In Portland, the following rules apply to retail businesses:
Recycling paper, plastic bottles, metal cans, and, in a separate container, glass bottles and jars, is required. Read the recycling requirements.
Waste containers cannot be stored on the sidewalk or street. Read the waste container storage guidelines.
Plastic single-use bags are prohibited. Read the single-use bag rules.
Single-use plastics, including plastic straws, stirrers, utensils, and individually packaged condiments, cannot only be provided upon customer request. Read the single-use plastics rules.
Recycling and waste reduction
Offer paperless receipts or “no printed receipt” options. Default equipment and/or train employees not to print receipts. Many customers don’t need them. If they do request one, offer to email a receipt rather than print one if that’s an option through your register setup. At a minimum, ask customers if they would like one rather than automatically printing one.
Use paperless system for payroll. If possible, default to electronic-only paystubs. Employees that still prefer printed versions can then opt to print them from home or ask to use a work printer.
Use paperless system for vendors. Don’t print invoices, bills of lading, etc. unless vendors require it.
Reuse, donate, or recycle product packaging and shipping materials. Whenever possible, offer your used boxes and packaging materials to staff or customers for reuse. Some private shipping companies like UPS and FedEx offices will take used foam peanuts for reuse. You can also check with businesses around you who do a lot of shipping to see if they can reuse your materials. Maybe some of your customers have home-based businesses and would be happy to take lightly used shipping supplies. You may be able to sharply reduce the amount of materials you throw away or recycle.
Clearly label recycling bins and regularly educate staff about Portland’s recycling guidelines. Get free recycling posters and stickers.
Donate or recycle unused/outdated electronic devices. Don’t throw away broken or outdated electronics: Set up a collection area and then check Metro’s Find A Recycler webpage for drop-off locations.
Purchase environmentally friendly products (consumer products, back room supplies, store fixtures, etc.). Whenever you are thinking about new products, office supplies, display cabinets, lighting and more, add environmental impact to your list of considerations. Prioritize recycled content, low-VOC treatments in fabrics and varnishes, used cabinets, and efficient lighting. When it comes to lighting and reuse, you can often save money, too.
Safely store and properly recycle fluorescent light tubes and compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs). Fluorescent lightbulbs (including tube style and CFLs) have mercury in them, so it’s important to dispose of them safely. They should never go into your mixed recycling or your garbage. Mercury is a heavy metal that harms the brain, liver and kidneys and can cause developmental disorders in children. Sending burned-out fluorescent bulbs to the landfill instead of a hazardous waste facility can lead to contaminated air, water and soil, and accumulate in the food chain.
Careless cleanup of a mercury spill can also put you at risk. Learn how to safely handle mercury. If your facilities manager or lighting contractor doesn’t take care of your burned-out bulbs, check Metro’s Find A Recycler website for locations where you can either drop them off or see the list of companies that can pick them up.
Note: Some LED bulbs can contain quite a bit of nickel, which could make them worth recycling. Also, colored LEDs can contain lead and arsenic. You can throw white LED bulbs away, but for other colors, use Metro’s Find A Recycler website to determine where you can drop them off for recycling or safe handling. As with any bulb, they should never be put in your regular recycling bin.
Safely store and properly recycle potentially hazardous products such as paints, solvents, and cleaners. Hazardous wastes include wastes your business or organization may generate every day: spent solvents, toner ink sludge, and heavy metals. Hazardous wastes pose real threats to real people, including cancer, nerve damage, and polluted drinking water.
Metro’s Recycling Information staff can provide details about recycling and disposal options, and answer many other questions about hazardous wastes. Call them at 503-234-3000 or visit Metro’s Find A Recycler website. Oregon’s Dept. of Environmental Quality (DEQ) provides assistance in determining what is and is not regulated as hazardous waste in Oregon, as well as whether businesses qualify as Conditionally Exempt Generators (CEGs).
Purchase paper and cardboard products made with 30% or greater recycled content. Look for recycled content when ordering printer paper, shipping boxes, and paper merchandise bags. You’ll be helping to close the loop on the recycling process.
Use green-certified cleaning products. Cleaning products impact indoor air quality and aquatic life. When it comes to purchasing green cleaners, these three programs have well-established standards:
If you’re interested in making your own cleaning products, check out this helpful guide from Metro.
Use high-efficiency electric hand dryers instead of paper towels in restrooms. High-speed electric hand dryers are the best environmental option for hand drying, above paper towels and standard speed hand dryers.
