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Three Tips for Successful Sustainability Storytelling

October 20th, 2016

When it comes to sustainability, there is a lot to communicate. And you’re dealing with multiple audiences. And those audiences have different needs. And the stories and information are often complex or loaded with acronyms and jargon.

If you’re charged with communicating your business or organization’s sustainability efforts, how do you make sure your stories reach the right people, with the right message, at the right time? How do you make sure your stories are compelling and engaging?

Last week we spent some time unpacking these questions and getting to the heart of what makes great stories at our Business & Environment session, Sustainability Storytelling: Going Beyond the Report.

Here are the three things I took away:

Visuals Matter

Our first speaker, Arlene Birt with Background Stories, kicked off the session talking about what makes a good sustainability story and how visuals can help your messages stick. Did you know a whopping sixty-five percent of the population are visual learners? The right visuals can help communicate context, convey emotion, and make complex data sets more easily digestible. Check out Arlene’s presentation or her TEDx talk on visualizing sustainability.

Measure in Dinosaurs

Mel Meegan, Director of Marketing at Peace Coffee spent some time during the session sharing some of Peace Coffee’s success stories. Did you know Peace Coffee delivers their coffee by bike and their bike couriers haul the weight equivalent of five dinosaurs per year? That is crazy! Measuring in dinosaurs might not be your metric, but it’s a great example of how you can make numbers immediately relatable to your audiences. View Mel’s presentation »

Use Your Barriers and Your FailuresBES2.2016

Kate Lilja Lohnes with Lilja Communications facilitated a storytelling workshop during the final hour of the session. She also spoke about how to use barriers to your advantage. It can be easy to gloss over the “what went wrong” parts of a story to get right to the great outcome. But, that old cliché of failure being our greatest teacher is true. Let your audiences know where you tried, failed, and then tried again. This is the interesting stuff!

Missed the session? You can check out all of the presentations on our website.

Emily Franklin


Director of Communications

Meet Andersen Corporation: Member of the Month

October 11th, 2016


Paintbrush: employee dormitory located near Old Faithful – first LEED Platinum building in the National Park Service.

At Andersen, our values define us – they speak to our past and guide our future. They are the foundation of what makes us Andersen. Our value of Corporate Citizenship ensures we continue our longstanding commitment to leadership in environmental stewardship and to make a positive impact in the communities in which we live and work. It is the reason we’ve supported Environmental Initiative for over two decades.

It is also the reason we have partnered with Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone captured our attention nearly a decade ago with their quest to become the greenest national park and Andersen joined that effort, sharing our expertise in energy efficiency and providing in-kind windows and doors for key projects in the park.  It has been a remarkable journey and a wonderful way to live one of our key values. Andersen’s involvement during the past several years, as well future green building plans within the park, is detailed here.

Or, see firsthand and hear from our Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jay Lund about the steps we are taking to reduce our environmental footprint and increase our positive impact across our value chain as he speaks from Yellowstone National Park – Preserving the View: 2015 Corporate Sustainability Report.


Each month, we feature information about one of our members on the Initiative blog and on our website. Contact Sacha Seymour-Anderson anytime at 612-334-3388 ext. 8108 to learn more about this membership benefit.

Annie Perkins


Sustainability Analyst at Andersen Corporation

Meet Maddie Norgaard: Circular Economy Research Assistant

October 11th, 2016

Environmental Initiative has always been an organization deeply rooted in partnerships that work collaboratively to strategize around complex environmental problems. It’s one reason why we convened the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition (MNSGC), a business led effort focusing on the advancement of the circular economy.

To better shape MNSGC actions, the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IonE) and other member organizations are working with a graduate student to research practical, circular economy applications. Her research will influence the direction and project goals and how MNSGC will function within the Midwest.

So, without further delay… Meet Maddie Norgaard! Maddie

Maddie is a first-year student pursing a Master of science, technology, and environmental policy at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Maddie currently holds a B.A. in environmental studies from the College of Saint Benedict.

In summer 2016, Maddie participated in Summer Institute on Sustainability and Energy in Chicago where she was inspired by lessons in circular economy, industrial ecology and systems thinking. She is eager to explore these concepts further and help MNSGC discover opportunities for collective action.

Her work will help coalition partners advance the next frontier of corporate sustainability through the circular economy. Maddie will be working closely with Environmental Initiative as well as member organizations to conduct her research. We’re excited to have her, and we’re eager to get started! Learn more about Maddie »

Rachel Dupree


Communications Associate

Well Being and a Sustainable Future

October 10th, 2016

In the vast world of sustainability, the role of industry to change our future is becoming increasingly important. Though there are many ways to chart this course, designing and procuring sustainable buildings is a viable path toward corporate sustainability.

