Green Spaces Tour

Portland, OR: Colorhouse Makes No VOC, Eco-Friendly Paint Without Compromising on Color or Quality

Walls and ceilings, which are usually painted, make up 70% of the interior of your home. If you use traditional paints that contain VOCs, that means 70% of your surfaces are emitting, or “off gassing,” dangerous chemicals into your environment. Scary stuff!

In Portland, we had the opportunity to visit Colorhouse Paint with Puji Sherer, VP of Marketing and Chief Color Nerd. Colorhouse is working to eliminate VOCs from the paint market without compromising on design or color quality.

Puji joined Colorhouse as the very first employee in 2005.  (More about the Colorhouse story here.) She has been committed to color since she started her career after graduating with a degree in Fine Arts, with the philosophy that color is everywhere and is fundamental to design. At Colorhouse, Puji had the chance to become part of a company whose quest was to create top quality colors in a way that was healthy for people and the planet.  

Puji, Jennie and Goose at Colorhouse Paint in Portland, OR

Puji, Jennie and Goose at Colorhouse Paint in Portland, OR

To blend these two goals together was complicated. The founders of Colorhouse began by experimenting with  all-natural coatings like clay and milk paint, , but found that these paints were inconsistent in quality and performance.  Committed to creating a premium zero VOC paint Colorhouse paint is a high quality latex paint with excellent durability and extremely low odor.  

Colorhouse paints have Green Wise Gold certification and are manufactured in a LEED Gold facility.  Colorhouse is dedicated to maintaining environmental standards as well as color standards. This makes them the only paint company that is committed to green attributes, color and design.

Colorhouse’s environmental standards include:  

  • 100% PCW Chlorine-Free Labels

  • 100% PCW brochures

  • Recycled content paint containers

  • Member EPA SmartWay Transportation

  • PaintCare drop off facility

  • Renewable Energy at HQ

  • South Coast Air Quality Management District- Super Compliant

  • MPI Extreme Green Certified

Their design commitment is just as strong, and is pervasive throughout their office and manufacturing facility. From the 128 colors that hang from their showroom wall, to the inspiration that is shown behind each color trend palette, to the design and creative areas in the warehouse to test and play with paints, it is clear that Colorhouse truly has a passion for color.  

Huge garage doors open in their warehouse so they can work on color ideas seen in the background

Huge garage doors open in their warehouse so they can work on color ideas seen in the background

Some of their colors featured in Crate and Barrel

Some of their colors featured in Crate and Barrel

The original paints from the first line of colors

The original paints from the first line of colors

To Colorhouse, color, design, and sustainability are critical, equally important elements. This revolutionary viewpoint is changing the marketplace. To break into the paint industry with very large, well established players took a lot of time, patience and ability to prove a real need for the product.

It worked. They began selling online through Home Depot in 2010 to show that there was demand for their product. Based on the success in this channel, Home Depot began selling Colorhouse in select New York locations in 2015.  Recently sales through Crate and Barrel, Amazon, Serena & Lily, other retailers, and Colorhouse’s own website have been gaining tremendous momentum as well.

We saw these sales in action two miles away from Colorhouse at Green Depot, a green version of Home Depot in Portland. When we stopped in the store, an employee told us that Colorhouse is their best selling product.  

Colorhouse featured at Green Depot in Portland

Colorhouse featured at Green Depot in Portland

Colorhouse was another completely inspiring business along this tour. It was especially cool to me to see how these women have built such a successful business in such an established market without compromising their values and ideals. Next time Ward and I embark on a paint project at home or at Green Spaces, I know where we’ll be getting our paint.

Missoula, MT: The City Boosts Its Economy and Community with Green Goals and Initiatives

For our third stop on the Green Spaces Tour, we had the opportunity to meet with Chase Jones, who heads up the sustainability initiatives at the City of Missoula.  We met with Chase in Missoula’s new mixed use parking facility.  This facility embodies how Missoula will be building going forward, with a very cool local deli on the first floor and solar-powered parking facilities above.   

Chase has an exciting story that is closely linked with Missoula’s green development.

