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The City of Portland, Oregon

Sustainability at Work

Providing free tools and expertise to achieve your goals

Phone: 503-823-7037


How to host a holiday (waste-free) workplace silent auction

Make holiday gift giving fun, convenient and charitable

Workplace silent auction

How does this sound for your holiday shopping experience?

  • Items are brought to your workplace for you to choose from.
  • All the money you spend goes to a good cause.
  • Gifts include unique, local experiences and time-saving services.

You can make this happen by organizing a workplace (waste-free) silent auction, where employees auction off their talents (like baking or home-brew), share their time (like vacation rentals or kayak trips), or bring in fun or useful items they no longer use. The proceeds from the auction go directly to a local nonprofit.

Our office has organized a silent auction for the past ten years and has raised over $30,000 for local non-profits. It’s also something people look forward to every year – a little friendly competition, especially over a terrible / excellent white elephant gift, can be great for workplace camaraderie.

 What a waste-free silent auction looks like

shared talents

Encourage coworkers to offer items that they enjoy making, like baked goods, or knitted hats, or framed photographs they took. Or offer expertise, in the form of a mushroom hunting trip, cooking class, guided kayak trip, or wildflower hike.

re-purposed White Elephant gifts

You can also encourage people to bring in items they no longer use, but think others would like. Sometimes the most popular items are things like a vintage vinyl record or an adult-sized chicken costume.

Gifts of experience

People can also donate tickets to see a game, or show, or a kid-friendly activity like OMSI or the zoo. 

Tips for organizing a waste-free silent auction

Rally the team

You'll want a leader (or two) to plan the event, plus other volunteers for event prep, check-out, and clean up.

Plan ahead

Early December is a good time to hold the auction, since many people are in gift-buying mode. Does your workplace have a winter party? If it’s early enough in December, that’s a great time.

Start soliciting re-used items and “gifts of experience” from staff a month or two before the auction (October or November if you’re aiming for a December event).

Choose the organization the auction is raising money for. The organizing committee can choose one, or have staff submit suggestions and then vote to pick the final one (or two) nonprofits. Register the auction on the organization’s website or contact them to let them know about event.

Start putting items on display one week or more before the auction day.

Think about payment options. If cash or check is the only option, remind people ahead of time to bring cash and checks. Designate a volunteer to follow up with any people that haven’t collected their items or paid for them (people may not realize they were the highest bid). Collect funds immediately after the auction ends.

Contact the organization to come retrieve funds, or drop them off at their office.

Be specific about donations

Ask staff to bring in used (but still usable) items, or “gifts of experience.” Emphasize that it’s a “clean out your closet” event, and staff should not buy new items for the event.


  • Sports, theater, music or museum tickets.
  • Skills to offer or teach: bike repair, photography, baking, mushroom hunting, horse-back riding.
  • Adventures: sailing, kayaking, beach or mountain home rentals.
  • Food: certificates for restaurants, coffee, brewpubs.

Home-made items

  • Jams, preserves, baked goods.
  • Knitted scarves, gloves, hats.
  • Art, craft, photography.

Clean out your closet items

  • White elephant items (as-seen-on-tv gadgets, CDs of 90s music).
  • Vintage: Vinyl records, rotary phones, classic books.
  • Children’s books and toys (in good condition).
  • Hobbies that never came to be (cheese making kits, home-brew kits, etc.).

Take the EcoChallenge this October

The challenge takes place October 3 - 24, 2018.

The 2018 EcoChallenge starts on October 3 and ends on October 24.

EcoChallenge 2017

Get your team together

Create a team – even if it’s just two people – and register. It’s free (and fun)!

Take the challenge

Choose a new sustainable action to take (at home or at work), and give it a try for three weeks.

Pick an action from a variety of categories — waste, food, energy, transportation, community and more — or make up your own. Actions range from easy, like using a reusable coffee mug or taking shorter showers, to more challenging, like taking steps to insulate your home or install a rain garden in your yard.

Go for the win

A win for you: There are some great giveaways and grand prizes to reward you and your teammates for taking the challenge. But the long-term reward is feeling good about doing the thing you always-meant-to-do-but-never-got-around-to — that, after three weeks of doing, has become second nature.

A win for your workplace: This friendly peer-to-peer competition builds enthusiasm for workplace sustainability and is a good way to kick start or strengthen sustainability initiatives.

A win for your community and the environment: The daily actions we take can feel small, but they add up to a much larger collective impact. Here’s the impact EcoChallenge participants have had over the past three years:

Collective impact of EcoChallenge participants

Tips for engaging your workplace

Set up a workplace team

  1. Register for the EcoChallenge
  2. To start a workplace team, select “start a team” and NWEI will help you invite coworkers to join. Or if a coworker has already created a team for you, select “join a team.”
  3. Choose your own EcoChallenge action(s) and encourage others to share their actions and goals, through the EcoChallenge site, an employee newsletter, a bulletin board, or wherever employees get information.
  4. Make a plan to achieve your EcoChallenge, and encourage your coworkers to do the same: Think through what you’ll need to take your new action – if you need to prepare anything, get it ready now so it’s easy from day one.
  5. Look through the tips for being a Team Captain for more ideas and a helpful timeline.

Set up a (friendly) competition

Team captains can challenge another team, and the team with the greatest number of EcoChallenge points wins. Do you share a building with other businesses? Get to know your neighbors through some friendly competition.


