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Green Line Series PDX | Keynote, Adam Werbach

Focusing on our 2014 conference theme, The Rise of the Commons: Investing in a Socially Sustainable Community, we asked Adam Werbach, Co-Founder of yerdle and GoGreen Portland 2014 Keynote, to tell us how his company is driving the sharing economy and producing positive social impacts. Check out what we learned (and get excited for his Keynote!) below.

GoGreen CoAdam Werbachnference: The sharing economy is still a relatively new concept that many people do not fully understand. How would you define “sharing economy” to someone unfamiliar with the term?

Adam Werbach: With sharing economy there are activities that take underutilized resources bringing them to use through the application of technology and community.

GoGreen Conference: How does the model of yerdle play into the sharing economy?

AW: Right now it’s easier to buy something new rather than finding something sitting idle in a friend or neighbors closet. For the first time in history it’s easier to have something newly made for you than it is to use something that has already been produced. Yerdle helps people unlock the items that are sitting idle in their closets and garages and makes them available to people all through out the United States.

The idea of sharing items is nothing new. It’s how humanity has gone through hard times, has supported friends and family, it’s how we put together picnics, sports teams and crafts forever. Only in the last fifty years have we started having to buy something new and disposable. What sharing economy provides is an opportunity to return to the types of behaviors that have helped us survive forever. 

It’s less packaging, transportation, mining, oil etc. As an example I just got a camping coffee pot for free from yerdle from someone in Virginia. If I would have bought a new one the aluminum would have came from Australia, it would have been made from bauxite to aluminum in a large plant, shipped to China to be fabricated, shipped to Hong Kong to be packaged, shipped to the Midwest to be put into storage and then shipped to San Francisco for me to open it.  After that I would throw all the packaging away which would end up going into a landfill.

GoGreen Conference: According to Forbes, the revenue that flows through the sharing economy was an estimated $3.5 billion in 2013 and was projected to grow 25% this year. What is your prediction for 2014? Have you seen this type of growth in yerdle’s communities?

AW: I think the idea of the sharing economy is going to affect Americans pocket books in a way greater than almost any economic movement we’ve seen since probably the start of social security. This will mean real wages increasing for Americans. There will be two things. One is a student and moms with young children will be able to pick up flexible work to match their schedules. Secondly services like yerdle will start causing people to have to spend less money, which will in fact increase the power of wages. We’re out to decrease cost of durable goods by 25 percent, which many of our members have done already. Today 25,000 items a month are moved on yerdle.  In January the number was closer 1,000 items a month. It’s a pretty obvious idea if you have something in your garage that you’re not going to use why won’t you put it up and see what you can turn it into? It feels good getting rid of unused items and giving them to someone who would benefit from them.

GoGreen Conference:  There are many positive economic impacts to the sharing economy – what are some of the social impacts that occur?

AW: The biggest social impacts are individual. People are able to get their lives in order by entering a community of people who are all interested in the same things as them. I can give a few examples of stories of people helping teachers get their classrooms settled, new moms who have been left by their husbands trying to make ends meet or people trying to get to burning man and figuring out a way to do that. The broadest social impact from an ecological standpoint is the radical reduction of waste. The 25,000 items from this month are things that wouldn’t have needed to have been produced and would have been produced and bought online and shipped and packaged and manufactured. That’s kind of the most obvious piece however the community ones are the ones that I think feel the best.

GoGreen Conference: Do you see any age trends in those using the peer-to-peer market? Is there an average age bracket for yerdle users?

AW: It tends to see a little bit younger crowds.  Eighteen to thirty four is the demographic but late millennial are the quickest to adopt. We are mostly in apps so people with IPhones and Androids tend to be the ones using. It’s both young people trying to put things together who are not as stuff oriented and then young moms trying to get together the things they need.

GoGreen Conference: What are you hoping your audience will walk away with and gain from your keynote address at GoGreen?

AW: If you believe like I do that we are not efficiently using all the greatest resources on the planet and the greatest one being people. Think about what’s being wasted right now in your home, office and among your friends. Discover the blank paper, how would we engage them? How would we take those lonely hours and turn them into productive activity? How would we take those items that are stuffed into the back of your closet and make them actually produce something that we actually want? How would we make sure that car sitting in the back of your garage is actually used? My grandmother always taught me wasting is almost a crime. How do we take that seriously? Just because we can afford to have new items doesn’t mean we should.

