By Adrian Chen
What is "sustainability"? Political ideology? Marketing catchword? A way of life? It's actually all three—and Portland is in the midst of a major sustainability craze. (As one Internet commenter noted, "Sustainability is the new grunge.") In theory, sustainability is the idea that you can live well today without jeopardizing the environment of the future. In practice, the concept has given rise to an entire "sustainable" infrastructure in Portland.
The city's government is intent on making Portland a model of new green enterprise. Portland's Office of Sustainable Development (portlandonline.com/osd) pushes the city's official crunchy agenda. OSD hands out grants to businesses, hosts information sessions, and monitors Portland's CO2 emissions (which have fallen an unprecedented 12.5 percent since 1993).
More than 350 businesses have joined the Sustainable Business Network's (sbnportland.org) "Think Local First" campaign.
One local newspaper, the otherwise middle-of-the-road Portland Tribune, features a monthly special section aimed at eco-conscious readers called "SustainableLife." Even Portland's local megacorporations have gotten into the sustainability game: Last year, OSD awarded sportswear monolith Nike an award for sustainable practices, including a program to recycle used shoes. Arguably, the showpiece of green enterprise is the inspiring Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center (721 NW 9th Ave.; universally known as "the Ecotrust building"), a beautifully recycled Pearl District warehouse tricked out with bioswales, a living roof and other eco amenities. The building's flagship tenant studies forests, fish, farms and other staples of civilization (ecotrust.org). Stuff down a slice of Hot Lips pizza—made with locally grown ingredients and cooked in efficient ovens—to see just how deeply green-biz principles have penetrated here.
From the vibrant local food movement (check out portlandfarmersmarket.org) to DlY-ers tweaking their Jettas to run on biodiesel to an annual recycled fashion show (junktofunk.org), almost every facet of life in Poland has at least some "sustainable" angle. With all this, it's no surprise that last year Portland was ranked the country's "most sustainable" city by Sustainlane.org. Some skeptics see sustainability as just another fad, but even if it is, sustainability in Portland shows no sign of going the way of grunge anytime soon.