Use restroom faucet aerators that have a flow rate of 0.5 gallons per minute. Find the gallons per minute (gpm) number stamped into the outer edge of your restroom aerators. If it’s 1.0 gpm or greater, request free aerators from the Portland Water Bureau
Signed up to be a Green Street Steward and adopt a bioswale in your neighborhood. Bioswales are rain gardens that collect stormwater runoff from streets. When placed by the City along street curbs, they are often referred to as Green Streets. They help keep stormwater and pollutants out of our streams and rivers, improve the health of watersheds, and provide attractive streetscapes. The City conducts regular visits to bioswales to trim or replace vegetation and to ensure that they’re operating effectively. Green Street Stewards help in between these visits by alerting City staff to issues needing immediate attention.
Landscape with native and drought tolerant plants. Landscape with plants that are drought tolerant, native to the Northwest, and are hardy in urban environments.
Drink and serve tap water; don’t use water delivery service or single-serve plastic bottles. You’re already paying for high-quality water to come through your tap each month. Don’t pay for bottled water on top of that by having it trucked in or offering it in single-serve bottles. If there’s any concern about water quality (due to aging pipes, for instance), request a water testing kit from the City to test for lead, copper and iron.
If you decide you want to filter your water, there are a number of local companies that can provide directly plumbed and filtered water dispensers that will enable you to eliminate bottle transportation and waste. There are also an increasing number of affordable filters, for above or below the sink, that you can install.
Find more details about Portland’s drinking water. For help convincing co-workers to make the switch away from bottled or delivery service water, visit the Food & Water Watch website.
Purchase WaterSense-approved toilets or those that use 1.28 gallons per flush or less. A WaterSense label is printed on toilets that are independently certified for both performance and efficiency. Replacing an old, inefficient toilet with a WaterSense toilet can reduce water use 20 to 60 percent. If you’re remodeling soon or it’s time to replace an older toilet, check with Portland’s Water Bureau to see if they are offering rebates for toilets and other water-efficient fixtures. Currently, commercial accounts can get up to twenty rebates at $50 each.
Purchase WaterSense-approved urinals or those that use 0.5 gallons per flush or less. Consider replacing older, inefficient urinals with new, more efficient models. Check for rebates through Portland’s Water Bureau.
Make it easy for staff to walk, bike, take transit, or use carshare, carpool, or electric vehicles for work-related trips instead of driving alone. Here are some resources that can help:
- Trimet Transit Trip Planner
- Biketown bikeshare program
- Get There Oregon
- Get advice from the City’s sustainable commute experts
Participate in a commute challenge every year. Every year in May, the Street Trust organizes the Bike More Challenge. Anyone at your business can register—either as individuals or as part of a team. In early October you can join Oregon Get There Challenge. Don’t want to wait? Your business can create its own competition anytime. Compete against last year’s commute rate or compete across departments or locations. Set out to improve last year’s alternative commute rate or compete across departments or locations. Consider challenging a neighboring business or friendly competitor to see which commutes the most miles by bike, has the most new riders, rides the most days, etc.
Display sustainable travel options on your website for visitors. Add this information to your your website’s “contact” page. Make sure you’ve listed nearby bus lines, MAX or streetcar stops, electric vehicle charging, and/or bikeways and bike parking near your workplace.
Provide secure bike parking for customers. The City of Portland can even provide and install up to two free sidewalk “staple” bike racks, assuming your location meets a few minimal requirements. If you consistently see more than 10 bikes parked in front of your business, you might want to also check with the City about getting a bike corral installed. Bike parking corrals are created by installing multiple bike parking racks in a street parking space at or near your business.
Provide sheltered, secure bike parking for employees. Because employee bike parking is long-term, it should be sheltered from rain and it should be secure – in a locked room, enclosed by a fence, or within view of employees, a building attendant, or security guards.
Provide a bicycle tire repair kit, air pump and a spare lock for employees and visitors to borrow. Bikers occasionally forget to bring a bike lock to your business and sometimes need a loaner. Have a spare lock or a welcoming, secure space for them to leave their bike. An air pump and a tire repair kit can be helpful, too. Set up a small sign at your front desk so visitors and staff know it’s available.
Offer reimbursement, raffles, or other incentives to employees that bike, walk, or carpool to work. Best Workplaces for Commuters has helpful resources with details on tax benefits for commuters, carpool incentive programs, and more. You might start with their Commuter Benefit Briefs.