Event Details

GoGreen Portland 2014, brought to you by the City of Portland, Multnomah County and METRO will take place on Thursday, October 16th at the Oregon Convention Center, Oregon Ballroom located at 777 Northeast Martin Luther King Junior Boulevard. Tickets are available online atportland.gogreenconference.net or via phone at 503.226.2377. Early Bird rates are good through Tuesday, September 16th, 2014. Single Admission Early Bird Full Conference tickets are $175 and Group Rate Early Bird Tickets are $150 (groups of two or more). Student, government and non-profit registration rates are available.

 

 

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Special Invitation for the GoGreen Portland Network!

Planning is in full swing for GoGreen Portland taking place on October 16, 2014. But if you want to get in on the action a little earlier we invite you to take a quick trip up to Seattle, Washington for GoGreen Seattle 2014. The conference agenda will focus on going beyond business and sustainability as usual. With our 2014 program, we are taking a focused look at the food industry — at over $6 billion in revenue in just King County alone, we will highlight the important role of food as an economic driver within the Puget Sound region. In partnership with King County, the GoGreen Team has put together an ambitious agenda for the conference that you don’t want to miss.

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Join the conversation at GoGreen Seattle on April 29-30. Our Portland friends get 30% off tickets to attend. Just use the code ‘SISTERCITY’ when you register to redeem.

Green Line Series PDX | Cylvia Hayes On Transforming The Economy Via A Triple Bottom Line

Cylvia Hayes might happen to be Governor John Kitzhaber’s better half and consequently Oregon’s First Lady, but she’s a visionary in her own right. For the last installment of the Green Line Series for Portland, we sat down with Cylvia to get her unique perspective on how government and business can work together to get it right for Oregon’s economy, communities and its environment.

GoGreen Conference: Give us a sense of your role in Governor Kitzhaber’s Administration and how your own professional expertise plays into that.

Cylvia Hayes: I wear two hats around here. I have a more than 20 year career in sustainable economic development and clean energy. So I have that professional perspective. And as First Lady of the state, I’m very involved as a volunteer policy advisor for the administration on those two issues. To give you some specifics, I was the co-chair on Governor Kulongoski’s (the previous Governor of Oregon) renewable energy working group, which was the body that was put together and worked to pass several of Oregon’s big energy policies — including our renewable portfolio standard and renewable fuels standard. But towards the end of that term, my fellow co-chair and I became a little frustrated, because although we realized that we had passed a number of lofty and important measures, we had no comprehensive plan on how to actually get there.

So, now one of the big clean energy policy efforts we have underway in the Kitzhaber administration is a 10-year energy plan. The intent being that in 10 years time our trajectory is to meet and exceed our renewable portfolio standard, our fuel standard and emission reduction goal, but that we have credibly bent the curve so that we are moving towards a low carbon energy and transportation system.

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Green Line Series | W+K Tomorrow’s Nick Barham Flips ‘Green’ Marketing On Its Head

We sat down with Wieden + Kennedy Tomorrow’s Global Director, Nick Barham, ahead of GoGreen to get the scoop on his presentation and his opinions on current trends in green marketing. Check out this Green Line Series Interview for a primer on this Thursday’s talk — “We Hate Sustainability”: Moving Beyond The ‘S’ Word.

GoGreen Conference: Before we get too far, can you give us a primer on what you do at Wieden + Kennedy Tomorrow?

NB: W+K  Tomorrow is an initiative of Wieden + Kennedy, and most simply, my job is to think about how we do things that we’re not currently doing. So what aren’t we doing today that we could be, and perhaps should be? I work on our sustainability initiatives because it’s something that is a changing landscape for brands. I also work with our incubator space called the Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE), which works in emerging technology and I help run a publishing venture. So W+K Tomorrow is looking at how communication in the brand landscape is changing and what we should, as a communications agency, be doing to respond to that.

