I admire Laura Weiss, the Portlander, businesswoman, and founder of Go Box, an environmental venture and adventure that addresses key components of sustainability in the food industry. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Laura, who started Go Box out of her love for food carts, hate for waste, and desire to disrupt and improve the status quo—tens of thousands of single-use food containers passing from vendors to consumers to landfills. Via Go Box, Laura has partnered with mobile and traditional restaurateurs to make the reusable takeout food container commonplace in Portland. In a nutshell, Go Box functions as follows: Individual diners purchase an annual subscription to Go Box through which they receive a token that they provide to vendors in exchange for receiving their meal in a durable, reusable takeout container. The diners then exchange their used, post-meal container for another token, which they can do at any of Go Box’s designated drop-off sites. The cycle is repeated as diners exchange tokens for containers and vice versa. For a more detailed explanation of the process, check out goboxpdx.com.
More than 60 vendors in Portland currently offering Go Box have collectively eliminated the use of over 17,000 disposable containers*. That is a lot waste, which is exactly what Laura intended to eliminate with Go Box. Laura collects the reusable containers by bicycle, adding another component of sustainability to her greater resolve of the food world’s environmental footprint.
Go Box is a model for environmental sustainability—it benefits consumers, business owners, Laura, and the environment. The only casualties are the hapless manufacturers and profiteers of landfill-bound single-use food containers.
Where will Go Box go from here? Laura is currently in negotiations to license the Go Box model to other entrepreneurs located in several major U.S. cities. Go Box is not limited to food carts either, as participating vendors in Portland include brick-and-mortar restaurants. The U.S. has no shortage of restaurants, or small and large cities with booming restaurant industries. If Go Box can work in Portland and turn a profit then it can work elsewhere.
How does Go Box speak to environmental issues? The business itself has a huge impact on waste reduction, saving containers from production while giving people the option to take food out without using disposable containers. Consumers thus reduce their waste and footprint. Go Box also speaks to a much larger issue—the disposable and single-use nature that dominates the modern era. There is room for Go Box elsewhere in America’s food world, in the realms of school cafeterias, cafés, markets, and beyond. The Go Box idea of reusability could be adapted to take the form of a fork, knife, or spoon, a cup, or any of the infinitely shaped and sized food containers found throughout America’s supermarkets. Where there is waste in packaging and single-use materials there is room for a Go Box-esque reusable alternative.
Go Box is exceptional for another reason—its public engagement and homage to Portland’s food industry. Go Box provides diners the choice to take food to go without discarding a wasteful container, and it provides food vendors a method of serving takeout while reducing their expenses on single-use containers. Both diners and vendors thereby participate in a cyclical exchange of reusable food containers that benefits their environment and home, the iconic city of Portland.
Go Box reduces waste while enhancing the communal aspect of Portland’s food community. But I admire Go Box founder Laura Weiss for another reason altogether—her ability to prove that environmental action is profitable. Go Box is not a non-profit. It does not depend on grants or donations. Non-profits and grant-based organizations serve a huge need in the environmental world and I have no intention to negate their importance. I only wish to illustrate that Go Box is a for-profit, money-making business that saves the environment. Laura Weiss has created a business that services the economy and the environment. She has proven, through her environmental and business acumen that economy and environment are not disparate, and that green business is a means to financial reward. Critics often argue that environmental efforts are economically harmful. At times this might be true, but it is certainly not a given, as exemplified by Laura Weiss and Go Box**.
*Figure of 17,000-plus disposable food containers saved was accurate as of March, 2013. The actual figure is likely much higher today.
**For more information about Go Box please check out the company website at goboxpdx.com.