Business in Portlandia

Understanding the soul of a sole

Understanding the soul of a sole

If you’ve seen the popular IFC show Portlandia, let me assure you as a Portland native, it’s firmly grounded in reality. Portland is militantly kept weird by it residents, but how does Portland do business?  “In terms of catchphrases, it’s snappy to call Portland the Silicon Valley of Sustainability,” explains UO Management Prof. Mike Russo in his book Companies on a Mission.  There’s plenty of reasons why value driven companies end up in Portland, but I’ll let you read the expert’s book on it.  The Center for Sustainable Business Practices often sets it’s sights on Portland companies, and this past term the students had the chance to visit two that are manufacturing locally: KEEN footwear and Purdy Paint Brushes.

Our first stop was KEEN’s headquarters, where we got to play with their recess equipment (including a full rock star drum set!), pet the many office dogs and get a dose of inspiration from both the CEO James Curleigh and Care and Community Manager Chris Enlow.  Check out Cassidy’s blog post on the KEEN site about the visit.

We then trekked to their Portland manufacturing plant, to see their boots in action.  It was a thrill to meet the people that make the shoes, and learn about ‘insourcing’, bringing back outsourced manufacturing jobs. Curleigh expands on how this was a benefit in unexpected ways in this NPR story.

After our footwear fun, we dove deeper into Portland’s industrial district to visit Purdy Paintbrushes.  This unassuming company was started in an Oregon garage, and grew to be a leader in top quality paintbrushes.  Not too shabby an accomplishment in it’s self, but recently the whole plant committed to zero waste, and achieved the goal in under two years.

MBAs embrace the safety goggles!

MBAs embrace the safety goggles!

Purdy is a member of ResourceFull Use, a collaborative organization dedicated to finding ways to reduce industrial waste streams. Brenda Demaree, Purdy’s Facility and Sustainability Manager, took us around the huge factory, indicating where a former waste stream used to be, and how the waste was being re-used or recycled.  There were definitely no trash cans. I can personally attest to this: I held onto a plastic wrapper until the end of the tour so I could ask her where I should dispose of it.   She identified the proper recycling bin, and launched into how open the employees were to changing their behaviors to support the endeavors of her and her team.  No doubt it took a lot of employee buy in to create such a dramatic impact in so short a time.

Maybe willingness to embrace change is a reason why so many green companies end up here?  I’ll have to consult the book, but one thing’s for sure: Portland likes it’s business innovative, invigorated and sustainable, and that sounds like something I’d tune in for.


Written by UO Business

The UO Lundquist College of Business empowers an engaged community of students, faculty, staff, and stakeholders who create, apply, and disseminate knowledge that contributes significantly to their professions, communities, and society. The college delivers a dynamic learning environment where world-class professors engage and get to know students, where students work on real projects for real companies, and where alumni go on to high-powered jobs worldwide.