Archive for October, 2009

Linking a sustainable Portland with how fair it is to all

Friday, October 30th, 2009

By Eric Mortenson, The Oregonian

October 30, 2009, 7:00AM

orfield.jpg

When Myron Orfield first visited Portland 15 years ago, Northeast 15th and Alberta was Portland’s poorest Census tract. Now it’s a gentrified example of change. Everyone tells us we’re great. We recycle, use trains and buses, capture our rainwater, support local farmers and protect our wetlands. The urban growth boundary around metropolitan Portland keeps sprawl on a leash and farmland protected. We’re so sustainable that scholars and land-use planners come from all over to gawk and gush.

Myron Orfield included, to a certain extent. Compared to most American cities, the greater Portland region plans and regulates growth wisely, and provides transportation options – all good if the region is to achieve longterm sustainability.

“The thing about Portland is, there’s probably no place that does such a good job on so many things,” says Orfield, a law professor at the University of Minnesota and director of its Institute on Race & Poverty.

But Orfield, visiting the area this week to speak on “Achieving Metropolitan Equity,” spent part of his time wagging a finger.

If sustainability isn’t also linked to social justice, Portland’s vaunted livability and vitality — the qualities that separate us from the decaying cores of Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukie and Kansas City — could be in jeopardy.

“Don’t let it get away from you,” he says.

How? By not resting on our organically grown laurels.Social justice signals many things:

Keep watch on banks’ lending practices, Orfield says. Find out if real estate sales people steer whites to white areas and minorities to poorer parts of town. Pay attention to municipal and regional land-use decisions, such as Metro’s on-going designation of urban and rural reserves and whether to expand the urban growth boundary. Then decide which areas of your part of town benefit from mass transit and which are bypassed – those choices could reveal bias that favors the affluent while punishing others.

Creating a sustainable, equitable city, it turns out, involves elements not traditionally thought of as “green.” It’s all about not being out of balance, for an out of balance city brings strife and need – things that can challenge a sustainable future.

Volunteer in school, for example. The presence of more affluent parents, with time to spare, helps assure poor kids of working parents don’t get jacked around. Desegregate schools with magnet programs, and make sure real estate agents are sharing school success stories with prospective homebuyers.

Insist that elected officials take a collaborative approach. Individual cities and school districts don’t have the means to solve problems on their own.

Orfield is considered among the nation’s leading social demographers, and he has made a special study of Portland. The week he visited Clackamas, Beaverton and Portland for panel discussions on growth and fairness. Despite his cautions, he considers us an example for other American cities.

On his first visit about 15 years ago, he asked host Robert Liberty, now a Metro councilor, to take him to the region’s poorest Census tract. Liberty escorted him to Northeast 15th Avenue and Alberta Street.

A return visit years later revealed an area transformed by redevelopment and gentrification.

Gentrification has good aspects and bad, Orfield says. It adds opportunity and stability and can often bring more environmental priorities to an area. But increased property values may price the poor out of the neighborhood and send them packing.

“It shouldn’t be a musical chairs game when an area gentrifies,” Orfield says.

He’s particularly concerned about what he calls the “resegregation” of cities — the resettling of poor and minorities in concentrated pockets — and sees signs of it in the Portland area. Pockets of poverty in schools — where 70, 80 or 90 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches — are harbingers of future problems.

In 1998 there were only 14 elementary schools in the Portland area with more than 50 percent minority populations. In 2008, that number had grown to 67 schools.

“Left unchecked, these trends will very quickly result in a highly segregated system of regional schools,” Orfield says.

Again, it sends the system out of balance and away from a sustainable present and future. Orfield finds it a worrisome trend in an area that otherwise can pat itself on the back.

“Racially and economically segregated schools hurt children,” he wrote in 2007. “Students who attend them are dramatically less likely to graduate from high school, to go on to college and to have middle-class jobs. They lack not only exposure to the white middle or upper classes, but also access to the same powerful social, educational and economic networks that are at the foundation of future academic and career choices.”