Additionally, better building designs can have major co-benefits in terms of staff retention, job performance, productivity, creativity, and the general health and well-being of individuals.

To shed light on the connection of buildings, health, and the environment, Interface and partners are hosting Well Being and a Sustainable Future, an evening event focused on these topics. Bill Browning and Paul Hawken will be speaking about the impacts of human health, the carbon equation, and environmental restoration.

This event is free, but registration is required. Learn more and register »


Thursday, November 3, 2016
6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

Pantages Theater
710 Hennepin Avenue
Minneapolis, MN

Directions and Registration »

We hope you will join us for this session and learn the connections between our environment and human health with Interface, Pulse Products, Fluid Interiors, MSR, and CBRE.

Mike Harley


Executive Director

Introducing the Clean Air Assistance Project

October 5th, 2016

Surprise! We launched a new project! Well, sort of…

Previously known as our Area Source Emission Reduction project, the Clean Air Assistance Project is an effort to connect businesses with grants and technical resources to voluntarily reduce air pollution.

Current resources are available through the City of Minneapolis, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), the University of Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MnTAP), and Minnesota Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MnOSHA). Environmental Initiative has provided “customer service” to businesses interested in leveraging these resources to voluntarily reduce their emissions. Our services ranged from business engagement and recruitment, grant application assistance, and overall project coordination between funders, vendors, and grantees. We’re still doing this work, but we felt that is was time for us to put our money where our mouth is.

With that, we are excited to announce that Environmental Initiative has additional funding to complement existing programs. Funds are available to businesses of all sizes, locations, and across industry sectors. You name it—auto shops in Alexandria, degreasers in Duluth, printers in Pipestone, and everything in between—they’re all eligible to participate.

Exciting, right? We thought so, too. That’s why we renamed this project to reflect the expansion. We’re hoping to raise additional funds to increases our impact, expand outreach to additional geographical areas and businesses, and further reduce air pollution across the state.

Environmental Initiative is leading the Clean Air Assistance Project, which operates under the umbrella of Clean Air Minnesota, a coalition of diverse partners working toward a common goal of 10% statewide emission reductions.

Through existing grant programs and Environmental Initiative outreach, the combined efforts of Clean Air Minnesota partners have eliminated more than 25 tons of the ozone-forming emissions known as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).

At the same time, these programs invested over $800,000 in businesses that embraced cutting-edge technologies as well as materials that position them on the forefront of innovative sustainability. Take a minute to watch this video from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency about businesses who’ve upgraded equipment or processes for cleaner air:

We’re proud to offer resources that promote sustainable and tangible solutions to our environmental, economic, and public health challenges.

Email me or call 612-334-3388 ext. 8113 to find out more about the financial resources available now and how to get started reducing emissions at your business.

Bjorn Olson


Senior Environmental Project Associate

Circular Economy in the News

September 29th, 2016

The concept of a circular economy is gaining traction in sustainability circles and across the broader American business community. Earlier this summer, a contingent of leading Minnesota businesses and organization formed the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition – a regional partnership to demonstrate and accelerate a circular economy.

Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition Meeting 8-17-16

Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition Meeting at Uponor, 8-17-16. Photo credit: Uponor

The circular economy can be a difficult concept to unpack, but at its simplest a circular economy works like nature does, where everything is a resource and nothing is wasted. Energy is clean and renewable. Materials never become waste, but are used again and again. Communities are equitable and healthy. Ecosystems are supported, sustained, and provide ongoing services. Businesses protect people, the planet, and profit. Sounds good, right?

We’re keeping our eyes peeled and our ears open for circular economy news from across the globe to help advance the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition’s efforts to raise awareness about a concept that could completely transform the way we do business and more. Read on:

How is your business or organization thinking about the circular economy? What opportunities or challenges does the circular economy present? Share in the comments below.

For more information about the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition, contact me at 612-334-3388 ext. 8111.

Sam Hanson


Director, Sustainability Program

Three Minnesota Construction Companies Enroll in Project Green Fleet

September 13th, 2016

What do Anoka, Albertville, and Sleepy Eye all have in common? They’ll all be breathing easier for years to come, thanks to three construction companies and their commitment to clean air.

Erin Contracting, Mathiowetz Construction, and Northdale Construction all partnered with Project Green Fleet in order to ensure residents in their communities benefit from clean air. These three companies are now operating either upgraded or replaced diesel machines, meaning each is more fuel efficient and releasing less pollutants into the air.Frontloader

Project Green Fleet is a voluntary statewide effort run by Environmental Initiative to reduce diesel pollution. We raise money to help businesses, like construction companies, upgrade engines and equipment to reduce air emissions. Participating fleets also help share in the cost of each project.

