If you live in or around Portland, chances are you’ve heard of the Energy Trust Better Living Show. In its third year, the free, green living expo is the Northwest’s largest sustainability lifestyle show and takes place this year 3/26 through 3/28. The show is designed to empower people to become more mindful consumers by learning about high-performance, earth-friendly products and services.
Oregon State sponsors the show’s seminar series, and experts from the university and environmental community teach people about everything from solar energy and climate change to raising chickens and greening the holidays.
It’s not a huge surprise that the show was created by an Oregon State alum, Michael O’Loughlin, who graduated in 1986 with a biology major. We at Powered by Orange were recently able to catch up with Michael (even amidst the pre-show controlled chaos) and ask him a few questions about Better Living, Oregon State and his dedication to sustainability.
What inspired you to create the Better Living Show?
I’m third generation at producing home and garden and boat shows. I was taking a look at that and realizing that shows as experiential marketing had to change, because society was changing.
Also my whole lot in life is to build sustainable food gardens in elementary schools. I’m really interested in the environment, and I was looking at the consumer shows and realizing that they really aren’t environmentally conscious. So I figured I’d take my passion and use my talents and create a green show.
How did you start planting school gardens?
I’ve always been interested in plants. I was at a meeting in California when I heard about school gardens. That was 12 years ago, and it really wasn’t anything that was done here. At that point we were doing a home and garden show, so I said, ‘why don’t we built a school garden in the show and donate it?’ We gave it to the Mary Woodward Elementary School in Portland. Now it’s huge and it pays for itself. Now I’m working on six of them, and I spend about 1,000 hours a year doing this.
How do you feel about the response to the Better Living Show so far?
We’ve been really blessed. Our very first year – three years ago, we doubled what we thought we were going to do in attendance. It was the most successful launch of any consumer show in Oregon, ever. I think all the stars just aligned.
My business partner, Stephanie, and I decided early on that we would make admission free. That was tough, because that’s 40 percent of your income. So that took a big bite. We had to change our lifestyles in order to do it. But we think that living sustainably and working for the environment are so important that we want to make a difference.
What are your best hopes for the show?
We would like to see the show grow a little bit. We’d like to see people embrace the programming that’s here. There are so many seminars, presentations and free concerts. We have a whole program dedicated to kids’ activities during spring break.
We also want to inspire people to get engaged. We want to meet people where they’re at. Wherever you’re at, we have gear that will fit your lifestyle. We have everything from high fashion to vegan food here. Hopefully we can get people to plug into realizing that this is an important issue. We can either face it now or face it when it’s too late. And so far the response has been good.
How do you decide who your presenters will be?
Staff at OSU and I brainstorm about the hot topics. Usually the Oregon State crew goes first, our professors or people working in that industry. If we’ve got some industry or ideas that are outside what OSU does, we tap into the community to get the rest.
How do you think OSU helped you be successful in your career and develop some of the values you hold today?
The biology background helped quite a bit. Going to college helps anyone realize what it takes to finish things. Being trained to stick it out helps you in any business situation.
At Oregon State we’ve really been trying to promote what we call the “3 Healthies,” which are healthy people, planet and economy. Can you comment on that?
I think it’s a comprehensive concept. If you weed any one of those out you have a problem. All of us want to regulate pollution, and environmental impact but you make sure you don’t hurt business. We have to learn in this new economy that you can look after people, the planet and the economy. That’s what the show’s about.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I would encourage people to go online ahead of time to look at all the different presentations so they can plan their trip. Also, leave plenty of time for the great food and wine samples. If people follow us on Twitter, there will be lots of things given away by the 70-some exhibitors, which they can find out about on the feed.