One way to fight that is through greater inter-governmental cooperation on land-use, transportation and growth management issues, Orfield argues. Doing so can ease racial segregation, promote job growth and assure economic equity.

Ignoring it, of course, is a bad thing: for us and the environment. It can turn the Portland region into another failed metropolis, Orfield figures.

“Cities steal malls and office parks from each other, fight tax incentive wars for auto malls, and zone out the poor for fiscal advantage in a process rife with haphazard planning and NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) biases,” he’s written. This disjointed status quo scatters new jobs like grapeshot across the metropolitan landscape, pushing metropolitan housing markets even farther afield into farmland, forest and sensitive natural places. As a result, transit, a cleaner environment, and basic opportunity for lower income Americans becomes harder, not easier, to accomplish.”

Orfield this week made clear he does believe the Portland area can get it right. It’s one of the reasons he studies us so closely.

“You are on the right path,” he says. “This is a different place.”

— Eric Mortenson

Linking a green world to a fair one

Building a sustainable city and one that is fair to all requires some things not typically considered “green”:

Volunteerism – More eyes and helping hands in poor schools, especially, can disrupt an equation that says poverty equals failure and is separate from environmental considerations.

Fair lending practices – Are banks extending credit into poor areas, where development lags?

Equity in real estate – Firms can’t engage in “steering,” sometimes subtly directing white homebuyers to white areas, and minority homebuyers only to areas where people of color live.

Activism/involvement – Pay attention when land-use and mass transit decisions are made. Speak up if the reasons are unclear.

Collaboration among agencies – It helps when agencies at city, county and state levels communicate in such a way as to find common purpose in public projects. In some states, such agencies pool a portion of their property tax receipts, so development in one area benefits all.

– Eric Mortenson

Arbor School Open House

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Open House!

Arbor School of Arts & Sciences

4201 SW Borland Rd.  Tualatin, Oregon 97062

503.638.6399    www.arborschool.org    admissions@arborschool.org

(more…)

Michigan school buses go the “extra miles” on biodiesel

Monday, October 26th, 2009

Bus rolls over 300,000 miles, highlighting performance and health benefits

Contact: Jenna Higgins/NBB
800-841-5849
October 26, 2009

JEFFERSON CITY, MO. – School bus driver Linda Rogers remembers the winter days with thick, blue smoke fouling the air around the buses. Those were the days before her district switched to B20, a blend of 20 percent biodiesel.

“Since switching to biodiesel, it is much cleaner and smells much better,” the 20-year veteran of the St. Johns, Mich. Public Schools said. “When fueling, you don’t have the smell on your hands all day. Your clothes don’t smell like diesel all day. It is a much better work environment and much healthier for the kids and the community.”

The school district’s switch to B20 in 2002 came from the persistence of Wayne Hettler, Garage Foreman & Head Mechanic for St. Johns. His foresight has led to a reported track record of bus longevity and reduced service needs, saving the school district money.

Last week, “bus #14” rolled over 300,000 miles – a milestone Hettler attributes to B20 and believes no other Michigan school bus used on a daily route has achieved.

In October, 2002, bus #14 had 119,621 miles on the odometer. That was the first day of the rest of its life on B20. Since then, the maintenance on this engine has been very low with the only unscheduled maintenance being a $160 lift pump and a $90 injector, according to Hettler.

In addition, because biodiesel adds lubricity to the engines, St. Johns has been able to extend their engine oil changes from roughly 6,000 miles between changes in 1997, to 12,000-18,000 mile intervals, depending on the engine type. That alone cut filter costs by more than half.

St. Johns fleet includes 28 buses and 12 support vehicles. Fourteen of the 28 buses have over 200,000 miles on them and total bus fleet mileage is well over 3 million miles on B20.

Hettler adds, “I think I’d have a revolt on my hands if we ever went away from the biodiesel. And, I know without a doubt that driver absenteeism has also gone down since we’ve fueled with B20. Using B20 has extended the life of our buses and saved our tax payers money without jeopardizing safety.”

