PORTLAND — It's a long way from the rainforests of Costa Rica to the verdant slopes of Clackamas County, but it's a journey Chris Wille and Diane Jukofsky are on the verge of completing.
After more than two decades of groundbreaking environmental efforts in the Latin American nation, the couple is finally coming home.
Not that their ongoing work with the Rainforest Alliance — a leading worldwide environmental organization — will end. Frequent trips to Europe, Asia, Africa and elsewhere will continue, as they help steer exploding global efforts to preserve farms, forests and wildlife habitat.
But instead of operating out of the Costa Rican office that grew from just the two of them to more than 40 staff members during their tenure, they'll live and work in a house they are now building that's every bit as green as the Clackamas County countryside surrounding them.
"Our whole lives revolve around creating things that are sustainable," said Jukofsky, the Rainforest Alliance's head of communications, marketing and education. "We want this to be a model for all of that."
Wood stoves on two of the house's three floors will burn materials gleaned from the five-acre Beavercreek property the couple bought last year. When combined with a heat pump and air-handler, the stoves will create a convective flow capable of warming the entirety of the dwelling's 2,500 square feet.
Heat that would otherwise escape up the chimney will be circulated through channels carved beneath the main floor's concrete slab. "If you can heat up a big mass like concrete," said Wille, the organization's chief of sustainable agriculture, "you can keep the house warm for days."
The couple, joined by architect Kathy Bash and builder Robert Wood, spent a recent afternoon laying out the house's footprint. They pounded in stakes marking the corners of the overlapping rectangles that will form the living area and looked ahead to the day, perhaps six months down the road, when the project will be completed.
From Bash's standpoint, the structure stands out for being equal parts "what a home should feel like and an energy-efficient building."
"This used to be the bleeding edge, but now it's really the leading edge," she said. "I'd like to say it's mainstream, but it's not. It's actually pretty far ahead of that."
David Blackmon, the Umpqua Bank mortgage loan officer handling the account, agreed.
"Their project is pretty unique," he said. "It's one of maybe a handful of truly sustainable projects being built in Portland at any one time."
For Jukofsky, the change of place couldn't have come at a better time.
"Living in Costa Rica was wonderful, but I never had a sense of roots there," she said. "Here, I have a sense of home again."
The couple had been gone so long that family and friends stopped asking about a possible return date. Knowing that the Rainforest Alliance's Costa Rican presence is now firmly established made the move possible, she said.
As for their professional endeavors, the couple is convinced that the Rainforest Alliance's work is paying off. Increasingly, they said, large corporations are getting the message that consumers care where and how the products they buy are produced.
Chiquita Bananas, for instance, worked with the alliance to help the small farmers it buys from get their operations RFA-certified. The company invested five years and $20 million in the effort, but it's paid off, Wille said — upward of 95 percent of the bananas Chiquita sells around the world now come from RFA-certified farms.
Obtaining Rainforest Alliance certification is no simple task. It comes only after a company demonstrates that it, among other things, provides decent worker housing and health care, maintains strict control over use of pesticides and fertilizers, cleans up any product-caused pollution, improves the health of area soils and physically moves farm operations back from streams and rivers.
Companies that have enthusiastically signed on to the effort include Kraft Foods, Gibson Foundation — maker of world-famous Gibson guitars — Coca-Cola, Nestle, McDonald's, the JM Smucker Company and Unilever-Lipton Tea.