For bicycle commuters specifically, the federal government currently offers a tax benefit of up to $20/month. Your accounting and/or HR folks can learn more about the federal tax benefit in the IRS publication 15-b, Employer's Tax Guide to Fringe Benefits; see “Transportation (Commuting) Benefits.”
If you’re looking for smaller first steps to take, consider a gift-card raffle or pizza party (or both) every now and then. A common parameter is to include folks who use alternative transportation for at least 80% of their trips, but you can set any threshold you want. Celebrating staff that leave their cars at home can be rewarding for those making the effort and motivating for others that may simply need a nudge to give it a try.
Provide emergency ride vouchers or taxi reimbursements to employees who commute by foot, bike, transit, or carpool. Sometimes employees are reluctant to take alternative transportation to work because they worry they might need to suddenly leave work for unexpected personal needs (pick up a sick kid from school, accompany a relative to the doctor, etc.). Knowing their workplace has an emergency ride program in place helps alleviate those concerns. Solutions include offering cab reimbursement, bus tickets, and/or rides by coworkers. If your organization participates in one of Trimet’s employee pass programs or subsidizes at least $10/month per employee for alternative transportation, TriMet will supply your organization with cab vouchers. Feedback we’ve gotten from businesses indicates that employees are grateful the policy is in place, and that it rarely gets used.
Offer an onsite electric vehicle charging station, for employee and/or customer use. (Or promote one nearby.) Electric vehicles are becoming increasingly popular. That means an increasing number of people are making destination decisions based on whether they can charge their car while they shop, eat, or meet. Is there an EV station within one block of your business? If your business has its own EV charging spot, consider making it available for both employees and customers. You can learn more about EVs and EV charge stations through Forth.
Make customer deliveries by bike, hybrid or electric vehicle, or vehicles using low-carbon fuel. Can you use a local bike delivery service? If you already have standard cars or trucks, can you convert them to biodiesel?
Set a "no idling" policy for deliveries to and from your store. Idling for more than 30 seconds wastes more fuel than restarting the engine, and trucks and autos emit the same pollutants into the environment when idling as they do when they are moving. Ask your delivery people not to idle at their destination, and post “no idling” signs near your loading docks and doors. Drivers will save money while they help the environment.
Set all electronic office equipment to sleep after 15 minutes of inactivity. Many newer electronics are designed to enter sleep mode after a short period of inactivity. Still, you should check all equipment now and then to make sure it’s working as intended, hasn’t been overridden at some point and not set back, or that the period is set to as short a time as possible.
Schedule an energy audit at least every 5 years through your electric utility or the Energy Trust of Oregon. Your options for improving energy efficiency will depend on whether you lease or own your building, how you use your space, and the age of the building, etc. Lighting and HVAC are obvious places to look at, but each workplace can have additional, unique opportunities.
Use programmable thermostats to automatically reduce heating and air conditioning during closed hours. Occasionally check the settings on your programmable thermostats to make sure they are still set for appropriate on/off times. At the very least, check them after power outages, and in spring and fall when changes for daylight savings time take effect. If you have a few rebels overriding the settings on a regular basis, you might be able to minimize this behavior by setting the timer so that heat/air comes on 30 minutes before the first employee arrives. That way, the temperature is comfortable when people start their workday. To offset this extra energy, you should also program the thermostat to revert to your off-peak temperature 30 minutes to an hour before the last person leaves for the day. Most businesses stay perfectly comfortable for that last bit of time before leaving for the night.
Use either LED bulbs, T8, or T5 fluorescents with electronic ballasts, in linear lighting. When it’s time to replace or upgrade your lighting, check out LED options. The prices continue to fall and the options (bright or warm, dimming, colors, etc.) continue to expand. As with most energy equipment decisions you make, take advantage of Energy Trust of Oregon incentives to maximize your buying power.
Use LEDs or CFLs (compact fluorescent lightbulbs) in track and spot lighting. LEDs have improved in both quality and variety, even as the price per bulb continues to decline. Track and spot lighting has historically been very inefficient lighting. LEDs use much less energy than halogen bulbs and most other forms of spot lighting, and they offer you a range of tints and colors. As with all lighting projects, check Energy Trust of Oregon incentives to see if you can bring your costs down even further through rebates.
Use LED or ceramic metal halide for display case lighting. Your display lighting may be using much more energy that necessary. Whenever you need to replace burnt out bulbs, transition to LED or ceramic metal halides when you can. You’ll save energy and won’t have to replace bulbs as often.