However, much to Hettler’s dismay, budget cuts and a recent increase in the cost of biodiesel forced their transportation department to purchase a lower blend of biodiesel. They went from B20 to B5 for a short timeframe, but hope with their next fill to return to the B20 level.

“With the cost-savings we’ve experienced, I hope the community and administrators will find it important to not cut the fuel budget and allow our schools to continue fueling with B20. You cannot put a price on health, and I feel that by fueling our buses with B20, we have improved the overall health of our staff, the children, and the community.”

Biodiesel is a renewable fuel made from agricultural byproducts, such as soybean oil, recycled oil and fats. Biodiesel reduces most regulated emissions substantially, including greenhouse gases and potential cancer causing compounds. The NBB is the national trade association of the biodiesel industry and is the coordinating body for biodiesel research and development in the United States.

The Economic Case for Slashing Carbon Emissions

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

Wed Oct 21, 2009 2:28pm EDTBy Yale Environment 360 – Yale Environment 360

By Frank Ackerman

The climate change news from Washington is cautiously encouraging. No one in power is listening to the climate skeptics any more; the economic stimulus package included real money for clean energy; a bill capping U.S. carbon emissions emerged, battered but still standing, from the House of Representatives, and might even survive the Senate. This, along with stricter emission standards in Europe and a big push for clean energy and efficiency standards in China, provides grounds for hope for genuine progress on emissions reduction.

But while climate policy is finally moving forward, climate science is moving faster. One discovery after another suggests the world is warming faster, and climate damages are appearing sooner, than anyone had expected. Much of the policy discussion so far has been aimed at keeping the atmospheric concentration of CO2 below 450 parts per million (ppm) – which was until recently thought to be low enough to prevent dangerous levels of warming. But last year, James Hansen, NASA’s top climate scientist, argued that paleoclimatic evidence shows 450 ppm is the threshold for transition to an ice-free earth. This would imply a catastrophic rise in sea levels, eventually flooding all coastal cities and regions.

To avoid reaching such a crisis stage, Hansen and a growing number of others now call for stabilizing CO2 concentrations at 350 ppm. The world is now around 390 ppm and rising; since CO2 persists in the atmosphere for a long time, it is difficult to reduce concentrations quickly. In Hansen’s scenario, a phaseout of coal use, massive reforestation, and widespread use of carbon capture and storage could allow the world to achieve negative net carbon emissions by mid-century and reach 350 ppm by 2100.

Can we afford to reduce atmospheric concentrations of CO2 to 350 ppm by the end of this century? To address this question, Economists for Equity and Environment (www.E3Network.org) – a group dedicated to applying and developing economic principles to protect human health and the environment – conducted a study of “The Economics of 350.”

Why the wide range of cost estimates?

At first glance, there is a bewildering range of estimates of the costs of climate protection. Look more closely, however, and there are just a few projections of economic disaster, out in right field by themselves. Other estimates range from modest costs to small net economic gains.

The outliers are the handful of private consultant studies funded by partisan lobbying groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. Using proprietary models (or their own adaptations of standard models), and pessimistic economic assumptions, these studies forecast that even mild U.S. proposals, such as last year’s Lieberman-Warner bill, would cost many thousands of dollars per household and would cause widespread unemployment and economic dislocation. An analysis by journalist Eric Pooley documents the excessive, often uncritical attention given to these studies by the media.

These projections of economic ruin have not been reproduced by any major academic or non-profit research group. Many economic models find that the modest steps called for in recent U.S. proposals would have very small costs and virtually undetectable effects on total employment – as documented in a report by Nathaniel Keohane and Peter Goldmark for the Environmental Defense Fund.

But to reach 350 ppm, we will have to go far beyond the emission reductions considered in recent U.S. proposals. How much will it cost to reach this more ambitious target? Until recently, most economic research focused on higher targets such as 450 ppm or more. There are, however, four major climate economics modeling groups – all at European universities – that have analyzed the costs of reaching 350 ppm.

