ABR scores high in sustainability, low in self-promotion

When Oregon Business Magazine released its 2013 list of “Top 100 Best Green Companies to Work For” last month, Forest Grove’s ABR, Inc. Environmental Research and Services wasn’t on it.

That’s not because the company’s sustainability standards have lapsed since it placed 49th on the list in 2011 (scoring 265.59 out of 300).

It’s because ABR is less interested in publicity than practice, according to Brian Cooper, vice president and senior scientist for the company.

“We don’t advertise ourselves as such, we just live by it,” said Cooper, explaining why ABR hasn’t reapplied for the “Best Green Companies” honor.

Oregon Business uses a survey to rank “nominated” companies according to employee satisfaction, sustainable practices and employer benefits. Participation in the survey is voluntary and free.

“Sustainability feeds on itself,” said Cooper. In addition to higher job satisfaction for employees and cost-saving energy reductions, “the reputation as a ‘company that cares’ really pays off,” he said.

Headquartered in Alaska, ABR opened its Forest Grove office in 1995 and started its sustainable efforts here by radically renovating its 1895 building at 1928 Cedar St.

“It’s like recycling a house,” said Cooper.

The vintage floral wallpaper remains, but the baseboard heaters were exchanged for a more-efficient heat-pump system. Also added were solar panels (which supply roughly 20 percent of the company’s energy, Cooper estimates), furniture with high-recycled content, and energy-efficient equipment such as Energy Star appliances, fluorescent lights and flat-screen monitors.

Employee incentives include $3.50 per employee each day he or she bikes, carpools, or walks to work — which several of the 15 Forest Grove employees do.

“It gets some vehicles off the road and frees up parking,” Cooper said.

In the company’s Alaska office, eight employees have taken advantage of ABR’s $1,500 subsidy to buy hybrid vehicles, and the company also switched to a more fuel-efficient airline.

About 7.5 percent of ABR’s profits goes to charities such as West Tuality Habitat for Humanity or the Oregon Food Bank. ABR also matches up to $300 a year of employees’ individual charitable donations — as well as paying them for up to four volunteer hours a month.

On top of that, ABR taxes its carbon footprint (the amount of carbon dioxide it generates during the course of business). Employees calculate their individual carbon usage and the company then “taxes” itself about $7 per ton, donating the annual total to groups focused on tree planting, wind energy or turning cattle-farm methane into fuel.

“It’s an intangible benefit for employees to work for a company that believes in the same thing as they do,” said Cooper. “We measure our success not only by economic measures, but by social impact and environmental impact.

“I just want to show people it can be done and get people excited.”

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