Bright Green in an Emerald City: Visionary Conservation Practices

By: Nora Ferm Nickum Posted: 04/17/2017

Devising creative methods for sustainability

Seattle Skyline Sunset

From sweeping vista views of Mount Rainier, to the shimmering shores of the Puget Sound, nature is a vital part of the Seattle metropolitan region and our long-term economic prosperity. Our changing climate, coupled with population growth and increasing use of natural resources, is impacting our environment. The Seattle Metro Chamber members below demonstrate how reducing pollution and advancing clean energy are wins for the planet and for a business’s bottom line. Their values and ingenuity are an inspiration for others to offset the impacts of climate change.

Read about how local businesses are developing new innovative green solutions here.

To view the first part of the series and learn more about green initiatives in the region, click here.  

Table of Contents:
Darigold - Turning Milk Into Powder
Fremont Brewing - Farm-to-glass
GLY Construction & Nordstrom - Trees To Offset Company Emissions
Rick Steves' Europe - Traveling Light And Offsetting Airline Miles
Stevens Pass Mountain Resort - Energy Conservation
Tom Douglas Restaurants – Local And Seasonal
Tom Douglas Restaurants – An Energy-efficient Kitchen
Virginia Mason – Surgery With A Smaller Carbon Footprint

Darigold - Turning Milk Into Powder

Darigold – Turning Milk Into Powder

The dairy industry is always adjusting to changes in the market and consumer preferences. These changes can also have an environmental impact, as they directly affect energy consumption in the industry. For Darigold, one product in higher global demand is high-grade powdered milk. In Asian countries in particular, the special milk powder will be used as an ingredient in nutrition shakes for aging populations and in baby formula. However, making powdered milk or cheese requires a lot more heat—and therefore energy—than making fluid milk.

In 2016, Darigold renovated its Sunnyside, Washington, plant to expand its capacity to make nonfat milk powders. The increased production of milk powder means greater energy use, so the internal energy team at the plant continues to seek ways to increase energy efficiency within its operations.

For example, one benefit of expanding the plant is that it’s taking more milk from local farmers. About 45 fewer truck hauls are needed per day now that farmers can send their milk to Sunnyside, instead of a plant on the other side of the Cascades. That adds up to a reduction in transportation of more than 7 million miles per year.

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Fremont Brewing Farm-to-glass

Fremont Brewing – Farm-to-Glass

Over a century ago, the area west of the Cascades produced rich amounts of barley, the second largest ingredient in beer after water. That changed after Prohibition. Today, there is a growing movement to bring grain production back to our region. Doing so would enable brewers like Fremont Brewing to source locally, reducing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with transporting barley from across the Cascades and allowing them to offer more specialty beers with heritage grains.

The brewery is already using local, organic grain from small producers for a couple of their beers, like Cowiche Canyon Fresh Hop Ale, and in small-batch beers that they serve in their tasting room. They also recently launched two new lines of beer—The Black Heron and White Heron Projects—that use all Skagit-grown, heritage grain. But most of the grain filling their 75,000-pound silo every week comes by truck from Eastern Washington and Idaho and is malted in Vancouver, Washington.

For five years, Fremont Brewing has partnered with Washington State University, Oregon State University, Skagit Valley Malting, and others to produce the annual Cascadia Grains Conference, which brings together farmers, brewers, distillers, bakers, and policymakers with the aim of revitalizing the grains economy west of the Cascades. Fremont Brewing hopes that growing the market for local grain will enable them to source a greater diversity of barley, innovate and experiment, and get exactly the kind of flavor profile that they want for each kind of beer. They also note that using regionally grown and malted grain can benefit small farmers by giving them an additional crop to use in rotation with high‐value fruit, vegetable, and bulb crops—resulting in additional revenue.

Fremont hopes to demonstrate to other brewers that it’s worth it to buy local, even if it costs more. The company doesn’t do complicated calculations to determine if investments in greener operations, local sourcing, or climate change mitigation efforts will save them money in the long run. They instead do a gut check. “We ask ourselves, ‘Is this the right thing to do?’” says Sara Nelson, co-owner and founder of the company. “Being a small business allows us to be nimble, since we don’t have to convince shareholders when we want to take action. Small businesses need to step up."

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GLY Construction & Nordstrom Conservation

GLY Construction & Nordstrom – Trees To Offset Company Emissions

On a rainy day in February, employees from GLY Construction and Nordstrom set out for the Stillwater Natural Area in Snoqualmie Valley, ready to plant trees along the Snoqualmie River where swaths of blackberry bushes once stood. The opportunity came about through Forterra’s Evergreen Carbon Capture program, which engages local businesses in calculating their carbon footprint and investing in corresponding local restoration efforts. 