Jennie and Chase at the mixed use solar powered parking garage in downtown Missoula

Jennie and Chase at the mixed use solar powered parking garage in downtown Missoula


Early programs focus on transportation and infrastructure

Chase got his start at Missoula in Motion over 10 years ago. Missoula in Motion was one of the early green initiatives that represented Missoula’s core values: Encourage actions that simultaneously improve the health and resilience of Missoula’s environment, economy and people  The program was aimed at, minimizing single occupant cars, encouraging biking, walking, and and public transit and developing the infrastructure to support those objectives. As Missoula in Motion’s programs grew like the Way To Go! Club an individual commuter club with rewards; and Momentum,  a program aimed at engaging local businesses around sustainable and active transportation culture and infrastructure ,  similar programs and services grew in tandem, such as Mountain Line, Missoula’s zero fare bus system which is now breaking ridership records year after year.

Missoula moves forward with government grants

In 2009, Missoula elected to receive Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant funds from the Department of Energy.. This grant allowed local governments to invest in projects from a list of  12 different activities, and Chase was hired as an administer the Missoula’s mix chosen by Mayor John Engen and city leaders. One of their first projects was in partnership with Northwestern Energy. 300 individual homes got free energy audits, and based on those energy audits, they received retrofits to make their homes more energy efficient.

Another resulting initiative was the creation of a Climate Action Plan. With the help of a Climate Action Planning citizen volunteer task force, they first determined a baseline for carbon emissions,  then set their goals from the baseline. In order to achieve the goals, the task force defined three focus areas for action. These categories included buildings and transportation, internal policies and practices (such as purchasing strategy and waste practices), and renewable energy and carbon offsets.  Their goal is to be carbon neutral by 2025 -- an impressive and exciting target.  

Missoula didn’t stop there. The city also created Solarize Missoula, a one-stop-shop for bringing solar power to their town. This entailed pre-qualifying local contractors to install solar at a set price, putting together  available financing packages, and including federal and local rebates into the cost of installing solar. The workshops received an overwhelming response, and the city realized that creating easy-to-implement “one-stop-shop” packages overcame a big barrier to individuals installing solar power on their homes, especially with price of solar becoming much more cost effective. The contractors loved it as well as the program was intentionally conducted during a traditionally slow time. Participating contractors reported that business was elevated to levels they would normally experience at their busiest time of year.

The city and community continue their commitment to sustainability

In 2013, the federal block grant funding ended and was not renewed, but the city continued its commitment to sustainability. 2013 brought unanimous city council approval to move forward with the projects and goals outlined in  theClimate Action Plan, and to hire Chase full time to manage the additional community programs in flight. These included:

  • Climate Smart Missoula a new community outreach group that is independent from the local government but was created out of the local government’s annual Sustainability Summit led by the Mayor of Missoula. The organization helps empower the broader community to implement sustainability practices to move towards the goals of being a carbon neutral and zero waste city.

  • Western Mountain Growers Coop, a local CSA that partners with the City of Missoula to coordinate drop-offs for employees to make green, healthy eating more convenient and affordable.

  • The Missoula Community Wildlife Habitat Initiative, a program that creates local wildlife habitats throughout their community.

This year, the city voted unanimously to become zero waste (90% diversion from the landfill by 2050). They are moving forward with their aggressive goals to become carbon neutral by 2025. They have found that focusing on these initiatives helps their economy and people thrive, building a sustainable future for future generations. Yes, it is difficult, but by setting the goals and making the conscious decision to move Missoula toward those goals, they are starting to find the solutions. .

Missoula’s work to integrate green values has been contagious and the as businesses and community events  have joined in the effort, too. Companies like Bayern Brewery now take back their bottles and have installed bottle washing equipment so they can reuse them in their brewery. Draught Works brewery started an annual event, Chain Reaction, for the community to bike to the Bitterroot Valley, pick up the hops, bike it back and process it by peddling. The River City Roots Festival programs in sustainability with their “Greening the Roots” effort, and the Western Montana Fair will be the next exhibition of Missoula’s Open Air Art Show using art to spark a conversation about climate resiliency.

The City of Missoula and leaders like Chase Jones have been on quite the sustainability journey. From talking to Chase, it’s clear that their commitment, focus, and programs are meeting all of their goals: a thriving economy, pristine natural surroundings and environment, and a healthy, happy, and fit community with an exceptional quality of life.