GG: We’ve been in the business for the past five years of teaching businesses how to improve sustainability, and we’ve noticed a definite shift in language in the market. We’ve gone from “natural” to “green” to “sustainable” now. It seems like the green marketing world tends converge on certain language and visual representations — and if you don’t use the right language, you’re not seen as credible. But your presentation flies in the face of that by saying, ‘Ditch it’. If that’s the case, what do we do instead?

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Green Line Series PDX | The Responsible Human

Carol Sanford Have you ever wondered if it’s really possible for just one person to make noticeable impact towards greening a business? Renowned author and speaker, Carol Sanford, argues a resounding ‘YES!’ Before Carol takes the stage at GoGreen Portland on October 11, learn the definition of a truly responsible business and how you, as an individual, can drive change from within — even if the word “sustainability” isn’t in your title.

GoGreen Conference: Before we dive into the concept of a responsible human — the topic of your solutions lab at GoGreen Portland — let’s back up a bit. Help us understand the definition of a responsible business. 

Carol Sanford: A lot of us have intentions to try and improve how it is that businesses engage with the world — so they not only do not do harm, but actually create a better world. Most of the time, we try to do this using either advocacy or influence and sometimes all the way up to pressure of some kind. But we’re missing a key ingredient there, which is what I call capability.

We notice that often when we’re seeking change in a person, we have a conversation with them that ends up more like a debate. And even after we’ve given them evidence of something, nothing changes. My premise, and the premise of the responsible business, is that if we don’t build certain kinds of capability, people cannot see why they’re believing what they’re believing and they can’t develop a belief in a change process.

If you really want to help people change and help them change in a way that is much more responsible (which is a word I like a lot), you have to build a both inner and outer capabilities that are much more systemic.

One of these capabilities is the ability to see the world in terms of related, dynamic systems, not as seeings things as “doings.” When we see the world as things, what we do is break it up into pieces, and we end up working on it in pieces. Every time we work on a piece, we usually  cause a bad side effect for something else. For example, we decide we’re going restore a watershed, but what we do is restore that watershed in a way that doesn’t end up creating health and vitality for all the living species, like elk or wolves, that are connected to the water.  We create a solution based on what we know is best for water, but we don’t look at the whole system. I differentiate that from what MIT calls systems thinking, which is built off the study of machines — it’s a fibernetic view of systems that doesn’t necessarily factor in the living factor of natural systems.

The responsible business is based on is learning to see all of those aspects as related and necessary to the success of the whole. I call out five stakeholders as a making up a system. I’d say it starts in business with a consumer. After that, you connect what I call the co-creators to that  node. Co-creators are what we used to call suppliers and employees, but empowering them with a creative and important role in the process. Then you can ask the question: How does Earth become healthier, and how do communities become healthier through our actions? We often forget the Earth and our communities as stakeholders, even though most of our products depend on drawing material resources from the planet and our communities are impacted in almost every decision we make. As a result of integrating all the above aspects appropriately, we insure that the investors get a return.

So that’s a system of thinking and what underlies the responsible business. I’m now taking that into an arena where individuals can look at it how they can live out those same kind of aspects and make impact in their role, whatever it might be.

GG: We like to talk about the spirit of individualism and self-determination in this country. As a co-creator, how do we as individuals fit into that bigger picture — that whole system?

CS: One of the uniquenesses of the United States of America and the nature of its founding is that we are very much rugged individuals. The upside is that it allows us to take on a strong sense of personal agency. The shadow side of that is that it can have us become self-serving and even go so far as greed. The reason I’m working on this idea of the responsible human is to take that cultural characteristic, which I greatly value and believe is something the US can offer to the rest of the world, and build a process for driving it to fruition.

Do we, as human beings, have a unique role in the world? I believe we do. I believe that when we understand and see ourselves as an integral part of a living system — rather than above it or separate from its effects and consequences — we have the chance to discover solutions that support all facets of life and enterprise. I have been committed to that idea for almost four decades of my life, building capability into companies and individuals as they work together in teams, groups towards individual and commons goals.

What I’m going to bring in to this conversation at GoGreen Portland are what I’m calling the six core aspects of building the responsible human so that organizations, businesses, societies, and people have the ability to live out this rugged individualism, this drive, this sense of  personal agency; self-actualizing, in a context that serves the whole.

GG: What are these six core aspect to the approach you’re advocating? 

