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Sustainability at Work

Providing free tools and expertise to achieve your goals

Phone: 503-823-7037


Top tips from your peers

We captured the top tips from attendees, as well as success stories that you may be able to replicate at your own organization.

logoGreen-minded staff from different organizations around Portland gathered at Sustainability at Work’s third Problem Solved event to share successes and trouble-shoot challenges.

Top Tips

Start small.

  • Small changes are easier to make, and it’s easier to capitalize on successes.
  • Pilot new practices – with a small group, or for a short amount of time – before implementing on a large scale.


  • Focus on employee education at each step in a new initiative.
  • Share information in multiple ways and places: meetings, emails and web content.
  • Repetition helps the information stick, and caters to different learning styles.

Know your culture.

  • What’s your company culture? Suit and tie or quirky and creative?
  • Find messaging, actions, and activities that will resonate with your coworkers.
  • Find champions that know the company’s culture.
  • Know what motivates your coworkers - recognition, prizes, food – to take action.

Get support.

  • Don’t be shy about reaching out to peers.
  • Look to local universities like PSU for student support.
  • Strategically engage management to make sure they have your back.
  • Use Sustainability at Work staff for guidance – that’s why we’re here!


  • Make your achievements known, and have fun with it!
  • Celebrate within your Green Team, or involve all staff in a celebration (it might help them pay more attention to the achievement!)

Ready to make your organization more sustainable? Contact us to connect with an advisor or peers!

Recycling containers – from simple to sophisticated, tips for a successful set up

Whether you’re looking to revamp your office recycling or are just starting out, here are some ideas for your workplace recycling system.

Five things to consider for a successful workplace recycling system

  • Make it easy. Place a recycling bin next to every garbage can and place compost bins near where people eat.
  • Use labels. Label recycling, compost, and trash containers clearly and prominently.
  • Be consistent. To decrease confusion, make your recycling and compost systems consistent throughout your workplace.
  • Provide Reminders. Provide periodic reminders of what gets recycled, composted, and trashed. Contact us to schedule a refresher presentation.
  • Work with Janitors. Talk with your janitorial staff, especially if you’re changing your current set up. Clarify if they’ll be emptying all containers, or if staff need to empty desk containers into central collection containers.

Example setups from some of our certified businesses.

Some workplaces value aesthetically pleasing waste areas. Recycling, compost, and trash bins can be placed in cabinets. This approach keeps different types of waste bins together and requires clear and informative labeling for proper disposal.

Labeled recycling bins
Schwabe, Williamson, & Wyatt’s bins are contained but also visible. Labels make it clear what gets disposed of where.

Well-labeled, accessible recycling bins
The Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA) places their waste bins near where people work and labels their compost “Food Scraps,” clearly informing people what goes into the bin.

For some people, remembering what gets disposed of where is a challenge. Large visual signs and labels are a great way to help people remember what goes where. Sustainability at Work offers free recycling and compost signs for businesses, or you can make your own!

Recycling bins labeled with images
Fortis Construction’s waste bins are nicely labeled with images showing what goes into each bin.

Color-coded waste bins
The waste bins at PECI are nicely color coded – blue for recycling, green for compost, and black for trash. Large signs above show what goes into each bin. People can see into the bins as a reminder of what to put where and as a way to encourage proper disposal.

Some workplaces produce non-curbside recyclables such as batteries, toner and ink cartridges, computers and other electronics, plastic film (bubble wrap, shrink wrap, plastic bags), and other rigid plastics such as cups and clamshells. These items can be collected separately and taken – usually by staff volunteers – to a recycling depots. Call to find depots near you: 503-234-3000.

Several bins for non-curbside items
Mahlum’s recycling area uses extra bins to collect and sort non-curbside recycling items such as plastic bags and film, cork, Styrofoam, batteries, fluorescent light bulbs, and electronic equipment.

Free and simple is good too!
Many businesses use our free recycling boxes under desks and in break rooms. We also provide posters to use on, or near, waste containers.

You could also make your own posters, though we recommend running them by us to confirm all the information is correct. Recycling and composting can be confusing, and we’ve seen posters that unintentionally create confusion.

Guest post written by Mia Reback, a summer intern with the Sustainability at Work program.

Workplace electric vehicle charging

Learn how to set up an electric vehicle charging station at your workplace.

Workplace Charging ChallengeDid you know that Oregon is one of the top markets in the country for electric vehicles? Employers can encourage and support electric vehicle commuting by providing vehicle charging at work. 

Drive Oregon, a state-supported nonprofit organization, has partnered with the U.S. Department of Energy Workplace Charging Challenge to help businesses develop a strategy for accommodating electric vehicle commuters. This can be as simple as allowing employees to plug into an existing outlet and use a dollar or two of electricity, or it can involve dedicated equipment from vendors who bill employees.

Advantages of electric vehicles
Plug-in electric vehicles
can offer consumers significant advantages over gasoline-powered vehicles, including savings on fuel costs, added convenience from home refueling, and reduced maintenance costs. As employees adopt the new technology, the option to charge at work is increasingly being sought out by commuters.

Benefits to employers
An employer providing EV charging gains sustainability visibility, LEED points, and employee attraction and retention, among other advantages.

