Innovation in Sustainable Operations: Keen
By Matthew Kish
Chris Enlow, Keen's care and community manager, helps keep the company ambitious in its sustainability goals.
It started with a simple — but very bold — idea.
Keen Inc. wanted to renovate a century-old, 50,000-square foot brick warehouse and not throw away a single scrap of drywall, tile or lumber.
“We looked at ourselves and said, ‘Can we move in and not throw anything in a landfill?’” said Chris Enlow, Keen’s care and community manager. “Portland is a hub for sustainability. What small part can we play to amplify those values that the community is so proud of?”
Although it came up a dumpster short, the ambitious project helped push Keen toward winning this year’s Sustainable Business Oregon award for sustainable operations among medium-sized companies.
The Portland-based footwear maker started the project after it purchased the Pearl Building in February. The project wrapped up last month.
“It was a pretty fast timeline to move almost 150 people and renovate a building,” Enlow said.
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In order to minimize waste, the company sent truckloads of used materials to the Rebuilding Center and other organizations that reuse building supplies.
It also saved some lumber that was ripped out of the walls. It’ll use the material in the new Keen retail store that will open on the building’s ground floor in December.
While the project came up short of its idealistic goal, the company sent less than one dumpster of debris to the landfill. Similar sized projects would likely have filled 30 dumpsters.
“We wanted to do it in a thoughtful way,” Enlow said. “We didn’t want to come in and just rip out the old stuff and put in all this new stuff. We challenged ourselves to have zero waste.”
The renovation includes the addition of roughly 5,000 square feet in community space on the ground floor of the building. The space will be used for town hall-style meetings with civic groups, such as nonprofits hosting fundraisers.
The footwear and apparel company has also taken steps to make its products and supply chain friendlier to the environment.
The efforts included opening a manufacturing plant on Swan Island. That decision earned former CEO James Curleigh a trip to the White House for a ceremony hosted by President Barack Obama that celebrated companies that are “insourcing” jobs.
The 30-person plant makes about 2 percent of Keen’s footwear, including its utility boots.
In addition to donating 1 percent of returns annually to nonprofit partners worldwide, Keen has also embedded giving into what the company calls its HybridLife Hope shoe program. For every pair of shoes sold from Keen’s Santiago line, Keen donates $5 to Kiva, the micro-loan organization. The line of shoes is made in the Dominican Republic using locally produced rubber and vintage hand-operated vulcanization machines, resulting in an adhesive-free, earth-friendly shoe. Keen’s goal is to raise $1 million to help create hope and opportunity in impoverished communities around the globe.
In addition to the green features of its Santiago line, Keen has pursued other materials to add to its overall sustainability. Examples include KEEN.CORK, a renewable, more sustainable shoe cushioning and ECO-Synthetic quick drying socks, which are made from recycled polyester and certified organic cotton.
Keen was also one of five area companies that tested a Portland Development Commission-backed green product design tool called the Eco Index.
Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon nominated Keen for the award.
“Keen understands that sustainability is a moving target, not an end goal,” said Andrew Over, director of community and business relations at Regence, in his nomaination of Keen for the award. “Keen pursues ambitious goals while valuing transparency, industry sharing and continuous improvement.”
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