One group starts from the (realistic) assumption of high unemployment, and finds that long-run employment and economic growth would be increased by a program of public investment in green technology and emissions reduction that leads to 350 ppm. The other three groups adopt the common assumption that short-run unemployment can be ignored in long-run models. They generally find that the needed emissions reductions will cost an average of 1 to 3 percent of world economic output, for some years to come.

Other studies have reached more optimistic conclusions about costs. McKinsey & Company, an international consulting firm, has carried out detailed studies of the costs of hundreds of emission-reducing technologies. They find that some emissions can be eliminated for no cost or even an economic savings; more than half of worldwide business-as-usual emissions in 2030 could be eliminated at very small total cost. The net costs of reducing carbon emissions (i.e. investment costs, minus the value of energy saved) go down when the price of oil goes up, and vice versa. McKinsey’s entire package of reductions, eliminating more than half of world emissions, would have zero total cost if the price of oil were $90 per barrel.

Studies from major environmental groups, including Greenpeace and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), have reached even more optimistic conclusions than McKinsey. Both Greenpeace and UCS project substantial economic savings from emission reduction, with fuel savings much larger than the costs of investment. Both assume high oil prices – up to $140 per barrel for Greenpeace – along with rapid change in emissions-reduction technologies.

Deciding whether it’s worth the price

The range of cost estimates for reaching 350 ppm, combined with uncertainties about oil prices and future technologies, make it difficult to choose a single estimate of the total economic cost. Suppose that, for the sake of argument, 2.5 percent of world output must be spent on climate stabilization for years to come. Is that an unacceptably large number?

Imagine an economy growing at 2.5 percent every year (a little slower than the recent U.S. average). Suppose it skips one year’s growth – all too easy to imagine in 2009 – and then resumes growing. That makes GDP 2.5 percent smaller than it would have been, forever. So the “skip year” has the same effect as spending 2.5 percent of output on climate protection every year. Household incomes would take 29 years to double, instead of 28.

Alternatively, we know we can afford to devote 2.5 percent of income to protection against a remote but disastrous threat – because we already do, year after year. In 68 countries, military spending exceeds 2.5 percent of GDP. In the United States and China, the top greenhouse gas emitters, military spending absorbs more than 4 percent of GDP. Both countries would be safer, not more vulnerable, if they diverted half of their defense spending to defense against climate crisis.

The most important conclusion of our research involves what we did not find. There are no reasonable studies saying that a 350 ppm stabilization target will destroy the economy. This is not surprising. The ominous recent research on potential climate damages does not examine the cost of doing something; instead, it looks at the cost of doing nothing about emissions.

If the worst happens, our grandchildren will inherit a degraded Earth that does not support anything like the life that we have enjoyed. On the other hand, if we prepare for the worst but it does not quite happen, we will have invested more than was absolutely necessary – in perfect hindsight – in clean energy, conservation, and carbon-free technologies. Which extreme presents the greater danger?

Climate risk and insurance

Think about climate risk as an insurance problem. You don’t buy fire insurance because you’re sure your house will burn down; rather, you are not, and cannot be, sure enough that it will not burn down. Likewise, projections by Hansen and others of dangerous climate risk from staying above 350ppm CO2 are not certainties; they are necessarily uncertain (although becoming more likely as temperatures rise).

The analogy to insurance is important but inexact; there is no climate insurance company to which the world can hand 2.5 percent of output, if that is what it costs. There is, however, a need for large-scale investment, both in proven emissions-reducing technologies and in research and development.

The role of government in climate policy is not only to set appropriate price signals through a carbon tax or cap-and-trade system; the public sector must also guide research on clean energy technologies. Despite free-market mythology to the contrary, this has worked well in the past. Wind power is profitable today as a result of decades of government investment in the United States and Europe. In another arena, the U.S. government essentially invented microelectronics in the 1950s and 1960s: At first, almost all transistors, integrated circuits, and the like were bought by agencies such as the Pentagon and NASA, because no one else could afford them. Just a few decades of massive government purchases of these items turned microelectronics into the premier private-sector success story of the late-20th century, transforming everyone’s life in countless unexpected ways.