CS: The subtitle is “Change the world without changing jobs”, right? So we are going to focus on a framework that gets people started on a path to making a difference by developing their own capability. No matter where you are, you can bring about the kind of improvements and evolution in your workplace and society that will benefit us all. To that end, I’m introducing six aspects, three of which are sort of an outer nature and three of which are an inner nature. Before you can focus them on your place of work, you have to think about how to build them in yourself. How do you ensure you yourself are growing in a way that you can be the change agent you want to be. And as you work on yourself, how do you bring those kind of capabilities into the organization via influence? So let me list what those six core aspects are and note that we’ll dive deeper into how each of these applies to the idea of a responsible human during the lab.

  1. Ability to see the world and your environment (work or otherwise) from a dynamic systems perspective and to understand nodal thinking.
  2. Engage in external considering. This is the premise that it’s not all about you and that your actions have impact on other aspects of the systems you exist in.
  3. Transfer your worldview from a fixed performance perspective to a dynamic, developmental perspective.
  4. See each person as unique and as possessing distinct capabilities and talents to contribute to the vitality of a system.
  5. Ability to engage the “internal locus of control.” Take accountability for your actions and help hold others accountable as well.
  6. Move beyond self-actualization into systems actualization. How do you fit into the whole dynamic?

GG: How do we effect the success of our organizations with these tools? If you’re in a business with 10 people, you can really see the effects of your work. But how much difference can one person really take in a huge corporation like Google that has tens of thousands of employees?

CS: All of us know a handful of people that , because of how they are, are influencing everyone’s thinking. I ask this question of people all the time: Think of five people that — because of how they behave and how they interact — command attention and respect, have a sense of integrity and are valued for what they’re bringing to the table. A lot of the characteristics I just talked about here have to do with how we engage even when it’s a one-on-one or small group situation. We have to remember that our behavior changes the dynamics of the group. We forget how much that if we behave differently, other people do too. People are attracted to others who exhibit these characteristics of leadership. We admire, respect and get inspired by people who think about others. People who can see the right place to intervene, the right node to affect. The people who see you as changeable, growable and not stuck in life — and give you that respect. Who see you as unique and distinctive. Who see you as holding yourself accountable — no lying, no excuses, no victimhood — and who see you as trying to help improve the life of not only yourself but also for everyone else.

If you’re practicing and building your capability in all of these areas, it has a huge influence on the rest of the system — I don’t care what office you sit in. And the more you’re able to do this over time, the more effect you have. It has nothing to do with the size of an organization. Let me tell you about one guy who ran a detergent tower in Colgate-Palmolive in South Africa, who’d had only the equivalent of a fourth-grade education. Isaac was his name. Everyone would have said that Isaac, sitting on that detergent tower with no education could have done very little, but Isaac decided because his own children were going to be able to come into this new republic of South Africa, he had to figure out a way to bring some changes. He started talking about it to other people. What he wanted was to improve the health of the children in Selletto, the township that he lived in. He started asking why it was that they made toothpaste and mouthwash, but couldn’t create a way to improve health in the community?

Well Issac kept working on himself and building this dialogue with others out of this vision of what he thought was possible and he eventually was able to get the corporation (it took him about 6 months) and a group of dentists to help educate the children. He started with a set of women who had small businesses and got them set up to sell bolt-and-lock cases of these products to help improve children’s health. He even built the program with dentists in order to measure and track the health benefits, and then he brought in the economic development commission. That was one guy in a factory! So, it’s not about large or small. It’s about the ability to understand that you have to change how you approach change. These six things give you a way to think about the challenge of: How do I move me so that I can move the world?

GG: How do these ideas apply to sustainability efforts?

CS: Sustainability efforts are often very short-sided and limited in terms of their systemic effects. We end up with lists of best practices to work on, things to count, that don’t necessarily improve the health and the wholeness of the planet. No one is ever encouraged to ask about that and expand their view. That’s something we need to work on.

