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Welcome to the Companies That Care podcast, where I highlight business leaders who are making a difference in the world. I have a passion for companies that care and give back to their communities. The first three episodes of Companies That Care, launched on Earth Day, focus on sustainable fashion, food, and corporate philanthropy.
This week I speak to Osvaldo (Ozzie) Gonzalez, a former sustainability colleague from CH2M HILL. Ozzie founded P3 Consulting, a solo practice dedicated to helping small and large businesses grow while improving their environmental and social footprint.
Trained in environmental science and architecture, Ozzie considers himself an "urban ecologist" and has dedicated his career to designing and building solutions that bridge environmental health with community prosperity. Ozzie ran for mayor of Portland in 2020 as the city's first Latino candidate for mayor.
Ozzie grew up in the urban jungle of Los Angeles as the oldest child of a first-generation immigrant family who spoke no English. His neighbors had a junkyard, a scrap metal lot, and a recycling center.
“From a very early age I learned that if I wanted to have anything…I couldn't ask my parents for money. I had to go find it myself. And the easiest way to find it was in the scrap materials across the street. I could find something somebody else had considered waste and go down the street to the recycling center and turn it into some coins that I could use to buy a candy bar. One summer I bought my first bicycle on cans and bottles and scrap metal that I collected that summer.”
Ozzie learned that we need industry to function and that industrial edges are places where scavengers could find value over time. This made him wonder why any part of a city should be contaminated and polluted, and that led him down a path toward environmental science.
Next Ozzie pursued architecture after he finished environmental science so he could focus on designing for people, like healthy buildings.
“We're operating in a triple-bottom-line society where we have to look at…the human equation and who builds those buildings and who occupies those buildings and who feels welcome in those buildings.”
Now he considers himself to be an urban ecologist.
“I practiced architecture. I have a foundation in environmental science, and I apply it to a human ecosystem to try to figure out how to bring balance between the way human beings live and the quality of life that we would like to hold onto into the future.”
Ozzie started P3 Consulting in 2019 after working as the diversity director for Howard S. Wright Construction (now Balfour Beatty). Ozzie has a mission of helping bring people-, planet-, profit-centric solutions into projects. The acronym also doubles as public-private partnership, as Ozzie has structured his business to emphasize finding the triple bottom line through public-private partnerships.
We spoke about Ozzie’s role on the TriMet board of directors (TriMet is the Portland metro area’s transportation agency), where he’s helped bring transit-oriented development guidelines into the agency; create the first low-income fare program and decriminalizing fare evasion; and adopted a policy to decarbonize the entire TriMet vehicle fleet.
Then I asked him about Portland. I helped Ozzie with his communications when he ran for mayor, and I was proud to support and vote for such an inspiring, visionary candidate to solve some of the long-pressing issues in my still-beloved city. Unfortunately, in the midst of his campaign, the pandemic hit. Ozzie had an uphill battle with the incumbent mayor, Ted Wheeler, who won the primary mostly because of the way he decisively handled the pandemic. The runner-up, who faced Ted Wheeler in the general election, had more name recognition than Ozzie because she had run for mayor before.
Then the Black Lives Matter protests took to the Portland streets, and Ted did not deal with it well. Ozzie and I talked about the protests, the ongoing houseless and business challenges, and how to reboot Portland.
“The future is cloudy, but what I'm certain of is we we've got to come back. Portland has to come back. The Pacific Northwest is poised for livability for decades to come…there's a lot of fear of taking risks from our elected officials, and it was part of what motivated me to run. I think that we've got to come out of this. The same issues that the City of Portland had before the pandemic are still going to be here when the city wakes up again, but on top of them we now have this trauma that we have experienced as a city.”
As a human ecologist, Ozzie’s heart is warmed by the tenacity humanity has for survival.
Then we moved into the issues of displacement and gentrification. Ozzie said he learned about redlining in architecture school as textbook urban planning. I asked Ozzie how we design for equity.
“I'm thinking about affordable housing, not as a perpetual subsidy model, where it's defined by the highest price you can charge for it. I'm thinking about an affordable housing model that is designed to give people an accessible entry point to building equity for themselves.”
Ozzie shared his ideas for creating a model where people could buy into affordable housing but have a stake in it for the long term, like the old rent-to-own stores.
I knew Ozzie has a passion for sustainable food, so we delved into that topic in our conversation.
“We have major things to change in our food system right now. We first of all need to recognize it is unsustainable, as currently designed and structured. The institution of food is heavily reliant on monoculture and mass industrialization, and on genetically modified seeds that depend on a very specific regimen of petrochemical-based fertilizers and insecticides.”
He’d like to see less reliance on mass food systems, more focus on dealing with food waste, and more local food production.
“I'm a big believer in love. I tell my kids that I eat love. I try to eat as much pure love as I can. And what I mean by that is I care about how it's cooked. I care about how it's grown. I care about how it's transported and in all those instances what I'm really looking for is a chain of custody filled with people that are doing something that they love doing that feel honored to be doing it. That's what I look for first.”
I asked Ozzie what’s next in his life after working as an urban ecologist, architect, dad and husband, sustainability manager, professional actor (we didn’t even touch on that role!), public speaker and activist, business mentor, diversity manager, and candidate for mayor.
“I plan to die fighting to make this world a sustainable, equitable place.”
He’s working on a passion project, a development in a pueblo in Mexico.
“It has everything the northwest gives me. I can go mushroom hunting. I can go pick morels, then chanterelles. I can go white water rafting and mountain biking. It's got mountains, lakes and rivers and it's Mexico, so I can also pluck an avocado from the tree, or go get some mangoes from down the street that were grown from a farm nearby. It starts feeling like the two places of my identity all in one spot, so I fell in love with it.”
Ozzie wants to build an ecotourism playground where virtual workers can live, work, and play in the same location. He plans to create a net zero, highly efficient smart home for digital nomads, content creators, and others who can work virtually.
I asked Ozzie for his advice to others who want to create companies that care.
“Well, do it. Go for it please. We need them companies that care. It's the only way to ensure longevity. Every company out there is going to have to learn this lesson sooner or later of how to care for its people, for its natural resources. There's simply no way around that, and many companies will go bust, not ever having learned that lesson.”
Next week I go back to Finding Fertile Ground podcast with Ruth L. Schwartz, Ph.D., a Jewish lesbian, author, teacher, and psychologist who cofounded and runs the Conscious Girlfriend Academy. She has had her heart broken too many times to count, donated a kidney to one girlfriend and helped another transition genders, and is grieving the death of her father, a physician who became a junkie on the streets. The following week I’ll be back to Companies That Care with Julie Allen, owner of Mary Rose Boutique NW and the Mary Rose Foundation in Oregon City, Oregon.
The Companies That Care podcast is brought to you by Fertile Ground Communications. If you enjoyed this podcast, please give us a rating and subscribe to hear our next episode.
Contact us if you can use some help with your writing, editing, communications, or marketing. With 30 years of experience in the environmental consulting industry, I am passionate about sustainability and corporate citizenship, equity & inclusion, businesses that use their power for good, and doing everything I can to create a kinder, more sustainable, and just world. We help organizations and people discover what makes them special and help them share that with the world.
Fertile Ground Communications LLC is a certified women-owned business enterprise, disadvantaged business enterprise, and emerging small business.