Replace old emergency EXIT lights with LED versions. Some older buildings still have EXIT lights that use inefficient lighting. Replace them with new EXIT lights using LED bulbs and you’ll save energy 24-hours a day.
Use occupancy sensors or timers for lighting in storage rooms, offices, restrooms and other common rooms. Occupancy or motion sensors can be very effective, especially in rooms that are used sporadically. Estimates of savings after installing sensors range from 35-75 percent, depending on room size, type of lighting, and the use of the space.
Purchase renewable energy. PGE and Pacific Power both have green energy programs.
Weather seal doors. If you can see even a small amount of daylight around the edge of your external doors, you’re losing heated (or cooled) air. Replace or install doorway insulation and door sweeps to reduce this loss, and save money on your energy bill.
When replacing windows, choose double-pane or better. Switching from single-pane to double- or even triple-pane windows will reduce your need for heating and cooling. You’ll reduce UV ray impact and street noise, too.
Upgrade garage or parking lot lighting. If you haven’t updated the lighting in your parking lot or garage in the past 5 years or so, you should see if there are more efficient options available.
Management should support employees making sustainability improvements. Just one sustainability champion can make all the difference in your workplace, but the more employees you have, the more important it is to establish a sustainability group, or 'green team', that includes representatives from different areas of your organization.
Educate employees annually (at a minimum) about sustainability best practices. Everyone can benefit from a refresher about do’s and don’ts now and then. Use a newsletter, a lunch and learn, or make reminders at all-staff meetings. Get in the habit of doing this at least annually. You could also consider a Recycling 101 training every year or so. (Contact us for ideas.)
Communicate sustainability practices to customers. Don’t forget to share your accomplishments with customers and clients. Your business's commitment to sustainability can set you apart from your competitors. Share your successes through industry newsletters, social media, advertising, and marketing. This has the added benefit of acknowledging staff effort and achievement. It will help you maintain momentum, and even better, you may influence other organizations to make their own changes.
Educate new employees about sustainability best practices—including waste reduction, recycling, and commuting options. Don’t forget to provide details and direction for new hires about composting, recycling, alternative commute options, waste reduction efforts, etc. Include a sustainability and transportation section in your orientation materials. If you have only a few employees and take an informal approach to orientation, consider creating a one-pager with answers to FAQs along with a list of sustainability practices that you want new hires to keep in mind.
Create a sustainability plan and/or purchasing policy to guide decision-making. Your plan can be as simple as a list of actions, assignments, and dates, or it can be as complex as a multi-page document that describes your business's sustainability mission, goals, measurements, and next steps. A plan helps maintain sustainability efforts by keeping everyone informed, and prevents lapses due to employee turnover.
Encourage employee feedback, comments, and suggestions related to sustainability actions at work. Employees often see opportunities or have recommendations for greening the business, but they aren’t always sure how to share them. Encourage and capture as many ideas from as many employees as you can. Encourage staff to share ideas with a point person or green team member.
Donate in-kind services or products to community organizations. Sponsor local events, clubs, children’s sports teams or activities. Donate food, services or products to nonprofits for their fundraising events. Host fundraising days where you devote a percentage of the day’s sales to a local nonprofit or cause.
Create a policy to contract with women- and minority-owned businesses. Create and publicize your organization’s commitment to contracting with minority and women-owned businesses (MWBE). Not only can you use this lens when hiring for formal contract work, but you can also apply it to your own internal contracts with janitorial services, caterers, office remodelers, and others. Business Oregon has a search feature to help you identify businesses that have registered and been certified by the State of Oregon.
Provide employees paid time to volunteer in the community. This can take many forms, from individuals choosing and participating in their own volunteer experience, to teams, divisions or your entire staff working on a project together. Not sure where to start? Check out HandsOn Greater Portland’s guide.
Provide paid time for employees to serve in a community leadership role (business association, government advisory committee, etc.).
Set up a workplace charitable giving campaign, and match employee donations if possible. This can be a grassroots fundraising effort or a formal program that incorporates automatic payroll deductions and possibly matching funds.
Create a social responsibility mission statement to guide work and share it with the public. Looking for ideas? Conduct a web search on the phrase “social sustainability mission statement.” You’ll find a lot of examples. After you’ve read through several you’ll have a feel for how to draft a statement that reflects the particular values of your own office. Once your business has settled on a statement, share it with employees, and customers.
The content on this page was last updated in 2020. Please let us know if you discover outdated information or broken website links.