Portland, Oregon is not just a place of adult hide-and-seek leagues, or microbreweries. Believe it or not, Oregon is already a leader, building new business that will shift the nation’s economy. Unfortunately, most of this development is on a small scale and it will be some time before the scores of local startups can afford to actually pay any employees. In case you were wondering, sustainability efforts and entrepreneurship are humming in the state.
I had the fantastic luck to land myself at the 2011 Green Professionals Conference held at the Oregon Convention Center Wednesday. It was a full day event featuring roughly 75 speakers from organizations including Energy Trust of Oregon, Portland General Electric, and Earth Advantage Institute. The main sponsor was Fluid Market Strategies which provides business and marketing services to clients working toward efficient energy solutions, building clean technologies, and practicing environmental responsibly.
The day was kicked off by Jon Wellinghoff of the Federal Regulatory Commission. He discussed the many economic and political factors that both assist and slow the growth of green professions. He also provided an upbeat look at the future of Smart Grid systems and what must happen to get them in place. In order to be successful, all consumers need to make a dedicated commitment to efficiency efforts. Manufacturers, software developers, and utilities have the skills to update energy infrastructure, but there must be more than a handful of consumers asking for changes for these projects to be affordable.
Next, I listened to representatives from PGE, Drive Oregon, and Portland Bureau of Transportation. In order to meet President Obama’s hopes to have one million all electric vehicles on the road in the coming years, Oregonians need to invest in at least 10,000 of them. $1 billion of federal funds are dedicated to installing more than 1,000 charging stations along I-5 from British Columbia to the Oregon/California border. Good news for Portland bicyclists and those who live or work downtown; we could have a successful bike rental system with safer bike lanes within three years. Jobs will be found retrofitting good-condition vehicles, engineering urban projects, and developing simple (mobile) software to manage everything.
If you think wind energy is all the rage, it apparently has several issues standing in the way of effectively delivering power to our homes. One is insuring the turbines have a clean connection to our cities from hundreds of miles away. Two is ensuring businesses can install and operate them without going bankrupt; this requires government tax credits or astronomical energy prices. Take a vote. Perhaps the largest issue affecting renewable energy development is that legislation and regulation is fueled by strong emotions rather than hard science and a long term strategy.
After lunch, I heard from energy efficiency consultants who help reduce wasted energy in commercial real-estate. Did you know that these spaces consume 36% of our total energy, produce 40% of the green house gas emissions, and half of all that energy is wasted! Simple design plans can transform a building increasing its market value while reducing lifetime costs of operation. One problem is that after creating an energy consumption plan and installing energy efficient systems, many people and businesses fail to follow through with recommended strategies. We will still continue to dream up creative solutions to manage heating, lighting, and plumbing in our work spaces.
My favorite presentation of the day was from Jacqueline Yerby of Regence, CEO of Burgerville, Jeff Harvey, and Suzanne Swanson from Adidas. These three speakers delivered entertaining and smart examples of how they make an effort to improve the quality of their respective organizations. Burgerville commits itself to helping suppliers build the capacity to do new things, like process its restaurants cooking oils into biofuel. Swanson leads a group of employees who volunteer their time to reducing waste and executing Adidas corporate sustainability efforts, in addition to their full-time job. Finally, Yerby impressed the audience by sharing how she coordinates company wide efforts as the only member of the company’s sustainability team. These people make incredible improvements at large organizations with great impact protecting the environment. Even more astonishing is how little resources they use to make the changes.
The conference kept such a swift pace, it was challenging to network without being late to the next presentation, but I certainly hope to be in contact with many people who attended. One thing that really stands out about green professionals and organizations is a cooperative focus over a competitive focus. Naturally, companies wants to succeed by creating the best solution on the market, but these organizations are so deeply connected to one another that they understand the importance of sharing knowledge and inspiration with their neighbors. On a final note, not one person wants to predict what these green industries will look like in 10 years because they are guaranteed to be wrong.