Let me back up to even what people’s current job is. For the most part, when people are working in a sustainability role, what they are empowered to do is bring the kind of conversations that are normally not brought forward, to the front of the agenda. When we did Seventh Generation’s second sustainability report, we said we were no longer going to count just the numbers that reduced carbon or reduced the company’s footprint. Instead we were going to bring forward the story of how it was that those actions set to make a difference to a larger system. So they looked at the air basin which surrounded Burlington, Vermont, and they started to have the conversation about the quality of the air and the quality of life of people who lived there. When you think about thing like the asthmatics of the children who lived in a community it brings a massive idea like global climate change into better focus.

This is what the dynamic developmental view is all about. People had come to see the pollution in their area as something that they couldn’t handle. So instead of Seventh Generation just issuing a report, they engaged the community in a narrative. Gregor Barnam (their Director of Corporate Consciousness at the time) decided that if he was really going to bring about change in how people talk about sustainability, he had to make it personal. So he created an idea of showing people and businesses how they can effect their community by their choices and by how they operate — and that they can really can influence their own health and that of the community.

It was really just three people who created this initiative. They had no titles — they had jobs, I think one of them was a customer service-related person. Gregor ended up working with the title of Director of Corporate Consciousness, but he was one person, he didn’t have a staff or anything. Still, this became a movement across the entire state of Vermont. Now Vermont’s a little unique, but they carried that out and took it into Arkansas. I was with their founder, Jeffrey Hollender, when he went to Wal-Mart and introduced this idea to them about how it is you really ought to be engaging communities around the idea of sustainability, not just doing reports. It was something that really took hold.

GG: For the people attending, what do you hope to accomplish in this session and what do you hope people leave the session armed with?

CS: There are two things I hope they come away with. One is a belief that there are things they can change about how they’re engaging even in small, day-to-day operations — And that these things can have a ripple effect beyond their own thinking and their own wishes and dreams. Many time it feels like you attend a conferences to get inspired from other people, but then you have to go back and work where nobody else cares about what you believe is important — or cares less about it at the very least. I want attendees of this session to go home with the belief that they can be influential in the areas they are passionate about and empowered to take steps to get there.

The second thing is that we’re going to spend time developing a plan on how they can first take action on  building capability in themselves (because all of this has to do with working on ourselves first) and then how they could influence change on something they care about by acting differently in their own right. We’re going to work in small groups, so that they’re not only getting ideas from me from their peers. We’re going to share and reflect on them. I feel like if they walk away with a sense of being a person that can have an effect by changing a few things and if they have one place where they’re gonna take action, that’d will be well worth the time.

Carol Sanford is a renowned author, speaker and business consultant. She will be leading the Responsible Human: Change the World Without Changing Your Job Solutions Lab at GoGreen Portland, Thursday, October 11. You can join Carol for this empowering session and a full day of trainings and solutions-based learning by registering at portland.gogreenconference.net/registration

GoGreen ’11 Portland Green Line Series: Nike’s Hannah Jones on the Importance of Collaboration

Nike, being a global company, has the advantage of throwing a lot of weight behind its core values. But that same size and reach also pose a challenge when it comes to aligning every single factory, product line and aspect of your supply chain with the company’s “North Star” goal: A 100 percent sustainable, closed loop system. The folks at Nike just use this as fuel to fire their collective drive—going so far as to collaborate with their competition in order to achieve goals necessary to success for all. In this edition of the Green Line Series, Nike Vice-President of Sustainable Business & Innovation, Hannah Jones, tells us why working together is the best and fastest way for us all to win.

GoGreen Conference: Sustainability is a complex undertaking at any size business—especially at one as large as Nike. What are your priorities? How do you ensure you’ve accounted for all known aspects that affect your goals on sustainability?
Hannah Jones
: We have been on a journey to build a more sustainable company ever since Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight started the company. Bowerman was always interested in creating a lighter shoe which translates into less waste.

NIKE, Inc.’s long-term vision is to create products and business models that are decoupled from constrained resources. Nike has made progress, we’ve learned a lot from being in this space and we’ve applied these learnings to address key industry issues around labor, environment and our supply chain. But there’s still more work to be done.

We’ve taken on challenging issues and invested significant resources in new ways to make products and share what we’ve learned. However, in order to accelerate the industry’s progress to a sustainable future, it’s imperative that the industry works together and collaborates in order to create lasting, scalable, systemic change.

We cannot do this work alone, and so collaboration is key.