The companies decided how many trees to plant based on the emissions from each of their operations. GLY’s carbon footprint number, for example, is based on its main office operations. As a construction company, by far the greatest carbon impact is at its construction sites. GLY is collaborating with its competitors to address the complexities of analyzing materials and transport requirements—as well as the activities of numerous subcontractors—and find ways to better monitor, measure, track, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Through its participation in the Evergreen Carbon Capture program, GLY has planted over 770 trees throughout the Snoqualmie Valley since 2012.

Nordstrom joined the Evergreen Carbon Capture program in 2013. Since then, the company has planted 1,817 trees, corresponding to 50 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions from the 11 Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack stories in Western Washington. The primary source of emissions from retail stores like these is energy use, especially from lighting. While offsetting their emissions through tree planting, Nordstrom is also working to reduce energy use by upgrading virtually all light bulbs in its retail stores to LEDs by 2018. It is a win-win: not only do lighting upgrades lower energy bills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but merchants have also said that LED lights help colors pop and show off products better.

The trees planted on that rainy February day were some of the 450 trees newly planted at the Stillwater Natural Area by GLY, Nordstrom, and other partners in 2017. Collectively, these trees will mitigate over 2,250 tons of carbon emissions. The trees also help build resilience to climate change impacts. As stream temperatures rise, for example, they provide shade for migrating salmon. The trees also help stabilize the banks, which can be increasingly vulnerable to erosion from heavy rain and streamflow.

The Stillwater Natural Area is one of several program sites in the Snoqualmie Valley, where Forterra’s nonprofit partners—Stewardship Partners and Sound Salmon Solutions—have made a long-term commitment to restore the river valley. The success of the program relies on these partnerships, as well as the ongoing commitment of companies like Nordstrom and GLY to taking action on climate change.

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Rick Steves Conservation

Rick Steves’ Europe – Traveling Light and Offsetting Airline Miles

For many people, airline flights make up the largest part of their carbon footprint. What can you do to reduce that impact if you love—or need—to travel? Rick Steves’ Europe takes travelers to Europe every year, and has some concrete answers to that question. 

In 2006, Rick Steves’ Europe sponsored the planting of 80,000 trees. Now, every year, those trees are growing and sequestering carbon, offsetting the emissions associated with the 10,000 flights taken by their tour members. Rick Steves also shares his travel philosophy of traveling as light as possible, only taking what we really need. This simplifies travel but it also has an environmental benefit: planes carrying less luggage burn less fuel. Rick Steves’ Europe sells only small suitcases in their store, recommends clothes that can be easily washed and dried in hotel rooms to reduce the number of outfits needed, and offers a monthly packing class to show people how they can get along with only a standard carry-on bag, even for extended trips.

Rick Steves is concerned about climate change, and understands that he has credibility with the general public, so he shares his views on his blog periodically. He has posted pictures of places he’s seen on his travels where communities have needed to build new infrastructure to protect themselves from climate change impacts like increased flooding. Sometimes, extreme weather events affect the company’s tours: about four years ago, there was a major flood in the Cinque Terre in Italy, and they had to reduce the number of tours going to that area. The company already limits the number of walking tours in the Mediterranean in the hot summer months, and as climate change lengthens the high temperature season, they may consider switching more trips to places like Scandinavia or Great Britain.

Internally, the company is taking actions that are easy and cost-effective—changing old light bulbs out for LEDs, for example—demonstrating things that any homeowner or business could do to use less energy. Rick Steves’ Europe doesn’t see itself as a trendsetter—rather, they apply common sense business practices that contribute to broader efforts to mitigate climate change and increase sustainability.

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Stevens Pass Energy Conservation

Stevens Pass Mountain Resort – Energy Conservation

Sited high in the snowy mountains, ski resorts pose unique challenges in the effort to conserve energy. With thousands of skiers opening lodge doors and letting in cold air on winter weekends, heating needs are high and it iss hard to keep the heat in the building. Vaporlock vestibule doors are used to reduce heat loss in other places, but they are tough to use when people are tracking snow in with them, as the snow needs to be able to melt and drain away.

Stevens Pass Mountain Resort does energy audits every few years to identify ways to increase efficiency; one year, they found that dampers in the elevators were constantly open and releasing heat. To address this problem, they made mechanical adjustments to keep them closed.