NWEIAbout NWEI, the organization behind EcoChallenge

Northwest Earth Institute (NWEI) is a sustainability organization that provides innovative social and digital tools designed to change the way individuals live in and interact with natural and built environments. Since 1993, NWEI has based its programming on the idea that individual action compounds to larger, collective impact.Their April and October EcoChallenges are free and open to everyone, everywhere. In the last year, nearly 32,000 people participated in 80+ countries. You can also use the EcoChallenge platform to create a custom event to meet the needs and goals of your workplace, college, or community.

Composting at work: It's different than at home

Business compost goes to a different processing facility and has different guidelines than your home green bin compost.

business compost goes to a biodigester and creates energy

Did you know that your compost bins at home and work have different guidelines? They go to different processing facilities and have different rules about what's allowed.

Business compost makes energy. The food scraps collected at Portland businesses (restaurants, offices and more) go to a facility that turns them into energy.

How it works

Food waste is blended into a liquid and is broken down by bacteria. The bacteria create methane, which is captured and burned to make electricity. The leftover materials are used as fertilizer to enrich soils.

Food gets picked up and taken to biodigester facility

This 1-minute video from across the pond shows how an anaerobic digestion facility turns food waste into energy.  

It's food only

Food is the only thing allowed in business compost, with the exceptions of BPI-certified compostable bags, used paper coffee filters and tea bags. Non-food materials gum up the system and have to be filtered out. See examples of what's allowed and print posters for your workplace.

Things you should NOT compost at work

Items not allowed in compost

While the following items are allowed in your green bin at home, they should not go in compost bins at Portland businesses:

  1. pizza boxes
  2. napkins, paper towels
  3. yard debris, flowers*

Also, to-go containers, cups and utensils are never allowed in compost, at home or at work. This applies to all types of containers, even those labeled "compostable" or "biodegradable." They should always go in the trash. 

*Wondering why flowers aren't allowed? The stems are tough and woody, which makes them difficult for the microbes to break down.

Want to start composting at work?

We've got getting started guides for restaurants and offices, or contact us for help. 

Find more detailed information:

Upgrade your lighting and support affordable housing

Support Central City Concern while upgrading to energy-efficient LEDs.

LAMP program

Looking to upgrade your lighting to energy-efficient LEDs? Consider going through the LAMP program, organized by Lloyd Eco District and open to all businesses in Portland.

Benefits of LAMP

Energy savings: LED lamps and fixtures lower energy use and last a long time, reducing costs and hassle of replacement.

Community benefits: A portion of proceeds help build affordable housing, through Central City Concern.

Cost savings: LED lamps and fixtures come at a bulk purchase price, and it typically pays back your investment in around 2 years.

Service: The vetted provider, Conserve Energy, LLC, will manage product selection and installation and handle the rebate paperwork. Conserve Energy is an Energy Trust of Oregon Performance+ Trade Ally.

Who can get LEDs through LAMP?

Any business, including tenants and property managers. You can get LEDs for an existing workspace, a tenant renovation or a whole building retrofit.

How it works

First, find out if you could benefit from LEDs:

  1. Contact Courtney at Lloyd Eco District to get started: or call her at 310-804-2817.
  2. Courtney will connect you with their contractor, Conserve Energy, LLC.
  3. Conserve Energy will work with you, over the phone or in person, to understand what type of lighting you currently have and provide LED product recommendations and pricing.

Then, if you choose to go forward with a project:

  • Conserve Energy will supply the LED lamps and fixtures, install them (if you desire), and handle all of the Energy Trust of Oregon rebate paperwork.
  • After the project is complete, a donation is sent to Central City Concern, a local social service and affordable housing provider.


Contact Courtney at Lloyd Eco District to get started: or 310-804-2817. More information and business testimonials available at the LAMP website.

Tips to save energy at your office

Whether you lease or own your space, there are lots of things you can do at your office to reduce energy use.

There are many no- and low-cost steps you can take to reduce your energy consumption and control costs. And some upgrades are eligible for cash incentives from Energy Trust of Oregon.

Lighting, computers and heating and cooling

Turn off lights when not in use or when natural daylight is sufficient. This can reduce lighting expenses by 10 to 40 percent!

Upgrade your lighting with new energy-efficient bulbs and fixtures, and use controls to save energy and improve lighting quality. Cash incentives may be available from Energy Trust. Or purchase reduced-cost bulbs through the LAMP program, which gives a portion of proceeds to Central City Concern (this program is run by Lloyd Eco District, but is open to all organizations in Portland).

Office equipment

Set computers, computer monitors, printers, copiers and other office equipment to sleep when not in use.

Consolidate stand-alone office equipment to be shared by multiple users. Typical cost savings can reach 30 to 40 percent for electricity, hardware, supplies, and maintenance!

Heating and cooling

Set back thermostats for evening and weekend hours, and adjust temperatures seasonally. Or even better, install programmable thermostats to automatically reduce heating and air conditioning during closed hours. Cash incentives may be available.

Close your shades and blinds in the summer to keep your office cool – during the day, and before everyone goes home in the evening and on weekends.

Get expert help

Talk with Energy Trust about how to take the next step and improve the efficiency of your workplace.

Energy Trust of Oregon 866-368-7878, or online at