that say Millennials care about sustainability. They make decisions about where to live and where to work based on it.

“For businesses that have records of sustainable practices,” he adds, “our feeling is they could be attracting a younger audience.”

REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Joe Buck, the owner of Babica Hen Cafe and Gubancs Pub & Restaurant, was among the first commercial customers to sign up for Republic Services composting program.

Industry-specific answers

Joe Buck, the owner of Babica Hen Cafe and Gubancs Pub & Restaurant, agrees, and he praises the Leaders in Sustainability program as a “comprehensive” solution.

“It goes well beyond trash (disposal) to good office and employment practices,” says Buck, who is also a Lake Oswego city councilor. “It seems like a program that goes full circle in sustainability.”

One of the actions a business can take to qualify for a sustainability certification is food composting. For the past few years, both of Buck’s restaurants have been using Republic Services’ composting program.

“We were some of the first commercial customers to sign on. We let them actually analyze our trash,” Buck says. “We’ve been able to divert almost 80 percent of our waste to compost.”

Every business is different, Buck says, “so what Clackamas County is trying to do in getting this program off the ground is look for industry-specific ways to promote sustainability. Food waste is obviously a huge component of the program.”

In his role on the City Council, Buck says, he is looking for ways to make sustainability more accessible to businesses and homes throughout Lake Oswego.

“The largest barrier to doing that is just space,” he says. “It would be great if, when new family or commercial buildings are constructed, we require they have the space to allow for both the regular trash and the organics — some type of code change to make sure we’re allowing enough space in those trash areas so that businesses (and residents) can participate in this program.”

REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Carol Winston, who owns Accessories from the Heart on A Avenue, switched out all of the light bulbs in her store for more-efficient LED lights. The result: My PGE bills have gone down by about 11 percent, she says.

Long-term benefits

Carol Winston, who owns Accessories from the Heart on A Avenue, says she was inspired to seek certification after hearing Castle’s persuasive presentation to the Lake Oswego Business Alliance, a group that represents downtown businesses. Winston, who says she hates waste with a passion, had long been trying to implement her own sustainability practices.

Two years ago, she switched out all of the light bulbs in her store for far-more-efficient LED lights. Though expensive, she says she has seen the start of ongoing savings.

“I used to have to air condition my store in the middle of winter, because those halogens gave out so much heat,” Winston says. “Now, my PGE bills have gone down by about 11 percent.”

The Leaders in Sustainability program itself is free, but some recommended actions — while money-saving in the long run — may require additional costs up front. Winston can speak to the often daunting costs of making positive changes in the name of sustainability: switching to LED lighting cost her about $9,500, although she later received an Oregon Energy Credit grant for $4,000 to help defray costs.

Still, Castle points out, businesses don’t always have to make such budget-shattering changes to achieve sustainability.

“What we're doing is saying, ‘Look, there's certain trends, like getting off fossil fuel, that are becoming more key,” Castle says. “Either you wait until you have no choice, or when you’re maybe remodeling your business and realize you have the opportunity to think about a different kind of energy source. It’s prudent to look at this stuff and do it when it’s cost-effective.”

Baby steps

The grassroots Lake Oswego Sustainability Network began, in part, as a way to bridge the gap between city and citizenry, Castle says.

“In my consulting, I've seen that councils come and go, but if sustainability lives in a community, it's been because there's a citizens group,” he says.

In the spring of 2011, Castle says, the City Council and the Citizens Budget Committee sought to eliminate a number of city jobs, including the sustainability coordinator position. “A group of us went to the Budget Committee and said there's actually some real economic benefit to keeping this job that will more than pay for itself.”

The Council agreed and the position was saved, Castle says, but “we realized they didn't fully feel or see that there was strong support for sustainability in Lake Oswego.”

So Castle and his wife, Jan, joined with Mary Ratcliff, Lisa Adatto and Dorothy Atwood to talk about forming a citizen’s group to fill the gap. Using the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition as a model, the group focused on four areas of interest: food, energy, water and economic vitality.

They recruited more members into a planning group, including Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce President Doug Cushing, Lake Oswego Sustainability Advisory Board co-chair Gary Hanifan, realtor Lynda O’Neill, Kumon Learning Center founder Debbie Siegel, Lake Oswego Redevelopment Director Brant Williams and Bussanich.

Together, they drafted an economic vitality plan, then organized into four sub-groups: Duke Castle led the Economic Vitality efforts, Atwood took on Food, Adatto took Energy and Ratcliff took Water. Members include an engineer, an architect, a banker and a restaurateur.

The group also learned from previous community efforts.

“What we heard was that there had been lots of economic-vitality planning efforts that really went nowhere. They were too ambitious,” Castle says. “We were told that you’ve got to take baby steps and show results.

“We were fortunate to find out that Clackamas County’s Office of Sustainability was in the process of developing the Leaders in Sustainability program,” he adds. “Our feeling was that this fit exactly with what we were looking for.”

For Bussanich, the results go beyond the obvious environmental benefits.

“For a minimal time commitment,” she says, “it can be a beneficial thing for the community as well.”

Winston agrees.

“I really have to applaud the city for their support of the Sustainability Network,” she says. “I think the more we can get business owners and the city — different entities within our community — working together, it just makes us stronger.”

For more information about the Lake Oswego Sustainability Network or the Leaders in Sustainability program, visit facebook.com/LakeOswegoSustainabilityNetworkor go to clackamas.us/recycling/business.html

Contact Saundra Sorenson at 503-636-1281 ext. 107 or ssorenson@lakeoswegoreview.com.

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