GG: What has been more difficult to enact—operational change at the corporate level, behavior change at the consumer level, or controlling a global production supply chain? What solutions have you developed to make progress within this biggest challenge/opportunity area?
HJ: Nike’s global supply chain is large and complex. It has taken years to address certain issues, but as our business continues to become more complex, we see the need to create new solutions. In the absence of industry standards, the challenge is working together as an industry to reshape the system and how we all approach supply chain processes.

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PDX 2010 Green Line Series: Chandra Brown + United Streetcar Leading A Green Manfacturing Movement in US

Before you lament once more that everything these days is made overseas, Chandra Brown and United Streetcar (a branch off company of Oregon Iron Works) are surging ahead into the future of modern, efficient manufacturing and creating a lot of green jobs in the process. Chandra will keynote tomorrow’s GoGreen Portland and we cannot wait. Her enthusiasm is absolutely contagious and her company is a model for green companies looking to compete in the global market. We know you’ll walk out of this session inspired to continue pushing the sustainable movement for US businesses.

GG: How did you come to United Streetcar? What are your personal motivations for working in a field that is so plugged into the sustainable business community?
CB:
How I came to be involved with United Streetcar actually starts a while back. I began working with Oregon Iron Works— which is a large, traditional metal manufacturing company—in the early 1990s. We built boats, bridges, and now wave energy devices. I’d been a vice-president at Oregon Iron Works for several years doing outreach and business development. One of my jobs was always to be on the look out for the next growth opportunity.

So it all started when I was sitting around, actually talking about the city and the old Portland Streetcar with some friends. I live in Southeast Portland and had loved the streetcars. One of the women I was speaking to was Lynn Peterson from Clackamas County, although at the time I believe she was with Lake Oswego, and Shelly Parini, who at the time was with Clackamas Country Economic Development team. We were chatting and they told me there were no modern streetcars built in the United States. I couldn’t believe it. It just didn’t seem correct—I mean streetcars were founded here. I knew that Portland had imported their streetcars from the Czech Republic, but I didn’t know that was because there was no US made option available at the time.

I went back and did a bit of research and found out that, indeed, my friends were correct. There were no modern streetcars being built in the United States. I thought it was a great opportunity. I absolutely believe streetcars have revolutionized downtown Portland and I think they are a great model for other urban centers across the United States. It’s a very green industry and I knew that [Oregon Iron Works] could build them. We had built much more complicated and larger scale products in the past. I was confident in our workforce here and that if I could figure out a way to get the project funded, they could figure out a way to get the cars built. So that was how United Streetcar came to be.

That was four years ago, and the course of these past four years, we have built a prototype—a gorgeous red, white and blue, “Made in the USA” streetcar, which was opened up by US Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, in July of 2009. People always ask where that streetcar is these days and it will eventually be running on the streets of Portland—right now we have it back in our shop in Clackamas, Oregon, because we’re making the car have a greater level of US made content. We have a great commitment, not only to the green community and the sustainable movement, but also to the US manufacturing sector and to creating US jobs. We don’t think just being green is enough. We also want to have all the requisite jobs and work happening here in the United States.

Our first “Made in the USA” car was around 70 percent US-content. That’s instead of a 100 percent European content car. We made it using over 200 vendors in 20 states across the US with a huge amount of local vendors in the Northwest. So it really is the creation of this nation’s new green industry. And the big reason we have the car back in is because we’re changing out one of the largest pieces that was not US content—the propulsion system. Thanks to the Federal Transit System and excellent work by our congressmen—particularly Congressmen DeFazio and Blumenauer—we received an FTA innovation grant, which is allowing us to take out that foreign propulsion system and put in a US made propulsion system. Once that is completed, it will take the car up to around 90 percent US content. After that it will need to be tested for months and hopefully before the end of 2011, the car will be back on the streets of Portland and we’ll all be riding a US built streetcar.

