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Sustainability at Work

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How could a restaurant cut its energy in half? Ask Tamale Boy.

Learn how Tamale Boy uses 50% less energy than similar restaurants.

owner Jaime Soltero Jr. poses next to tamales

Tamale Boy owner Jaime Soltero Jr. grew a brick-and-mortar business out of his popular tamale truck. When it was time to build his restaurant, he wanted it to be as efficient as possible.

And he succeeded! The Tamale Boy restaurant uses about half the energy of a restaurant he formerly helped manage.

Here’s how:

  • Energy Star rated equipment everywhere: fryer, ice machine, refrigerated cases, and dishwasher
  • Super-efficient LED lighting
  • A tankless water heater, which provides both energy savings and improved performance
  • A NEST thermostat that is smart enough to learn the restaurant’s schedule, program itself, and can be managed from Jaime’s phone
  • A vent hood with a Variable Speed Drive exhaust fan that automatically senses when to ramp down
  • Occupancy sensors in the bathrooms
  • Insulation in the walls and ceilingchef cooking in Tamale Boy kitchen

Thanks to the investments in energy efficiency:

  •  Air flows better in the restaurant, especially in the kitchen
  •  Power and gas bills are about 40% lower
  •  And, his staff enjoys working in an environment that is conscious of being energy efficient.

Don’t forget the food!

Not only is the building sustainable, the food is too! Tamale Boy buys organic local vegetables and meat when possible and has plenty of vegetarian and vegan options on the menu.

The tamales are made following a recipe passed down in Jaime’s family for years, “it’s tradition that makes them so special.”

tomatoes   women behind pile of kale at Tamale Boy   pile of tomales

Tamale Boy is located at 1764 NE Dekum St, Portland OR 97211.

Want to green your restaurant? Get in touch with a sustainability advisor and visit our website to learn more.

4 ways to get coworkers excited about Earth Day

Try these tips during April, or any time of the year.

green team1. Give ‘em the stats

Did you know recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to run your TV for three hours? Or that recycling creates four jobs for every one job created in waste management and disposal industries? 

True or False? Ten seconds of idling your car wastes more gas than restarting. (True.) Americans throw out 25% of the food they buy each year. (True.)

Which uses more water to produce? A pound beef or a pound of chicken? Beer or coffee? Find out.

We love a good infographic! Check out these graphics about electronics, idling, unplugging, and food waste.

electronics   idling   unplug   food waste

Information is key. Find more informative recycling stats and then share what you've learned with your coworkers. 

2. Don’t just tell them, show them

Videos are a great way to educate and engage. Email them to staff, show them at the start of a meeting, or organize a brown bag.

How to use a paper towel

Only 5 minutes! You use paper towels to dry your hands every day, but chances are, you're doing it wrong. In this enlightening and funny short talk, Joe Smith reveals the trick to perfect paper towel technique. (Filmed at TEDxConcordiaUPortland.)

The Story of Stuff

Where does our stuff come from, and where does it go after it we toss it in the trash? This engaging 20-minute video has been watch over 40 million times in the five years since it came out! Already seen it? Check out their other videos about electronics and cosmetics.

3. Get crafty

Make your own green cleaners

Sienna Skinner from Lensbaby, one of our gold certified businesses, shared her recipe for a counter and window cleaner:

  • ½ cup vinegar
  • 3½ cups water
  • 1 tsp liquid soap

“Put in a spray bottle and you're set! One of the things I love about this stuff is that you can use it with your regular kitchen sponge and not wonder what you're putting in the sponge you wash your dishes with. It's just vinegar!” – Sienna Skinner

Find more green cleaner recipes here.

Grow an avocado tree from a pitAvocado pit

It’s easier than you think! Check out this how-to poster. Make a big batch of guacamole, bring supplies, and encourage people to take home their soon-to-be plants, or keep them at work so co-workers can watch the evolution. (One of our coworkers tried this a few years ago, and her “desk plant” grew into a 4 foot tall avocado tree!)

4. And for the green team…

How do you motivate people to reduce their energy? Watch this engaging, eight minute TED Talk, and find out. Then talk about how these ideas could be applied at your own workplace.

What type of changemaker are you?

It takes all types of skills to make changes within your workplace. Take this quiz to see if you’re a Networker, Communicator, or Builder. Then talk with other members of your green team to see what they are, and how you can capitalize on each other’s strengths.

Biggest challenges, best solutions: top take-aways from Problem Solved

Individuals from a wide variety of Portland businesses gathered to share challenges and advice around workplace sustainability efforts.

Problem Solved logo

Last week, 60 individuals from a variety of organizations around Portland gathered to share challenges and advice around workplace sustainability. The crowd at Sustainability at Work’s fourth Problem Solved event was engaged, and ready to share challenges and offer solutions.

Here are some of the top challenges we heard at the event, along with advice provided by fellow attendees:

How do we get buy-in from management?

