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Sustainability at Work

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Email: sustainabilityatwork@portlandoregon.gov

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:

Maria 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.PeopleTowel drying on a cabinet

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:close up of drying towel on hook

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

How it works:

  • Each 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!

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:

infographic

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.

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!