Pacific Northwest Sustainability Pioneer Portland

Portland has seen some of the fastest population growth in the last few years, yet it still remains one of the greenest cities in the nation. In fact, Portland is a Pacific Northwest sustainability pioneer. What’s the catch? One possible reason why Portland is commonly ranked among the cleanest cities is simply due to its location and geography. The City of Roses is situated close to the Columbia River basin; a network of large rivers that produce an abundant amount of hydro-power for the Pacific Northwest. Thus it’s no wonder that hydro-power accounts for nearly 45% of the electricity consumed in the state of Oregon. In addition to renewable energy, the City of Portland takes many measures to ensure that it stays green, such as its transit system, sustainable architecture, water supply, and waste management. Here are 4 unique ways that Portland manages to stay green (and weird) in the midst of its population influx.

1. Commitment to Local Food

While “Portlandia” satirizes the eating-local trend, it’s no doubt that this city is notorious for localized food production and community agriculture. An example is “Community Supported Agriculture” (CSA), where ‘shareholders’ are connected to farmers by purchasing a portion of the farm’s harvest on a weekly basis. This popular program allows consumers to increase their consumption of local healthy food, while also supporting small local farming businesses. Another way in which Portland promotes local agriculture is through the “Urban Food Zoning Code Update“, a project that allows market gardens, community gardens, and farmers markets to be established throughout the city. The purpose of this development is to assert Portland’s commitment to neighborhood-scaled food production as well as access to healthy, local food in all urban areas.

2. Green Building Policies

To mitigate the unsustainable repercussions of building construction and operation, the City of Portland is dedicated to incorporating green building practices into all city-owned facilities. LEED Gold certification is mandatory for all newly constructed or renovated facilities, while existing city-owned buildings must pursue a LEED Silver certification. In addition to LEED, all roof replacements must be at least 70% “ecoroof”. Clearly, the local government of Portland is exceedingly devoted to sustainable architecture. In fact, it’s home to 175 LEED-certified buildings, making it the city with the highest number per capita in the nation! Other cities should strive for stringent building policies like Portland’s to decrease their carbon footprint and reduce environmental costs.

Rail system in downtown Portland. Image via Ian Sane.

Rail system in downtown Portland. Image via Ian Sane.

3. Transportation

More and more people migrate to Portland every year, increasing the potential for more cars on the roads, thus resulting in increased traffic congestion and lowered air quality. However, public transportation usage is growing much more than automobile use despite a rising population. TriMet, the public transportation system in the Portland area, eliminates 65 million car trips every year, and keeps 4.2 tons of pollutants out of the air annually. From 2007 to 2012, Portland was ranked number one in public transportation in Travel & Leisure Magazine. I can personally vouch for the public transit of Portland as well; I regularly take the MAX train instead of driving to avoid traffic. Plus it’s just so convenient!

4. Recycling and Waste Management

Growing up in Portland, the practice of recycling was always a no-brainer for me; it’s something I’ve done ever since I was a child! I was astonished when I discovered that many cities, even many states, don’t enforce recycling policies. Portland is a pioneer when it comes to waste management. For example, it was one of the first major cities to ban plastic bags. Portland also has a goal to increase the recycling rate to 75% in 2015. A composting program was also created to ensure that each waste and recycling company also offers compost collection. The Natural Resources Defense Council considers the City of Roses to be one of the top recyclers in the nation. In fact, Portland’s recycling rate in 2011 was almost 60%, well above the national average. The “Portland Recycles!” program is so effective that roughly 250,000 tons of CO2 are reduced each year through residential recycling. If all cities were as waste-savvy as Portland, we could greatly reduce CO2 emissions across the nation.

More article on sustainability initiatives, many of which Portland already implements.

Feature image Portland waterfront. Image via Ian Sane.

About The Author

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is a recent graduate of the University of Oregon where she earned a Bachelor of Science in environmental studies and a minor in business administration. Growing up discovering the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest gave her a passion for both conservation and sustainability. She hopes to expand her knowledge of climate change by earning a Master’s degree in environmental science and specializing in biogeochemistry. As a foodie, her interests lie in cooking and baking, as well as traveling, camping, and exploring the outdoors.