Problem Solved networking conversations

  1. Suggest piloting a new initiative.
    • It's easier to get sign-off on a trial run - and then if all goes well, it'll be easier to make it permanent. 
    • Track complaints, issues and resolutions, and outcomes during the pilot – so that if you have a few vocal dissenters, their voice is put into broader perspective about the overall workplace.
  2. Speak to their interests.
    • Improved employee retention (through engaged staff)
    • Reduced operating costs (through reducing paper, energy, waste, etc.)
    • Marketing benefits
    • Responding to client demand for sustainability 

How can I get co-workers to care?

  1. Connect sustainability to other topics they care about.
    • One workplace used pedometers (free from their healthcare providers) to kick off a #steps challenge across teams.
    • Switch to green cleaners - better for your health, and your janitorial staff’s.
    • Join forces with other staff engagement efforts – safety, professional development, etc. – and reward staff for participation and leadership in all areas. This approach had great success at Pacific Continental Bank (formerly Capital Pacific Bank).
    • This type of engagement gets staff talking and connecting - and builds a great platform for future sustainability initiatives.
  2. Invite proposals and ideas from all staff, not just the green team.
    • Don’t be confined to a committee or green team as the only way to engage.
    • Solicit ideas for your next project from all staff.
    • Make it a challenge and award prizes for ideas submitted.
    • Assign an annual budget to help winning proposals get implemented. Staff from CLEAResult (formerly PECI) had great results from their Sustainability Kickstart campaign. 
  3. Focus on one initiative at a time – and give it time.
    • Change takes time, and successfully engaging an entire workplace requires multiple strategies.
    • Read about how REACH Community Development cut their paper use in half through continued education and engagement.

Problem Solved networking conversations

We use so many paper towels!

  1. Encourage staff to use “just one” with this memorable 5 minute Portland TED Talk (that’s been watched over 2 million times!).
  2. Buy paper towels made with a high percentage of recycled content.
  3. Provide staff with individual towels or have communal cloth towels that get washed regularly by staff volunteers or a laundry service.

Looking for more ideas? Find more great tips and success stories from last year’s Problem Solved.

Have a challenge you’d like help with? Contact us, we’re here to help!

Green Teams: Words of Wisdom from Nicole Baber and REACH Community Development

We sat down with REACH’s green team leader and sustainability professional Nicole Baber to learn more about their green team and share tips with other businesses.

Since introducing sustainability into their strategic plan in 2009, REACH’s green team has been engaging employees and building a workplace culture of sustainability. We sat down with REACH’s green team leader and sustainability professional Nicole Baber to learn more about their green team and share tips with other businesses.

Nicole Baber

Nicole Baber, REACH Community Development

How it started

We first formed our green team in 2009 after a visit with Paul de Block from Sustainability at Work. Our starting team had 12 members (out of 65 total staff) and we quickly got to work grabbing all the low hanging fruit of office sustainability. Over the course of 5 years, we used the Sustainability at Work checklist to guide our sustainability actions.

The re-boot

When we ran out of low hanging fruit, out team started to fizzle out so we decided to dissolve the green team.  I stayed on to focus on sustainability in operations. After a few months, I decided to re-form a smaller green team. The new green team is five people, representing different departments, and we meet quarterly.

What our green team does:Green Scene sample page

  • Organize yearlong sustainability initiatives
  • Write and send out the “Green Scene,” our sustainability newsletter
  • Organize quarterly Green Days
  • Support participation in the Eco-Challenge
  • Plan Earth Week activities

Our green team picks, plans, and carries out yearlong sustainability campaigns. We found that focusing on one thing for a year gives us time to truly engage employees, change behaviors, and make a lasting impact. Each year when we add a new area of focus, the older ones continue alongside it as part of the status quo.

Paper reduction

Our first campaign was paper reduction. We started small with a goal to reduce paper by 10% after 6 months. The campaign was so successful, that by the end of 6 months we had achieved a 23% reduction! We decided to continue this campaign alongside others. It’s been almost 5 years since the initial campaign, and we’ve reduced our paper use by 59%! Learn more about REACH’s successful paper reduction campaign.

Highlight: 59% paper reduction over 5 yearWe found that focussing on one thing for a year gives us time to truly engage employees, change behaviors, and make a lasting impactTransportation

Our second campaign focused on transportation miles. We tracked mileage driven by each department before setting department specific goals. Since different parts of our company drive more than others, we decided that each department should compete against itself.

  • Highlight: learned structural ways to reduce transportation miles, like getting a company Zip Car membership.


We wanted to start composting, but some staff were concerned that it would smell bad and be messy. So we proposed a three-month trial: if it didn’t work well, we’d stop.

Through our newsletter, we let staff know about the new composting program, and identified “go-to” people who could answer questions.

Not only was composting a great success (we produce over 40 lbs. of compost each week!), but it increased our recycling rate by 36%! As people paid attention to what doesn’t belong in the trash, composting and recycling went up while garbage went down. It went so well, there was no discussion about stopping the program.

  • Highlight: produced over 40lbs of compost each week and increased recycling by 36%.

In the face of resistance, a short-term pilot allowed us to try something new - in this case composting. Once it was up and running well there was no resistance to keeping it going.

