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Sustainability at Work

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Back to the farm, less waste per plate

How Crave Catering answered the question, "What would it look like to be completely sustainable?"

Mark holding radishes Crave Catering grew out of a taqueria Mark Lopez started with his family in 1997. In 2008, Crave Catering moved into their current catering facility in SE Portland. When they moved in, they retrofitted their lighting to be more energy efficient (with help from the Energy Trust of Oregon), installed energy efficient appliances, and adopted a goal of reducing their environmental impact by 10% each year. For years, they met this goal through things like improved energy efficiency, composting, and reducing waste.   

Then Mark asked himself, “What would it look like if we were completely sustainable?”

tomatoes on Mark's farm

Mark started growing vegetables and raising laying hens on the 2.5 acres he shares with his wife and two kids. He started with tomatoes, his favorite food. Today, Mark grows 25 varieties of tomatoes and 10 different types of summer squash, as well as different varieties of herbs and fruit trees. He also raises fifty laying hens that produce eggs for the business and manure for fertilizing the soil. For Mark and Crave Catering that meant closing the loop between farm and fork.

“I’m a tomatoholic. They’re my favorite thing in the world. Especially fresh picked off the vine.” 

Each morning Mark brings fresh eggs and vegetables from the farm to Crave’s kitchen in SE Portland. In the evening, Mark takes vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and whatever leftover food isn’t being fed to people back to the farm for the chickens and to make compost.

Mark is growing vegetables and raising hens as sustainably as possible. 

  • No pesticides, herbicides or chemicals are used.
  • chickens on the farmDrip irrigation cuts down on water waste.
  • Cover crops reduce soil erosion, naturally suppress weeds and add organic matter back into the soil. 

Crave makes smart use of their leftovers to cut down on food waste. 

  1. Clients can choose to keep their leftovers.
  2. Remaining leftovers are offered to employees.
  3. Large quantities of leftovers are donated to local food rescue organizations.
  4. If food has been sitting out for a while, it gets fed to the chickens or composted. 

Continued improvement

Mark takes time to fully understand the environmental and social impacts of his business, and isn’t afraid to change practices if a better option is available. For example, back in 2008, Crave’s truck ran on biodiesel, with the intent of fueling up on recycled cooking oil. But when Mark learned that the biodiesel available to him was a virgin product coming from largely GMO corn, he sold the truck, and bought a hybrid vehicle, shifting his focus to reduced fuel use.

Community involvement

It’s no surprise Mark thinks deeply about sustainability. He grew up in a house that had a vegetable garden, turned off lights and unplugged things when they weren’t being used. Mark’s environmental work extends beyond his farm and kitchen; he’s been a member of Greenpeace for twenty years and is a founding member of the Sustainable Catering Association. 

Crave Catering regularly donates food to Potluck in the Park and the Union Gospel Mission. Crave also supports the Oregon Food Bank and has taken part in their annual auction for the last three years. 

Plans for the future

Mark hopes to someday expand to a much larger biodynamic farm with livestock: beef, pork, goats for milk and cheese, laying and boiler hens, and maybe even specialty bison and quail. On the farm, livestock would be rotation grazed to build up the soil. He even dreams of opening a small winery in the growing Southern Washington wine scene. He would also love to have his own event space, where clients could hold events on the farm itself. 

root vegetables in bathtub

Learn more about Crave Catering's farm and sustainability practices.

Paper 101: Pushing the envelope on Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Tips to reduce, reuse and recycle paper.


This should be your first focus because it will save you the most money. 

  • Set defaults on your printers and computers for two-sided printing. Folks that absolutely must print single-sided can learn to override the default when necessary.
  • Learn about your printer’s features like “mailbox” and “ID” printing. They will help minimize forgotten and/or repeated print jobs. Check your manual or call your copier rep/technician if you need help with this.

Encourage thinking beyond printing/copying:

  • Switch to electronic invoicing, accounting and receipts. 
  • Consider direct deposit paychecks. (Give employees the option to print their own stub if they want one.) 
  • Set-up an electronic archive process.   


