Capturing carbon, saving money, enhancing regional communities
August 6, 2013

On August 1, the City of Portland graciously hosted the Northwest Biocarbon Initiative (NBI) along with our partners at Ecotrust and the Willamette Partnership to announce the release of NBI’s new report, Natural Infrastructure: A Climate-Smart Solution.

Linda Dobson and Emily Hauth from Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services led a fascinating tour of Portland’s green streets, ecoroofs, bioswales, and several other examples of natural infrastructure and biocarbon solutions that capture CO2, save money, create jobs, and enhance our communities. Other regional experts were on hand, including Michael Armstrong from Portland’s Bureau of Planning and Sustainability and Mike Houck of the Urban Greenspaces Institute.


Among the climate change initiatives announced by the Obama administration in June of this year, the President cited the use of natural systems to capture carbon as a priority going forward.  The Northwest region is leading the nation in using biocarbon and natural infrastructure solutions in cities, forests, rural communities, wetlands, and the ocean to store carbon and remove carbon pollution from the atmosphere.

By spearheading innovations that harness the power of natural systems, Oregon and Washington are at the forefront of addressing the three climate imperatives: (1) reduce reliance on fossil fuels; (2) remove existing carbon pollution; and (3) build resilience to withstand climate impacts. Natural Infrastructure: A Climate-Smart Solution explores the way that natural infrastructure solutions function, citing examples of a variety of natural solutions at work throughout the Northwest.

Take a look at some images and quotes from the day:

"Portland uses green infrastructure to manage our stormwater and keep our rivers clean,” said Portland Commissioner Nick Fish. “One of the great things about green infrastructure is that it has multiple benefits, including reducing carbon pollution in our atmosphere.”


Heading east from Elizabeth Caruthers Park to the Willamette River, it was amazing to note the difference in noise as we passed under the tree canopy. Just a couple hundred yards away from the I-5 / I-405 interchange and we heard nothing but the birds in the trees. Talk about co-benefits!


Linda M. Dobson, Division Manager for Sustainable Stormwater Management at Portland's Bureau of Environmental Services

“Green or natural infrastructure helps our grey, pipe infrastructure work more efficiently; it helps cool the air; it creates green spaces in urban areas; it creates habitat for birds and beneficial insects," said Linda Dobson.

Dobson noted that since 1990, carbon emissions are down by more than 8 per cent in Portland, while nationwide emissions increased 10 percent.

"In 2009, Portland adopted the goal of reducing carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030," Dobson explained. "Now we are beginning to realize that our growing green infrastructure is a valuable tool in reducing the amount of harmful carbon in our atmosphere not only by helping to reduce overall carbon emissions, but also by capturing existing carbon already produced.”


Along the waterfront we were able to view current riparian restoration efforts, permeable surface walkways, and views of Ross Island Natural Area and Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge across the Willamette.

"In Oregon, restoration and natural infrastructure projects have created jobs in construction, in technical fields, such as engineering and wildlife biology, and in supporting businesses like plant nurseries, heavy equipment companies, and rock and gravel quarries,” said Cathy Kellon, Director of Water and Watersheds Program at Ecotrust. "These are jobs that can't be outsourced."

"Everything we do today is more connected: people, economies, communication. Why aren't we looking at the environment that way?" asked Bobby Cochran, Executive Director for the Willamette Partnership. "Building up our natural infrastructure – from farms to floodplains to green streets – cleans our water, stores carbon, increases local food production, and ultimately makes our communities healthier and happier."

We were treated to the beautiful views from one of the upper floors of the Mirabella (photo at top of page), the nation’s first LEED-Platinum certified retirement community. Ecoroofs and rooftop gardens abound in this neighborhood. 


Adam Payn from Pacific Retirement Services took us on a tour within the tour, highlighting Mirabella's sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality.


Hardtack Island in the distance, from the Mirabella.


A ride on the Portland Aerial Tram (station adjacent to Elizabeth Caruthers Park) provided even broader views of Portland's tree canopy and other natural infrastructure features.

A fantastic day all around! Many thanks to the City of PortlandEcotrust, the Willamette Partnership and the Urban Greenspaces Institute for helping to pull it together and even more so, for their ongoing work pioneering natural infrastructure innovations that are saving money, beautifying communities, improving air and water quality, and capturing carbon.

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Author Bio

Eileen V. Quigley is Founder and Executive Director of the Clean Energy Transition Institute, which develops research and analytics to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy in the Northwest.

From 2017-2019, Eileen led development of the Northwest Deep Decarbonization Pathways study and wrote the report of its findings, Meeting the Challenge of Our Time: Pathways to a Clean Energy Future for the Northwest, the first economy-wide analysis of decarbonization pathways mapped to the Northwest’s economic and institutional realities.

Eileen spent seven years from 2009-2016 at Climate Solutions serving as Director of Strategic Innovation and oversaw the New Energy Cities, Sustainable Advanced Fuels/a>, and Northwest Biocarbon Initiative programs.

She currently serves on the Board of Stockholm Environment Institute-US and the Advisory Board of Western Washington University’s Institute for Energy Studies. Eileen received her Master of Science in Journalism from Columbia University and her Bachelor of Arts in Literature from Yale University.

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