GG: There’s the obvious reasons why streetcars are more sustainable than individual auto transportation due to the increased numbers of people they carry. Tell us about the deeper levels of sustainability United Streetcar is building into its product, whether its actual physical components or on the operations side of things.
CB:
The streetcar itself is inherently more green. It runs on electricity, so there are zero emissions, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s a catalyst for economic revitalization downtown, which helps increase the overall density of people living there and allows Portland citizens to walk, bike or ride a streetcar to work instead of driving in from a suburb. One statistic that many people don’t know about is that the current Portland streetcar line currently reduces total miles traveled by over 70 million miles per year. That’s people getting out of their cars and taking these short trips on the streetcar—it makes a huge difference. And the density along the streetcar line is much higher, so you’re getting a much more advantageous use of land. In addition, as many people know, there was over $3.5 billion of investment within three blocks of the streetcar line in downtown Portland. So there are a lot of things that make it very sustainable.

Within the vehicle itself, since we’re building an American made streetcar, we do things very differently than they do overseas. We’re much more efficient in our shop. We’re lean, we use highly efficient machines that use much less electricity and draw, we put in things like LED lights and design the car in a different way so that we can use fixtures. That allows us to build hundreds of thousands of things out of the same fixture and every one will be the same and repeatable.

Also, we use a lot of steel. Most people don’t know that the most recycled product in the world is steel. That means everything that we do here has a huge amount of recycled content. It’s recycled much more than paper and plastic, because steel can be melted down without losing any of its properties. In addition, we’re doing things like putting in different flooring that will make the car quieter and decrease the overall noise. We consider noise pollution a green issue as well.
There’s a whole variety of other small tweaks we’ve been making to create a car that is as green as possible. However, I think the biggest thing, which often gets overlooked, is that we source locally as much as possible. There are a huge number of parts and pieces that go into each streetcar, many of which we don’t build. We don’t make seats and wires, etc. here at Oregon Iron Works. We integrate all of those things and put them together, but we don’t actually make them. Our commitment to buying local means that we heavily decrease transportation costs and emissions on the shipping of products. We work very closely with all of our supplier networks. I think that’s a huge advantage versus others manufacturers that buying parts from Europe and have them shipped over here.

GG: How have Oregon Iron Works and United Streetcar managed to be competitive in the green manufacturing space versus foreign competitors? Is it important to keep green, manufacturing jobs in the US?
CB:
We think it’s absolutely critical to keep good, green manufacturing jobs in place in the US for a wide variety of reasons. It’s something we have a huge passion for. People don’t often think about it this way, but many times it boils down to being green because of national security and where we’re going as a nation. If we lose the capability to build things here in the United States, we are going to become more and more dependent on foreign companies and countries. We can’t just trade our oil dependence on the Middle East for a manufacturing dependence on China and Korea. It doesn’t make sense. We’re still not helping the country in terms of being in charge of its own security and its ability to move forward in the more sustainable direction we want to take. So it’s absolutely critical to have US manufacturing here.

A simple example is bridges. If we lose our capability to build bridges here, if something were to happen—if an earthquake in San Francisco collapses the Oakland Bay Bridge—we would have to wait months and months to get that bridge back in place. The pieces area so big and so heavy that they cannot be air freighted. They would have to go on a long flow ship that’s large enough to carry the weight of these huge bridge pieces. In terms of damage to a green economy, think about the impact of shutting down the city of San Francisco for months. All the alternate transportation would be less accessible and there would be millions of extra miles added onto commutes as people have to go around while you wait for those ships.

If things can be done here in the United States, you could get a new bridge in weeks. So keeping manufacturing in place is something that’s related to most everything, especially transportation and infrastructure. And transportation is one of the largest issues we have in terms of building a green economy here. That’s just one example of why we think it’s so important.

We’re fortunate that we’ve been able to be really successful—and people always ask us how we continue to compete internationally. The US manufacturing worker is still the most productive in the entire world. So what may take 20 people to do outside the country, because the labor rates are low and they don’t have the same insurance and healthcare, etc., takes one or two people here. Our one person is 10 times more productive. So as long as we’re investing in state of the art equipment and machinery, we’re able to get a sufficiently high amount of efficiency out of our workers that we still can be competitive.

Also, when you take into account decreased shipping costs—because if it’s going someplace in the US, you don’t have to ship the material half way across the world—building it here allows us to use our entire vendor network and reduce the miles things travel. That saves a lot in the costs of transportation and emissions, both for components and final products.