The climate crisis challenges us to do it again, to invent the new technologies and industries that will transform life in the mid-21st century and beyond. We know it’s possible: We can afford to protect the climate, and leave a livable world to future generations.

Reprinted with permission from Yale Environment 360

PCC gets stimulus money to go “net zero” on energy, carbon emissions

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

By Harry Esteve, The Oregonian

October 20, 2009, 3:47PM

Portland Community College is poised to begin work on a $15 million project aimed at eventually turning the Sylvania campus into what’s called “net zero” — newspeak for generating all energy on site and offsetting all carbon emissions.

Plans for the first phase, expected to begin within a few months, include installation of a 1.1 megawatt natural gas generator and sophisticated monitoring of heating and air conditioning systems.

Those steps alone will lead to a 57 percent reduction in the campus’s carbon output and reduce its energy spending from $1.6 million a year to $440,000, said Linda Gerber, PCC Sylvania president.

“I believe that higher education has a responsibility to lead the country in addressing global warming,” Gerber said. Her campus also will stress sustainability and green technology in its curriculum, she said.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski highlighted the PCC project on Tuesday in an announcement of $7.2 million in federal stimulus money, including $1 million for the PCC upgrades. The money from the $787 billion federal stimulus package is being spent to make government buildings around the state more energy efficient.

Oregon universities will divvy up about $1.4 million for campus conservation projects, and the city of Portland is getting $500,000 for energy upgrades. In all, the money will finance 97 different projects.

Kulongoski called the spending “an unprecedented opportunity” to save energy in public buildings. The money is expected to provide the equivalent of 268 full-time jobs for three months, mostly for contractors and construction workers.

The projects are less than sexy, many focusing on improved HVAC systems and new lighting. Multnomah County, for example, is slotted for nearly $1 million for lighting and heating systems. The county jail gets $375,000 to save on dryer heat in its laundry room.

About $15,000 will go toward a revamp of the heating and cooling system at Portland City Hall. Slower motor speeds, officials say, should cut the building’s electricity bill by $4,000 a year. The Portland Building next door, which houses several of the city’s largest bureaus, will get $275,000 toward computerized lighting and energy systems.

Four Smart Park garages downtown will receive $170,000 for lighting upgrades and about $48,000 will go toward a new boiler, cooling tower and heat pumps at the Southwest Third and Alder parking garage retail space.

PCC will add its $1 million share to another $14 million from various sources. The biggest — $9 million — comes from bond sales approved by Portland voters last year. The rest is a combination of state energy tax credits, low interest loans and money from the Energy Trust of Oregon.

Sylvania, the biggest of PCC’s four campuses and 12th biggest in the nation, hired the Portland firm Gerding Edlen to design a plan that would allow the college to attain “net zero” status. The goal, Gerber said, is not only to save energy and money but also to become a national leader in the effort to reduce climate-warming greenhouse gases.

“There are hundreds of campuses around the nation that could use this as a model for how to become sustainable,” she said.

Gerber stressed that the upcoming work at Sylvania is only the first phase. To attain true sustainability will require converting the natural gas generator to a biofuel cell, adding 2 megawatts of solar voltaic panels and reducing use of potable water by 50 percent, among other measures.

All told, the work is expected to cost $138 million, Gerber said.

— Harry Esteve

Green Briefs • Green and affordable homes?

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

The Portland Tribune, Oct 8, 2009

 

(news photo)

RENDERING BY BONN DESIGN

Artists rendering of Juneberry Lane.

The Clackamas Community Land Trust broke ground in late September on 12 homes in Oregon City designed to be affordable and earn the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design platinum rating, a set of green building standards.

Homeowners in the Juneberry Lane community will enjoy common garden space, a rain harvesting and irrigation system, central mailboxes and community bulletin board area, plus construction methods that optimize energy efficiency.

Working through the land trust, buyers with modest incomes can acquire one-story, three bedroom homes for an estimated $124,000.

Juneberry is the first certified Earth Advantage Community — a designation based on a new set of green standards set by Portland-based Earth Advantage Institute with support from the Energy Trust of Oregon.

