Chris Forney, Senior Sustainability Advisor
In Part One of our interview with The Port of Portland (click here to read), we learned how one leading public agency integrates sustainability throughout their organization and empowers their staff to play a role. Part Two continues the conversation and uncovers examples of the opportunities created by systems integration.
Five Gears of Sustainability Engagement
Chris: At Brightworks, we’ve been looking at businesses and their relationship to sustainability through a lens developed by Peter Senge in The Necessary Revolution. Gear One is just complying with regulations, and Gear Two is volunteering to do a little more. Gear Three organizations are really partnering change with opportunity creation, and by Gear Five they are redesigned with sustainability as a well-defined core value in all business decisions. It seems like the Port is at “Integrate,” or Gear Three or Four. I can see that integration across your organization; it’s in your HR department and in your strategic and business plans.
Dorothy Sperry, Environmental Affairs Manager: We’re probably at “Partner Plus.”
Rachel Wray, Environmental Outreach Manager: Our alternative fuels usage is close to Integrate. We’ve made choices over the last eight-to-nine years to move toward alternative fuels, well ahead of it being chic.
Dorothy: We have an energy management strategy that includes partnerships and looks really long term at our energy use. And we buy 100% renewable energy credits to offset our energy use. We have air quality goals that are a little more rigorous than other agencies, and our energy strategy includes those goals.
Chris: That’s going to drive value for your stakeholders directly and indirectly.
Rachel: An interesting challenge for us is how we can meet some of our environmental goals in our different operating areas. For example, we support planting trees and native landscaping, but in some of our operating areas, that doesn’t work because certain trees and plants attract wildlife to the aviation environment, creating an unsafe situation for aircraft and birds. What does make sense is looking at surrounding neighborhoods, where improved tree canopy has great value for residents and the city overall. We’re partnering with Friends of Trees and working with adjacent neighborhoods, because trees shouldn’t be right next to the airfield.
Dorothy: How we treat the mitigation of wetlands is also an area where we are probably at “Partner Plus.” Traditional mitigation is a set of actions you take for a while, but then you’re done. But if we’re mitigating for an impact, that impact never goes away. Once you develop something, it’s developed. Our mitigation is ongoing and manages for multiple layers of value, including specific species and additional goals beyond what’s required.
Control Versus Influence
Chris: You guys are a great example of achieving sustainability without saying the word.
Dorothy: We aim for “super-compliance” and continuous improvement that can get us from being reactive to being proactive.
Rachel: We also have to recognize what we can control and what we can influence. We own the airport, but we can’t control everything that happens there.
Chris: That’s true. If you ask the question “What would a sustainable airport look like?” not all of the elements necessary to achieve it will be in your control. A sustainable airport might need people to behave in ways that you’re not in charge of, or require products that you can’t just buy off the shelf.
Rachel: Trying to be an influencer is a good step for us. We can’t ask someone not to drive their grandmother to the airport just because they’re burning fossil fuels. But we can make it easier to minimize those impacts. We can put up signs reminding people not to idle while they’re waiting. We can make pick-up, drop-off and parking convenient, so people aren’t circling the airport over and over in their cars.
Chris: Using those leverage points to influence positive behavior instead of instituting penalties has amazing potential. We have seen this effect on companies like Walmart and Interface, re-energizing their customers or employees about what they are doing, which drives profitability. Paired with the general Port ethic of seeking continual improvement, I can see how this also keeps you engaged and relevant with all your stakeholders. Thanks so much for speaking with us, and I wish you continued success with the great work you are doing.