GG: What do you think the role is for alternative transportation options like streetcars in maintaining a sustainable city?
CB:
I like to think that streetcars are one piece of an important puzzle to keep our downtown urban centers going. Streetcars can’t do it alone, but I think they’re a critical component, because they produce zero emissions and decrease the total amount of miles traveled to get people from point A to point B. Even more than that, they are catalysts for the downtown areas. They have increased economic development along the entire line, which is even different than the light rail, where you see development around stops, but bigger, less developed areas between them. So streetcars are piece of it. Do you need buses? Absolutely. Do you need light rail? Absolutely. We are big believers that for urban centers to survive and thrive, you need a variety of types of transit infrastructure to achieve the greenest and most efficient way to move people where they need to go.

GG: How do you think supporting streetcars and other alternative transit options help businesses in general? What’s in it for the average business-owner in Portland to get behind these initiatives?
CB:
Well if you’re a good business person, you’re interested in decreasing your city’s emissions. We should be supportive of these kind of initiatives because they’ll decrease pollution. We should also be for more alternative transit, because it decreases congestion, which is bad for business because 1) it can delay my workforce and 2) it’s creating pollution and 3) congestion is inhibitive to any business that ships or does any type of product transport.

It can also be a benefit, because depending on where your business is located and what industry you’re in, it brings you customers. That’s why there is so much investment along a streetcar line. All the developers, whether it’s for housing or retail, are thrilled because it’s going to help their bottom lines and increase overall profitability. It’s a little bit different if you’re a suburban businessperson, but you would still want it because it enhances the quality of life of your employees. Higher quality of life is a part of a crop of advantages that can lure talented and skilled workers to your city and therefore your company.

GG: What do you see as some of the biggest challenges cities face as they develop alternative transportation systems? Do you have any insights as a leader in your industry on what we, as businesspeople and citizens, can do to conquer those challenges?
CB:
Sadly, the biggest challenge facing pretty much any local, state and federal government, is funding. Obviously, we’re in the middle of a federal crisis in terms of funding infrastructure and transit—even roads—across the United States. So each city has to struggle with the prioritization of where to put their limited resources. It’s very challenging. And anytime you’re talking about any kind of transit investment, you’re talking about a long and big investment. It pays off so much over time, but it’s hard to remember that. Our streetcars can last over 35 years. So while there may be a lot of upfront costs, as time goes by, cities recoup all of that back and get other benefits as well. It’s just a difficult thing to put in a new infrastructure project, when it’s fairly expensive for most cities.

Money really is the biggest challenge and fixing that is difficult. Awareness is a tough one too. Citizens really need to understand the benefits, so they’re willing to let some of the city’s or the county’s or transit agency’s resources go towards these improvements. There have been other things that have been pretty successful for renewable energy, like incentives. We’re always looking to see incentives for streetcars, light rail and buses—anything that’s going to decrease miles traveled and emissions. Should we be rewarding that and incentivizing that? Especially in polluted cities? We think so. It’s one of the ways we think the challenges could be met over time, but it’s a complicated equation, no doubt about it.

GG: What are you most excited to share with GoGreen attendees about the work United Streetcar is doing and the success that you’ve had?
CB:
I think one of the best things we can do is to show that the US green manufacturing and industry is alive and well. If a traditional, metal manufacturing company that builds boats and bridges, can eventually be building wave energy devices and modern streetcars, it’s a pretty huge compliment to the innovation and ingenuity of the American public and the American worker. To me, that’s so incredibly exciting. We’re creating jobs for this new economy and if we can continue to get the right kind of support, hopefully this could turn into a pretty big piece of the United States’ industry fabric. That’s something I really love sharing. It’s not just about United Streetcar and Oregon Iron Works. Yes, I love my company, and we’ve invested millions to take a leadership role in this, but it takes all these other suppliers succeeding as well to create an industry here in the United States. And I think that’s something we should all be proud of supporting.

Chandra Brown is the CEO of United Streetcar and the keynote speaker at the GoGreen Conference in Portland, Oregon on October 5, 2010. The conference is this Tuesday + GoGreen 2009 sold out, so register for GoGreen Conference 2010 Portland soon to join us: http://www.portland.gogreenconference.net/registration.

To learn more about Chandra and United Streetcar, visit: http://www.unitedstreetcar.com