People often forget this step before they recycle their paper.

  • Collect and reuse paper: Keep a marked tray or small box on the counter, near the printer, to collect unwanted single-sided print jobs. People can dip into the stash for scratch paper, or if you build up enough, you can create notepads. 
  • Give it to the kids: If your office prints large, single-side maps, architectural drawings, advertising, etc., donate the single-sided drafts to a local school. Kids will use the blank side for drawing and the printed side for arts and crafts. (They’ll also enjoy getting a peak into the adult world by “studying” the printed side of the paper.) Call Metro for donation locations: 503-234-3000.
  • Reuse packaging material as much as possible. You can also create a custom rubber stamp to let customers know that you’ve used a recycled box or envelope to send their purchase. Such as, “Please excuse my looks, I’m re-used.”
  • Donate packaging: Check with your business neighbors to see if they can reuse the materials. Some shipping stores will accept clean packing materials.You may save them money as well.  


Even with your best reduction efforts, you’re likely to have some paper “waste.” Make sure it’s getting recycled and not going to the landfill.

Make it convenient Position recycling containers throughout your office, especially wherever there’s a trashcan. Don’t forget the break room, conference rooms and reception areas.  

Yes, you can recycle that! Let everyone know that they can put all sorts of paper in recycling:

  • There’s no need to remove staples, paperclips, or plastic coil binders if you’re busy. 
  • Envelopes with clear plastic windows can go in as is, as can tissue boxes with plastic on top.
  • Magazines and catalogs are okay, too. 

Just avoid including large amounts of super-slick or heavily-coated paper.

Paper 101: We need to talk about the 4,000 elephants in the room

Businesses in the Portland metro region are throwing out the equivalent of 4,000 elephants worth of paper each year.

Did you know? Businesses in the Portland metro region are still throwing out 30,432 tons of paper each year.

That’s the equivalent of 4,000 elephants worth of paper going to the landfill!

4 elephants x 1,000 = tons of paper going to the landfill

Portland businesses continue to make great strides in reducing their paper use and making recycling easy for their staff – but there’s still more that can be done.

3 Steps to reduce paper waste:

1. Identify where your workplace uses paper:

      • Printers & copiers.
      • Paychecks.
      • Invoices – that you send and receive from others.
      • Other… don’t forget paper or packaging that others send to you.

2. Ask these questions for print projects, in this order of priority:

  • Can we reduce the amount of paper used?
  • Is the paper only printed on one side? Can we reuse it?
  • Is all waste paper getting recycled?

3. Maintain, improve and push the envelope:

  • Acknowledge and reinforce what’s working well.
  • Improve existing efforts that need attention.
  • Start new efforts [hint: try a pilot– people will be more likely to give it a go].

You know what they say... “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”*

* No elephants were harmed in the making of this blog. The Sustainability at Work program loves elephants and does not condone eating them. 

PeopleTowels at Research into Action

Learn how Research Into Action has nearly eliminated paper towel waste.

man with towel Research Into Action’s Green Team wanted to get rid of paper towels. They looked into electric hand dryers and found their building doesn’t have the right wiring for them, and they were worried about the noise in their small office. Since they already used cloth napkins in the kitchen, they wanted to see if they could try cloth towels in the bathroom as well.

The firm of about 25 staff has always been sustainability minded and their President and Owner, Jane Peters, is very supportive of their Green Team. Almost one year into the program, reusable towels are habit and paper towel use has almost been eliminated.

How they started

PeopleTowel drying on a cabinetMaria Everhart, green team member and champion of sustainability, got inspired by personal hand towels after her husband heard about how in Japan people have been expected to carry around reusable, personal hand towels for decades.

She and another colleague found PeopleTowels, an American company that makes personal quick-dry hand towels out of 100% organic Fair Trade Cotton and with eco-safe dyes. PeopleTowels seemed like a great solution, but the green team still had to overcome another challenge: how to hang the towels to dry in the bathroom without drilling holes in the wall.

