25 Years of Sustainability

The Environmental Center in Bend celebrates a quarter century of partnerships with the region’s environmentally progressive organizations.

In its 25 years, The Environmental Center has much to celebrate – not the least of which is being the hub for all things green in Central Oregon for a quarter of a century.

Incorporated in 1988, this association of conservation groups grew out of a successful effort to pass the Oregon Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which added protection for 40 rivers.

“The Center was formed as a place for like-minded people to be together to share resources like copy machines, office space, telephones and meeting rooms,” said Mike Riley, The Environmental Center’s executive director. “. . .not necessarily to come together to do one thing.”

Originally focused on preserving and protecting natural resources, The Environmental Center’s mission has evolved to “embedding sustainably into daily life in Centra Oregon.”

In the early 90s, the Environmental Center’s board identified urban sustainability and associated lifestyle issues as area in which education could benefit the community.“A primary way we addressed this was to become an incubator for various projects,” said Peter Geiser, a founding board member.

Geiser said they decided to support people with a passion and a good idea and cited Commute Options as an example of a project mentored by The Environmental Center.

Many of the organizations that shared office space in the early days, such as Commute Options and the Oregon Natural Desert Association, eventually outgrew their home at The Environmental Center and moved into their own offices in other Bend locations.

“Many groups still use the Center as their meeting place or mailing address, and as a central communications hub, but not as a many groups have offices here,” Riley said.

Currently, 39 nonprofit organizations maintain a membership with The Environmental Center. One of those is Cascadia Green Building Council, a regional organization with a presence in Central Oregon that promotes progressive green building standards. The Environmental Center board member, Lindsey Hardy, who volunteers with Cascadia, said membership at the Center has helped the fledgling group.

“We use the space and the copy machines, and they help promote our events. Having the support of The Environmental Center is a huge part of what we are trying to do here,” said Hardy.

The Environmental Center has a variety of programs to encourage recycling, and to urge people to compost, reduce waste, and reuse materials. The online Green Spot Directory lists locally-owned businesses in Central Oregon that practice and promote sustainability within their business model and are community conscious.The Center’s Rethink Waste Project, which has its own website, offers information for households, businesses, and schools on how to reduce their waste through recycling, reusing, and composting. Through the program, toolkits have been developed and distributed to Habitat for Humanity homeowners, which include composters, recycle bins, water bottles, and other reusable items to reduce household waste.

The Environmental Center’s youth education program provides classroom lessons, community field trips, and outdoor school days that immerse students in sustainability education. The Learning Garden, located next to the Center at 16 NW Kansas in the heart of Bend, teaches students about food. In this outdoor classroom, students sow seeds, cultivate the plants, and harvest their bounty. Youth are able to apply what they are learning in school to real world situations.

“The kids use math to calculate volume and planting seeds,” Riley said. “They learn about weather, geography, and plants.”

The Boys and Girls Club of Central Oregon and Amity Creek Elementary School are partners with The Environmental Center in the Learning Garden. The Amity students prepare the garden in the fall and plant in the spring, and the youth at the Boys and Girls Clubs tend the plants during the summer months.

Riley said new programs will likely focus on energy conservation and renewables but also on how we design and plan our communities. He said those areas will have the largest impact on climate change, which is the biggest environmental issue of our time.

The organization continuously assesses ways to advocate for policies and programs that promote sustainability. “We’ll be looking at what are the kind of things that need to happen on a community-wide level to make our community sustainable over the long term,” Riley said.Its programs have focused on what individuals, families, schools, and businesses can do, but now will look at how they influence policy that promotes change at the systems level. Riley said change is needed at both the individual and systems level for the greatest impact.

The Center’s $400,000 annual budget is funded through memberships, donations, events, government contracts, grants, and facility rentals. In addition to Riley, six staff members coordinate the various programs.

The anniversary celebration on October 19 is open to the public. There will be live music, food, and beverages.