AXIS Performance Advisors

Demystifying sustainability

Small Businesses—Big Impacts

Copyright 2005 AXIS Performance Advisors

Small Businesses with Big Impacts
Case studies of two local businesses in pursuit of sustainability

By Marsha Willard

Courtesy Gualberto107,

Courtesy Gualberto107,

This Fall AXIS begins its third year facilitating the Implementing Sustainability certificate program at Portland State University (PSU). The program has attracted participants from large private businesses (e.g. Nike, Intel), government agencies (e.g. Tri-Met, Office of Sustainable Development, Washington Department of Ecology), and a number of small businesses. Since the purpose of the certificate program is to enable the implementation of sustainable practices, participants have taken on some exciting, high impact projects. We’d like to showcase two of the participating organizations that represent vastly different industries. The first is Wild Plum Catering, a small locally owned food catering service that provides a wide range of food and beverage catering to corporate and private clients in the Portland metropolitan area. The other is Green Building Services a green building and facilities management consulting firm recently spun off from Portland General Electric.

Wild Plum Catering & Fine Foods LLC
Wild Plum owner, Kjeld Petersen, a PSU certificate graduate of our 2004 program, is a strong advocate for sustainability in the food service industry and chose to participate in the PSU program to further his efforts with his own business. His project focused on the reduction of waste materials from all aspects of the catering operation including purchasing, food preparation, table service, decorations and cleaning. Typically the business produces about 2.5 tons of waste annually. Industry standards and Wild Plum’s own measurements determined that 70 to 75 percent of the total waste is compost-ready organic material while 5 percent is recyclable bottles and cans. He set an ambitious goal to reduce overall waste by 75% in the first year!

To achieve these reductions Kjeld addressed waste at each of the three key phases of his business’ service: event planning, food preparation and event service.

Event Planning —Wild Plum processes are based on the philosophy that “food is precious and is not to be wasted”. Their planners work closely with clients to make realistic estimates of food needs to minimize waste from the beginning. The emphasis is on quality over quantity and menus are designed to feature locally available fresh food to minimize transportation. Clients are also counseled about decorations and props to make sure that they are reusable or recyclable/compostable. Wild Plum provides the majority of its clients with seasonal organic decorations and floral displays which ultimately make their way to another use or to compost. Any useable, unserved food that does remain after an event is donated to Portland Metro’s Fork It Over program.

Food preparation — Kitchen waste reduction was accomplished through techniques to maximize their raw material purchases (e.g. using vegetable trimmings for stocks, rendering their own fats for sautéing and other techniques). Wild Plum also added “green barrels” for collecting compostable food preparation materials in the kitchen and is awaiting the delivery of the new City of Portland rolling compost bins. Certified compostable clear liner bags allow for easy visual inspection for contamination. Kitchen staff have enthusiastically embraced the new recycling processes and adopted them quickly with only a minimum of training.

Serving — For the most part Wild Plum provides traditional washable service ware and linens for its events. In the rare instance when disposable service ware is required, WPC uses only ASTM 6400 bio-certified, compostable products. And unlike most caterers, Wild Plum provides event sites with separate green barrels for on-site and hauls all waste, including compostable, recyclable and general waste back to its facility for proper handling.

To implement these measures Kjeld made a few small investments in “green barrels” and compostable trash liners. There was also a small investment in training to assure staff was familiar with the new recycling processes. The majority of changes, however, have not resulted in any additional costs to the firm, only modifications to existing programs. Already Wild Plum has experienced a 25% reduction in their waste hauling fees. These savings are expected to grow when Portland’s organic waste program goes into full swing later this year. In addition to these savings Wild Plum is also reaping the benefits of its reputation for sustainable service. Clients who have experienced the program are delighted with the results and enjoy the association with a company sincerely dedicated to improving the planet.

Green Building Services
Elaine Aye of Green Building Services is also a graduate of the ’04 certificate program. GBS is a green building consulting firm nationally recognized for their work in sustainable building and the LEED Rating System. Their staff is made up of architects, engineers and interior designers with extensive hands-on experience with all phases of building projects, from programming, through construction and into facility management. Their expertise is in growing demand as the building industry comes to recognize the benefits of sustainable building practices. As Elaine taught us, US buildings use 1/3 of the country’s total energy, 2/3 of our electricity and 1/8 of our water. GBS helps builders and organizations maximize building efficiency and minimize environmental and human health impacts. GBS has applied their expertise along with the organizational implementation strategies presented in the PSU certificate program with several clients and the results have been impressive.

Breathing Easier — Sick building syndrome (illnesses do to exposure to gases and chemicals often found in office buildings) affects between 30 million and 70 million Americans. The related costs due to health care expenses, absenteeism, lost productivity and lost revenue add up $50 billion annually for American businesses! One of GBS’ clients, Russell Development Company, owner of the 200 Market Building in Portland, took a proactive approach to the issue. With GBS’s guidance they switched to alternative cleaning products thereby contributing not only to the well being of the buildings occupants, but to the janitorial staff that services the building as well.  The 200 Market Building team also selected more environmentally friendly building materials for their tenant improvements. These materials have a lower VOC (volatile organic compounds) content, which prevent the off-gassing of harmful contaminants into the interior space. Janice Marquis, property manager for the building, is pleased with tenant response. “It’s important to us to protect the environment and it’s clear our tenants are concerned with these issues too.”

Conserving Resources — In addition to “cleaning up” the interior environment, the 200 Market Building was also targeted for water reduction. As indicated in the diagram below, a one time, up-front investment in new fixtures and other technologies, is netting the building owners a continuous annual savings.

Vernier Software & Technology, another GBS client, targeted energy efficiency in their sustainability efforts. Energy efficiency has far-reaching effects on the global environment by reducing resource extraction and depletion, and minimizing the contribution to accumulating greenhouse gases. Upgrading their building’s roof and mechanical system have netted measurable savings in energy. Lowering operating costs is always a plus to a business, but Vernier also experienced another common benefit from sustainable business practices — increased employee understanding and appreciation. An American Society of Interior Designers survey asked employees to rank their reasons for job dissatisfaction. While compensation came in first, 73% of respondents ranked dissatisfaction with the work environment a close second. Employees at Vernier are excited about the sustainability efforts of their company. They have not only learned ways to become more sustainable in their own lives and homes, they have developed a sincere appreciation for the company’s environmental efforts. Vernier believes this gives them an advantage in attracting and retaining a top workforce.

Elaine and Kjeld both admirably demonstrate the potential for achieving real business results through the application of sustainable practices. Along with the dozens of other program participants, they are leading the way to a more sustainable world.


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