The Resort also aims to use more renewable energy. Some of the lift shacks on top of the slopes are heated, and Stevens is working to power more of these using solar panels. Stevens also offsets all of its power, fuel and propane use with a subsidy that enables the utility to prioritize windpower over coal in the grid.

A third area where Stevens is working on energy conservation is to incentivize skiers to reduce emissions associated with their travel to the resort. Skiers who carpool to the resort in groups of four or more per car can park in the two closest lots for free on peak days, a $20 savings. Stevens was also the first resort in the West to host public chargers for visitors using electric vehicles. The resort’s efforts extend to group transportation as well: by issuing a no-idling policy and providing a lounge with discounted refreshments for bus drivers, Stevens is trying to prevent buses from sitting in the parking lots with the heat running all day. The resort also uses park and rides in the region to reduce carbon emissions: Stevens has an extensive contract transit fleet that delivers over 2 million employee passenger miles per season. Next for the resort is trying to encourage more skiers to use shuttles as well.

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Tom Douglas Conservation

Tom Douglas Restaurants – Local and Seasonal

Buying local, organic, and seasonal food has become increasingly popular—and it also directly reduces environmental impacts associated with pesticides, herbicides, and the fuel and greenhouse gas emissions associated with transporting food from across the country or around the world. Tom Douglas and his wife and business partner, Jackie, have owned and run a farm in Prosser, Washington, for the past decade. For seven months out of the year, the farm delivers an average of 1,500 pounds of produce every week, which makes up an important part of the ingredients used in their Seattle restaurant kitchens. Some of the food waste produced in their kitchens is even cycled back as compost on the same farm. Tom is demonstrating that sustainable food practices can also be successful business practices, and not just on a small scale—and he’s raising awareness by telling his customers about it on the menus. 

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Tom Douglas Conservation

Tom Douglas Restaurants – An Energy-efficient Kitchen

Hoods above the stoves in industrial kitchens tend to run constantly in order to pull out smoke and grease. Along with the smoke and grease, they also extract ambient air that may have been heated in the winter—or air conditioned in the summer—for the comfort of staff and dining customers. Tom Douglas Restaurants considered how they could make this system more energy-efficient, and decided to install and beta test a new energy-efficient fan and hood setup that helps reduce the need to continually condition new air in the restaurant to replace what is extracted.

Their beta-test site was the Assembly Hall kitchen in Seattle, which supports three Tom Douglas Restaurants: Tanaka San, an Asian-American fusion restaurant; Assembly Hall, a modern juice bar diner; and Home Remedy, a grab-and-go deli. The fan in that kitchen often operates 24 hours a day to support overnight prep cooking.

For the new setup, they installed five different hoods with special sensors set above different stoves, and one central fan connected to all of them. The sensors measure the difference in heat by zone, detecting which stoves are in use and adjusting the amount of air being drawn out by closing the dampers on selected hood openings. This saves on energy needed to run the fan, and also reduces energy needed to re-heat or cool the restaurant as air is drawn out. During one summer week, testing showed that the system reduced energy consumption in the Assembly Hall kitchen by nearly 70 percent on average.

This should save the restaurant approximately $8,000 per year in energy for the fans, and another $8,000 per year in electrical heating costs for warming replacement air.  After testing this system in Tom Douglas’ kitchen as part of the Seattle City Light Energy Smart Service Program, the Oregon-based Gaylord Company began selling it nationwide.

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Surgery With A Smaller Carbon Footprint

Virginia Mason – Surgery With a Smaller Carbon Footprint

When Virginia Mason conducted a carbon footprint analysis, they were surprised to learn that the use of just one kind of inhaled anesthesia—desflurane gas—accounted for nearly 5% of the hospital system’s overall greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, using desflurane for one hour of surgery has been estimated to have the same climate change impact as driving a car for 235-470 miles. Desflurane also has a long-lasting impact: it stays in the atmosphere for a decade, while some other anesthetics remain for only one to four years.

Following this footprint analysis, Dr. Ryan Pong and the anesthesiology team at Virginia Mason met to evaluate whether they could switch to other anesthetic gases that would work just as well while resulting in fewer emissions. They determined that desflurane was only needed in a few neurological cases; for other situations, alternatives were available that cost the same, provided the same benefits for patients, and had a lower environmental impact. To ensure that desflurane was phased out, the team removed the desflurane vaporizers from operating rooms. Now desflurane is only available by request when absolutely needed, and the vaporizers are used 90 percent less often than they were previously.

Meanwhile, researchers around the country are thinking about how technology could be used to capture anesthetic gases for reuse, which would reduce their impact even further.

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