Client Corner: Cate Millar of the Leftbank Annex

Josh Hatch, Climate Services Group Director, Brightworks

by Josh Hatch

Climate Services Group Director

How green do you want your business to be, and how do you know if you measure up to your own standards? The Leftbank Annex, a flexible event space in Portland, Oregon, requested an independent, third party sustainability audit to answer those questions for their business. We analyzed their operational practices and the preferred vendor list that they suggest to all of their clients to give them an accurate picture of their sustainability successes and opportunities for improvement. I sat down with Leftbank Managing Director Cate Millar to talk about what prompted the project for them, and how they’re planning on using the findings as they move their business forward.

Oregon Environmental Council 2011 Annual Event at the Leftbank Annex

Oregon Environmental Council 2011 Annual Event at the Leftbank Annex

Josh: You’ve said you want to be the most sustainable event space you can be. Where did that goal come from?

Cate: Our goal came from within – from our ownership really believing this is the right thing to do. Sustainability is the primary concern of very few of our clients. It’s somewhere on the list of concerns for many, but it’s not on the radar at all for the majority. It’s a pressure that’s just nascent in this market. But we know that if you look at the trends nationally, things are going that way. It’s there, it’s just not “the thing.”

Part of it for us is a role model mindset. If we can do it, anyone can do it. And we want to attract businesses and clients that want to put on green events, but we also want the events of people who don’t care to be as green as possible.

Josh: The “We’ve done our research so you don’t have to” model.

Cate: Right. It’s a nice exclamation point at the end of a tour with a prospective client. “By the way, this is how our space works. It’s green.” We’re giving them everything they want, and then some. This audit process provides independent corroboration that we’re doing what we set out to do. When I spoke with your CEO, he put it this way: “We walk the walk, so you can talk the talk.” We want to be sure we have the walk before we talk. There’s the issue of greenwashing, and we’re hypersensitive to it.

Josh: When you renovated the building, you installed high efficiency water fixtures, but also added plumbing for a future rainwater capture system. The high efficiency fixtures make a big dent in your water usage, but something the report turned up is that one of the biggest changes you can realistically make to be more resource efficient is capturing rainwater to flush toilets. You’ve actually already plumbed for it, but it’s still an investment – it’s a tank, and a system…

Cate: But that’s good to know, and we’ll use that information to help prioritize future capital decisions. And the vendor reviews you put together are something we can use right away. The great thing about this project is that you’ve confirmed what we believed – that we created the space we intended – and given us the tools to make incremental and major improvements that will keep us on track. In fact, having you do an annual review, or asking for your advice before making a major investment, would probably be a very smart thing to do. Every decision we make needs to build off this foundation.

The Leftbank Annex
The Leftbank Annex event space, photo from Benefit Auctions 360

Josh: Food is a really tough nut to crack when you’re talking about sustainability, and we know that. But your exclusive vendor is in the pack of leaders.

Cate: Our goal is to be the greenest possible event space we can be. After how we manage our facility, the caterer has the biggest impact on operations. We were very cognizant of that when we selected Bon Appetit. Sustainability is at the heart of their corporate DNA and we knew they would carry that part of the business.

Josh: Your vendors were very open about their sustainability challenges.

Cate: We wanted to offer our customers a list of “preferred vendors” that share our business and sustainability goals. We went through a rigorous process to vet our selections and are confident recommending any of our partners. When you speak to someone about sustainability, you can tell if they’re really committed or just talking the talk. When you ask someone what they do to be green you hope for a more thoughtful answer than “Well, I drive a Prius.” Our vendors had real answers; they gang deliveries to reduce travel, use local and organic food, natural cleansers and seasonal flowers. They compost and use recycled water to clean rentals. You know they’ve really thought about it.

Josh: You have to ask about specifics. If I ask a caterer where they get their tomatoes in winter, I know they’ve been deliberate when they have an answer like “This is something we struggled with for a long time, but eventually we found a vendor who does thus and so, and here’s why we think that’s best.” When they have a static policy like, “We only buy organic tomatoes,” it almost seems too cut and dry.

Cate: If we’re committing to continual improvement , our vendors have to be too. If you’re at the head of the pack and do nothing, everyone else passes you by after a few years. This assessment is only a beginning. That’s what’s exciting to me. It’s never done.

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