Waste Reduction

We’re now piloting, “Kicking the Can” - getting rid of desk-side trash cans. We’re also working on buying in bulk and reusing to further cut down waste. We send out tips in the Green Scene and include outside of work events, like swap meets, to encourage employees to take sustainability home with them.  

  • Highlight: reduced garbage by 51% over 3 months.

Where we are now

Over the last 6 years, sustainability at REACH Development has become the norm. What started as a project of passion, is now a key component of our operations. Today, I’ve gone from sustainability minded employee to sustainability professional. With sustainability as my full time focus, we’re able to take on bigger projects and grow our culture of sustainability.

Key Takeaways

  • It’s okay to stop your green team when enthusiasm fizzles and then start a new one.
  • Sustainability at Work and other organizations have checklists that your green team can use to identify low hanging fruit and more in-depth sustainability initiatives.
  • Not every initiative will go well, and that’s okay. Don’t get discouraged and try something else.

To learn more about Sustainability at Work or to contact a sustainability advisor email

Sustainability at Work, a program with the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, provides free assistance to businesses wanting to improve their sustainability. Advisors are available for on and off site consultation and are a great resource for green teams or a dedicated employee. Sustainability at Work also certifies businesses using a checklist of sustainable actions, behaviors, and programs. Checklists are available online for offices, restaurants, retail stores and groceries. The Checklist is a great resource of actions to take to improve workplace sustainability.

Sustainability takes flight with passport program at Pacific Continental Bank

We sat down with Kristen Connor, Senior Vice President & Client Service Officer at Pacific Continental Bank, to hear first-hand about the program.

Kristen Connor speaking at podiumPacific Continental Bank (formerly Capital Pacific Bank) created a cultural passport to engage employees in workplace sustainability and wellness.

We sat down with Kristen Connor, Senior Vice President & Client Service Officer at Pacific Continental Bank, to hear first-hand about the program. 

Goal: Increase staff participation in planning, executing and attending committee activities.

Capital Pacific Bank Official Cultural Passport coverThe big idea: Office-wide cultural passports

Six months ago, a few employees at Pacific Continental Bank started thinking of ideas to get their coworkers to participate more on the Green Team and other internal committees.

From the start, the passports have been successful in getting new people into leadership positions and helping people find a place where they can contribute.

Soon after the program started, people started saying, “that was kind of fun, I should do more.” Six months later, they are.

How it works:

  • Staff get a stamp in their passport for approved activities
  • 10 stamps = 1 paid vacation day (per year)


  • Activities are across all committees – Green Team, Employee Engagement, Volunteering, Getting it Fun, Wellness.
  • Staff must participate in a variety of ways (they can’t do the same thing 10 times).
  • Staff are given a physical “passport” with a photo of a Hollywood star that resembles them.
  • Committee chairs stamp passports and write a description of the action that earned the stamp.

Sample passport with stampsWhat staff have to say:

“When you do one thing, it starts to be infectious. It makes you want to do more.”

“When we started to broaden the lens of sustainability, engagement skyrocketed. People found their passion.”

“It’s fun, people get competitive.”

Sample passport with stamps.

Actions earn stamps:

Pacific Continental Bank gives stamps for a variety of activities and roles to include as many people as possible. Their qualifying actions include:

  • Participate in a Pacific Continental Bank group volunteer activity
  • Help plan and execute a Getting it Fun event
  • Take on an assignment for the Green Team to promote sustainability
  • Participate in a professional development activity
  • Attend a brown bag lunch or other educational event hosted by the bank
  • Represent the bank at a client event
  • Participate in and/or plan and execute an event on behalf of the Wellness Committee
  • Present an agenda item at a staff meeting
  • Participate in the new employee orientation committee
  • Pass the sustainability overview quiz
  • Coordinate employee birthdays for a month
  • Nominate someone for the Sustaining Excellence award
  • Serve on a nonprofit board or committee
  • Use your employee matching gift
  • Serve on the Jeans Day Committee (Jeans Day is when staff contributes money to an employee nominated nonprofit, to be matched by the bank, in order to wear jeans on Fridays)

Close up sample passport photoMaking the passports:

Kathy Swift, a creative bank employee, made each staff member a passport featuring a celebrity look-a-like – or as one staff member described it, “a wannabe doppelganger.”

The celebrity photos engaged a lot of people and got the whole office talking about their passports.

Rolling it out:

The cultural passports were presented at a staff meeting the day before they were put on everyone’s desk. At the staff meeting, the guidelines for earning a paid day off were outlined. The Green Team explained that they wanted to engage people on things they cared about, and reward staff for making time to do these things, even while they were busy with their day-to-day priorities.  They also announced a brown bag lunch planned for the following week so people could get an easy first stamp (which worked; they had a higher attendance than ever before!).

Where they are now:

It’s six months in and engagement is high.  A few staff members have already filled their passports and others are busy planning events and other activities.  Capital Pacific Bank is looking to give more prizes for people who fill up the entire passport and for people who get more than ten stamps each quarter.

Try this at your workplace!

A passport program is a great way to engage coworkers, empower others to take on leadership roles and build a workplace community.

Staff holding their passports