Take the pledge
Employers pledging to be a part of the Department of Energy’s Workplace Charging demonstrate leadership and receive special recognition from the DOE and Drive Oregon. The Challenge Pledge steps are:

  1. Commit: Complete the pledge (Email Zach Henkin at Drive Oregon to pledge) and identify a primary contact for Workplace Charging inquires.
  2. Assess: Assess charging demand at one or more worksites.
  3. Plan: Develop a Partner Plan within six months of signing the pledge.
  4. Communicate: Publicly announce partnership in the DOE Workplace Charging Challenge and a plan for workplace charging within six months of signing the pledge.
  5. Share: Report workplace charging progress and plans on an annual basis.

To pledge, email Zach Henkin with Drive Oregon, who will help you with the DOE pledge process so you can access resources more quickly.

Chevy Volt chargingGet resources and recognition
Employers who take the Pledge can access technical assistance, informational resources, and an information-sharing forum. The Workplace Charging Challenge website offers employer handbooks, a sample employee survey, fact sheets, case studies and more. Successes will be recognized, and the best practices that pledge-takers identify will be shared with other businesses.

This Portland firm’s already on board!
Gold Certified JLA Public Involvement joined the Workplace Charging Challenge last year. Their charging station, installed in early 2013, provides power for the company's vehicle as well as three employee vehicles. Learn more about what they’ve done.

JUST. The Social Justice Label

A new tool for internal evaluation and sharing achievements in social responsibility.

Our sustainability advisors know that Portland businesses take pride in supporting our local community and their employees, and that you’re hungry for more ways to contribute. Sustainability at Work invited Sam Wright with the International Living Future Institute to share information about the JUST label – an exciting new tool for internal evaluation and sharing achievements in social responsibility.

What is a socially responsible business?
Businesses and other organizations are uniquely positioned to influence and advance social justice within their communities, but it is difficult to develop and communicate a comprehensive social responsibility program. How should organizations define the scope of their engagement? What exactly does a socially just organization look like?

Just. social justice label exampleTo help answer these questions, the International Living Future Institute has launched the JUST program, an innovative transparency platform for organizations to reveal their commitment to social justice in these six areas:

  • Equity
  • Diversity
  • Safety
  • Worker benefit
  • Local benefit
  • Stewardship

Measure your impacts, and learn where to take action
JUST is a social justice evaluation tool and voluntary disclosure program for all types and sizes of organizations. It is not a verification or certification; rather, the program provides a detailed framework for organizations to evaluate themselves and inform the public of the results.

The six JUST categories are subdivided into twenty-two indicator metrics, each with their own simple yet specific and measurable actions. Organizations can earn up to three stars for each metric. Scores for each indicator are summarized elegantly on a label, which is publicized through the JUST online database.

How to get started
There is no minimum threshold for participation. All that is required is that participating organizations have employees. Engaging is easy; the JUST site provides a simple webform for organizations to enter all required information and upload documentation in one place. 

In the spirit of equity and inclusion, it’s free to register for JUST. To support the program, we request an optional tax-deductible donation when your label is published.

As you engage with the program, know that you aren’t alone. Responsive staff members of the International Living Future Institute are waiting to help you move beyond business as usual: join JUST today, and make social justice your business.

Get started.

Make wellness a part of your company’s culture

Small changes add up to big results.

Our sustainability advisors know Portland businesses take pride in supporting our local community and their employees, and that you’re hungry for more ways to contribute. Sustainability at Work invited Elizabeth Barth of Multnomah County’s Community Wellness & Prevention Program to share information about a great local resource that’s free to participate in.

The business case for investing in employee wellness
Most adults spend over half of their waking hours at work, which makes worksites important for encouraging and supporting healthy lifestyles.

  • It’s a great way to attract employees, which can reduce the cost of recruiting and hiring.
  • It helps employees feel their best, which boosts productivity, and reduces sick time.
  • It lets employees know their employer cares about them, which increases job satisfaction.

"Try fruit instead" posterHow to make your work environment the best it can be
Healthy worksites are those that encourage health and wellbeing as part of the organizational culture. Employers can encourage this culture through policies, workplace guidelines, and simply by making is easy to be healthy while at work. Examples include:

  • Set up healthy vending machine and catering policies.
  • Provide healthy snacks.
  • Encourage staff to take the stairs, or get away from their desk for short walk breaks.
  • Provide private space for breastfeeding moms.
  • Set up a tobacco-free workplace policy.

Resources & assistance
The Multnomah County Health Department’s Healthy Worksites Initiative provides free assistance to companies that want to make healthy changes at work, which includes:

  • Tailored guidance based on a company’s strengths, needs, and individual culture.
  • Examples of what works and what other organizations have done.
  • Materials, such as Healthy Meetings and break room supplies.
  • Stairwell signs, breastfeeding signs, and worksite wellness posters.

Even seemingly small worksite changes can add up to big results! Every step in the direction of wellness can make a difference. It takes each of us working together to support healthy workplaces and a healthy workforce.

Organizations that want to start or improve healthy worksite efforts are eligible for free resources, while supplies last.

If you’re not sure where to begin, take this online assessment to get started. You’ll be introduced to a variety of policies and programs, and see where your organization might have some critical opportunities.