The environmental technology and services cluster represents several hundred Oregon companies working in the areas of environmental protection and cleanup, energy and efficiency, waste and recycling, water and wastewater, sustainable development, and sustainable business practices. Disciplines include engineering, consulting, natural sciences, law, project development, finance, contracting, equipment manufacturing, and equipment supply and installation. This cluster overlaps with some other industry sectors (especially in the energy, efficiency, and green building arenas) and provides support services to many others. On the environmental side, the industry is driven by regulations established on the federal and state levels. Over time, this driver has been augmented by voluntary practices included under the “sustainability” umbrella.
Cluster Strengths & Challenges
Most of the larger companies in this sector have offices (and often headquarters) in other states, as the delivery of services tends to be local. Nonetheless, Oregon has become a hub for environmental companies due to the work of the Oregon Dept. of Environmental Quality, general support for environmental compliance, and leadership in voluntary business initiatives. In addition, employees are eager to come to Oregon due to its environmental ethic and other livability factors. This leads to Oregon being a net exporter of these services.
Still, the sector is highly dependent on both industrial and public spending, and has tracked the economy in that respect. While the industrial sector is showing cyclical improvement, and the private construction sector is expected to recover, of long-term concern is the reduced spending by government entities on infrastructure and other public projects.
The maturity of the environmental compliance side of the industry provides a base platform for growth. Once hiring resumes in earnest, the sector is expected to see a return to worker shortages – particularly for experienced scientists, engineers, project managers, and other technically skilled workers. From a workforce perspective, entry level works are plentiful, while experienced workers often need to be recruited from out-of-state.
The shortage of industrial land and the move towards close-in urban development are creating opportunities for the redevelopment of contaminated properties, or “brownfields.” This demand will grow as the economy recovers, and will create work for companies engaged in the investigation and cleanup of contaminated land.
Ecosystem services markets represent a new market-based approach for achieving mandated environmental improvement outcomes. Oregon is a national leader in the design and deployment of these methods, which can lead to both in-state benefits and external business opportunities.
Oregon’s recent clean energy initiatives have driven substantial sector growth in Oregon. However, this trend has reversed itself due to the dramatic loss of state and federal incentives for renewable energy. Once again, the cyclical nature of state support for the renewable energy sector hampers long-term growth. The efficiency sector remains robust but is also dependent on incentives, and is hampered by low business and consumer confidence in the economy.
Maintaining and building the environmental technology and services industry can benefit from a number of policy initiatives, including:
- Support an adequate operating budget for the Oregon Dept. of Environmental Quality.
- Create new approaches and tools for funding infrastructure investments.
- Promote brownfields redevelopment through enhanced financial support and legal protections for buyers.
- Reinstate market-building initiatives for renewable energy (incentives, grants, or production standards).
- Include targeted skilled-worker importing as part of the state’s broader business attraction efforts.
The Northwest Environmental Business Council (NEBC), established in 1996, is a trade association which represents environmental technology and service firms in Oregon working to protect, restore, and sustain the natural and built environment. NEBC’s objectives include business development, member education, information dissemination, networking, and regulatory and legislative advocacy. The organization’s structure as a cross-discipline, cross-sector organization fosters the transfer of information and knowledge and builds synergies and business opportunities among its members. NEBC’s activities cover the states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska.
A number of specific associations cover many of the environmental technology and services sub-sectors (e.g., water, wastewater, renewable energy, green building, waste management, etc.) as do many professional societies. On the environmental side, NEBC is the lead. On the energy and transportation side, in addition to NEBC, are RNP,OSEIA, OWET, Smart Grid Oregon, Drive Oregon, and others.
It is estimated that at least 300 companies in Oregon work in this sector. Smaller companies may focus on a single sub-sector, while major engineering and legal firms may work across the entire range.
Northwest Environmental Business Council