Chris Forney, Senior Sustainability Advisor
If your company embraced collaboration and innovation from top to bottom, what could you achieve? The Port of Portland’s mission is to “enhance the region’s economy and quality of life by providing efficient cargo and air passenger access to national and global markets.” The Port has enmeshed its economic and community responsibilities with aggressive environmental goals by creating a healthy organizational culture for collaboration and innovation that finds opportunities in its challenges. Our presentation on the Business Case for Sustainability analyzes the value drivers of sustainability for any business. This two-part interview with the Port of Portland will share where and how this sophisticated organization found its business case for sustainability.
Chris: Dorothy, tell me about your role with the Port of Portland.
Dorothy Sperry, Environmental Affairs Manager: I manage the Environmental Management System (EMS) for the Port of Portland, which we use as a framework for implementing our environmental policies. The Port follows the general requirements provided by ISO 14000, an internationally recognized voluntary standard for EMSs. Conformance with the standards is an ongoing process. An EMS asks you to do the minimum required, plus whatever goals you prescribe for yourself. We started with the ISO standard, then implemented a systematic approach to setting environmental objectives and targets that address our environmental impacts.
Our environmental managers in the aviation and marine and industrial development departments are responsible for environmental management and compliance within their operating areas. They oversee high quality environmental staff. I work with them, wearing the “Port-wide” environmental hat for the organization’s environmental programs. We also have five environmental program managers focused on air quality, water quality, energy management, water resources management and waste minimization. The Program managers work in their more specific roles in operations and have a dual role in leading a program across organizational boundaries. This allows them to bring their direct experience in operations to development of policy and program objectives and goals.
Chris: Most organizations don’t just decide to be super compliant. How did the Port get there?
Dorothy: The Port Commission adoption of a Port-wide environmental policy jump-started the implementation of our EMS under the ISO 14000 standard. Just implementing the EMS opened a lot of conversations. It’s an integrated system, with many facets, and it encompasses everything we do that has an environmental impact.
The Power of Integration
Chris: The Port seems to really understand that creating change requires integration – not just hiring a Sustainability Manager to “handle sustainability” on their own. We’re seeing this with a lot of organizations, corporate or public.
Dorothy: For how we have to do business, it makes total business sense. We have a lot of environmental professionals here, but we don’t want them to be the environmental police. We want Port staff to feel like, “I can make a positive impact on the environment. I can change things.” Not, “The environmental department will tell me when I need to do something.”
Support starts at the highest levels, with our commissioners, directors, and senior managers and spreads out into the organization. Communication needs to be both top down and bottom up. Our business people need to understand what our environmental impacts are and how those impacts affect our business, and our environmental staff need to help articulate a clear business case for better environmental performance. It works both ways.
Rachel Wray, Environmental Outreach Manager: We’re constantly trying to improve. It requires ongoing, continued mindfulness.
Dorothy: It’s part of our new employee orientation. New staff members get trainings on the EMS and learn that everyone has a role; it’s not just a documentation system.
Chris: So your Human Resources department is involved as well.
Rachel: I gave a presentation to a group of new employees yesterday, which reviewed our environmental goals for the year. We talked about how we don’t always reach those goals, and that’s okay. What is important is that we have them and work toward them. It’s not the Environmental Management team that sets them. They’re set by staff, and staff helps effect that change. It opens the door for questions: What could be better? What could be different?
Dorothy: And potential employees we interview frequently mention our environmental goals and practices as a reason they want to work here.
Rachel: The Port has to think long term, not just focus on short-term crises. The Port has been around for a really long time, so how do we keep it successful? How do we keep finding solutions?
Dorothy: We don’t have endless resources so we have to make the best and most efficient use of what we have. Working toward environmental excellence should not necessarily cost your business more to operate; rather, it should contribute to increased efficiency and enhance the bottom line.
Rachel: We try to be fairly nimble because we’re a public agency that’s working for our money. Less than 5% of our operating budget comes from property taxes, so it’s our other revenue streams that allow us to exist. We do have to have an effective business model.
Transparency and collaboration at the Port Headquarters
Chris: There are a lot of organizations that can’t make decisions on these kind of initiatives due to internal gridlock, even if their intentions are good. What makes the Port able to move forward?
Rachel: Maximizing collaboration between staff was a very specific goal we identified during the design of our building, and our new office reflects that. We wanted to move away from top-down decision-making and make it physically easy to collaborate and communicate, which improves decision-making.
Dorothy: Collaboration is not something you can just force on people; you need to foster an environment where it can become part of your culture. We have many departments, business lines and varying financial models in our organization…but it all has to come together. We need to embody a systems model of thinking. The “it’s not my job, I’ll let someone else do it” model isn’t as productive.
Rachel: We want to encourage questions like, “This is my job that I have to do, but what else should I be thinking about?”
Click here to read part two of the conversation and learn more about how the Port’s sustainability commitment filters down to action.