Maria then discovered Jelly Bean Hooks (available for purchase on amazon), suction cup utility hooks that are BPA, PVC and Phthalate-Free. You can even recycle them at special facilities in Portland, (look online or call 503-234-3000 to find your nearest location).

What they bought

  • 51 PeopleTowels, enough towels for two weeks.
  • 30 Jelly Bean Hooks.

How it works

  • close up of drying towel on hookEach employee grabs a clean towel on Monday to use for the week.
  • Members of the green team take turns washing the towels (and the cloth napkins used in the lunchroom) at home on the weekend.
  • There are two towels for each staff member just in case someone forgets to wash them one weekend or if guests would like to use one when visiting.

Staff do different things with the towels, allowing each person to find their comfort zone.

  • Some write their name on one towel and use the same towel every week.
  • Some keep the week’s towel at their desk.
  • Others leave their towel in the bathroom on hooks. The hooks are labeled to help staff keep track of their towel.

The results

  • Paper towel use has gone from one large trash bag of paper towels a week to close to zero paper towels.
  • After two years, they will have recouped the money invested in the reusable towels through reduced paper towel costs – and then the money that would have gone to paper towels can be used for other things.

Read more about sustainability at Research Into Action.

Green Team holding towels

Members of Research into Action Green Team pose with PeopleTowels. From left to right, Maria Everhart, Benjamin Messer, Meghan Bean, Doré Mangan and Jordan Folks. Check out Maria’s family website about their passive house!

Environmental savings

The environmental savings of reusable towels add up. In the first year, Research Into Action will:

  • Save over 6 trees.
  • Reduce landfill waste by 575 lbs.
  • Conserve 6,250 gallons of water.
  • Cut carbon emission by 850 lbs.

If 1 in 4 adults in the US switched to PeopleTowels for a year, it would:


Want a PeopleTowel for yourself? Find them for sale in Portland at Seven Planet, Powell’s Books, and certified silver Mirador Community Store. Or buy from the PeopleTowel’s website and save on bulk purchases.

5 Reasons to stop idling after 10 seconds

Do you commute by car or drive for work? Reduce your impact: stop idling.

3.8 million gallons of fuel is wasted by idling in the U.S. every day

Did you know that if you’re stopped for more than 10 seconds, it’s better to turn off your car rather than idle?

Stop idling and take comfort in the fact that you're minimizing your impact on human health and the planet. Learn more here. 

2 minutes of idling is equal to 1 mile of driving

  1. It saves gas: If you idle for 5 minutes dropping your kids off in the morning, 3 minutes at the drive-through and 4 minutes listening to the end of a news story in your driveway, you've burned enough gas to drive 24 miles.

  2. It saves money: Americans spend a whopping $13 million every day on unnecessary idling. (That's 3.8 million gallons of fuel, wasted!) 

  3. It saves the planet: For every 10 minutes of idling you cut from your life, you'll save one pound of carbon dioxide - a harmful greenhouse gas - from being released into the atmosphere.

  4. It makes us healthier: Idling is linked to increases in asthma, allergies, heart and lung disease and cancer. Kids are especially vulnerable because they inhale more air per pound of body weight. Lots of idling happens near schools.

  5. It's good for your engine: Idling can damage engine components. According to the California Energy Commission, "Fuel is only partially combusted when idling because an engine does not operate at its peak temperature. This leads to the build-up of fuel residues on cylinder walls that can damage engine components and increase fuel consumption." 

Even on cold mornings, the days of idling in the driveway to warm up your car are over - today's cars warm up more efficiently when they're driving than sitting in a driveway.

since the electric ignition became universal in the mid 80s, restarting your vehicle does not result in significant fuel loss

What can you do?

  • Take a pledge to stop idling.
  • Print posters to share with your coworkers.
  • Turn it off when stopping for more than 10 seconds.

the truth about idling poster thumbnail

Adapted from Sustainable America.