The institute, an independent nonprofit, has certified more than 11,000 new homes.

Kudos for Intel, Nike

Intel ranked fourth-highest and Nike seventh-highest on Newsweek magazine’s Green Rankings of the nation’s 500 largest companies. Precision Castparts scored a lowly 466th.

After a one-year research project, the newsweekly ranked companies based on their environmental policies and reputation.

Intel was cited as the nation’s largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy, buying the equivalent of 46 percent of its domestic energy use from renewable sources. The Silicon Valley-based chipmaker, which has its largest base of operations in the Hillsboro area, also scored high for promoting energy efficiency, efforts to reduce toxic waste and tying employee bonuses to sustainability goals.

Nike, based in unincorporated Washington County, was cited for its environmental code of conduct at 650 contract factories in 52 nations. The magazine also noted Nike efforts to promote use of organic cotton and reduce packaging waste.

Precision Castparts, based in Milwaukie, scored the lowest of 21 corporations in the transportation and aerospace sectors.

Solar illuminates flag

The stars and stripes flying at the National Guard’s Camp Withycombe in Clackamas are now being lit at night by six solar panels.

“The Oregon Military Department is actively evaluating alternative energy sources to provide power in its facilities,” says Darrell Neet, facilities manager for 13 Northwest armories and training facilities. “Solar power to keep the flag illuminated at night is a perfect first test.”

Using solar panels saved at least $1,500 on new circuitry and conduit.

Luring “smart grid” business

The Software Association of Oregon and Oregon Technology Business Center are trying to foster new business formation in the burgeoning “smart grid” field.

In their Oregon Smart Grid Startup Project, the two groups are hoping to bring together professionals and ideas to aid in new business development.

“Competitive times often require innovative approaches,” says James Mater, cofounder of QualityLogic and key organizer of the Smart Grid Startup Project. “If Oregon is to make a mark in smart grid technology, we must bring together the best and brightest this state has to offer.”

For more information, contact Mater at jmater@qualitylogic .com or 503-780-9796; Steve Morris at smorris@otbc.org 971-223-4661; or visit www.sao.org/resource/resmgr/Smart_Grid/Smart_Grid_-_Prospectus.pdf .

Tour cohousing communities

People interested in cohousing are invited to an all-day tour of five Portland cohousing projects. On Nov. 7, participants will board a bus and visit Columbia Ecovillage, Peninsula Park Commons, Daybreak Cohousing, Cascadia Commons and Trillium Hollow. Cost is $94 to $120, and includes lunch.

People who live in cohousing typically agree to live in a community where members share cooking, laundry and common areas and make major decisions as a group.

Past tours have included people from around the country interested in living in cohousing.

To register, visit www.cohousing.org/tours, or contact Neil Plancon at neil@cohousing.org.

Going solar

Businesses interested in adding solar power are invited to a free Solar Oregon workshop, on Wednesday, Nov. 4, from 10 a.m. to noon, at East Portland Community Center, 740 S.E. 106th Ave.

Participants will learn about available solar technologies; financial incentives, tax credits and ownership models; and case studies of businesses that have invested in solar.

For more information and to register, go to http://solaroregon.org/workshops.

Climate action day

Paddlers are invited to participate in a local event staged as part of the International Day of Climate Action. The nonprofit group 350.org is promoting activities around the world Oct. 24 to draw attention to global warming.

A local event, called River of Action, will include an assemblage of paddlers on the Willamette River, who will use their bodies to form a giant 350.

Scientists estimate that 350 parts per million is a safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; the current level is 386 parts per million.

Local participants are invited to meet at the Portland Boathouse, 1515 S.E. Water Ave., just north of OMSI, at 11 a.m. Some kayaks will be available, but folks are urged to bring their own boats and other equipment.

Keen Inc., a Portland-based maker of footwear and other gear, is hosting a public pre-event party on Oct. 15, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., at their headquarters, 926 N.W. 13th Ave. That will feature live music, free beer and a film about climate change and kayaking.

 

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