Mathiowetz Construction is operating a newer, cleaner bulldozer as a result of the partnership. Replacing the engine in this one piece of equipment is the equivalent of removing 2,200 cars from the road every year. Similar results exist with Erin Contracting and Northdale Construction, both of which upgraded their diesel loaders. Repowering both loaders is the equivalent of removing nearly 800 cars each from the road annually.

“We’ve worked hard to establish company protocols to minimize impacts on the environment,” said Brian Mathiowetz, CEO of Mathiowetz Construction. “Participating in Project Green Fleet helps us save money, upgrade equipment earlier than we otherwise would, and do our part to keep Minnesota’s air clean. We’re proud to be a part of this effort.”


Diesel engines are very important to our economy—they move our goods and provide valuable services. However, many diesel engines can have striking health costs associated with air pollution. Vulnerable populations, like children, the elderly, and those with heart and lung conditions are especially susceptible to health hazards. Air pollution is associated with asthma and a number of cardiovascular problems.

Upgrading diesel fleets helps reduce these effects. Combined with the high costs of replacing them, the longevity of diesel engines mean that many older and less efficient models are still in operation today. Upgrades still require a significant investment by the fleet, but Project Green Fleet helps make it easier for companies to decrease their impact.

Minnesota’s air quality is generally good, but we can always be doing more. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is always releasing more stringent emission requirements as we learn more about the health effects of poor air quality.

In partnership with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Environmental Initiative has retrofitted 3,200 buses and 1,400 heavy-duty diesel engines in Minnesota through Project Green Fleet. To learn more about being part of Project Green Fleet or how it works, visit our information page. »

We’re always excited to partner with local companies to improve air quality across the state. Their commitment to clean air means we all have a little more room to breathe.

Bjorn Olson


Senior Environmental Project Associate

Trending Green: Understanding Corporate Renewable Procurement in the Midwest

September 12th, 2016

More and more, the need for corporate renewable energy continues to grow. As more businesses navigate purchasing clean energy, it’s important to understand policy, strategy and best practices associated with “going green.”

To assist in the process, Midwest Renewable Energy Tracking System (M-RETS), in partnership with the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IonE), is hosting speakers and panel discussions covering these topics. The event will be focused on:

  • Business, legal and regulatory issues from organizations that have gone through the process,
  • Utility green purchasing programs,
  • Successful policies and practices in the region and how they can be adopted elsewhere.

The event is intended for both large and small businesses within the Midwest. Policy makers, business leaders, and utility professionals are also welcome to attend. This is a free event and will include a keynote speaker and two panels.


Wednesday, October 5, 2016  
9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.  

University of Minnesota
200 Oak Street S.E. McNamara Alumni Center, Heritage Gallery
Minneapolis, MN
Directions and Registration » 

We hope you will join us for this session and learn to navigate corporate renewable energy procurement. For more information, contact ben@mrets.org, dan@mrets.org or visit the M-RETS website at www.mrets.org.


Sam Hanson


Director, Sustainability Program

Watch for Minnesota Environmental Fund at Work

September 8th, 2016

I first heard about Minnesota Environmental Fund (MEF) while I was working at the University of Minnesota in the fall of 2013. October was the start of the Community Fund Drive, an event where university departments and employees competed against each other to see who could donate the most in a short amount of time. MEF was one of the workplace giving options at the time, but that was all I knew.MEF_logo_web

Now that I’ve started working at Environmental Initiative, I know a lot more about MEF and workplace giving. Here are some of the highlights that I’ve learned about so far:

  • Giving to MEF is like giving to a bunch of different causes. Donations help support clean water, clean air, healthy food, natural lands and wildlife. The 21 member organizations—including Environmental Initiative—all work to protect Minnesota’s environment, and they all see a portion of each donation.
  • People can give at work, choosing to donate once or with each payroll check. It’s an easy process, and means you are supporting the environment all year long.
  • More than 100 companies, nonprofit organizations, cities, colleges and schools across Minnesota offer MEF as a payroll deduction option.
  • All of the money donated stays here in Minnesota and is used to protect Minnesota’s environment.

Sound interesting to you? Many workplaces hold fall campaigns to encourage employees to give, and MEF may be one of those giving options. You can view MEF’s Workplace Partners here, and be on the lookout for information from your employer. I know I’m happy Environmental Initiative offers me this choice!

You’ll likely see an email or flyer in your office with information on where and how to donate. Your workplace giving campaign is typically the time to sign up to give, either for a one-time gift or for continuous payroll deductions. You can choose to donate to specific member organizations within MEF or have your contribution dispersed to the entire group for a larger impact.

Some of you may have workplace giving, but not have MEF as an option. In this case, you will have the option to write in “Minnesota Environmental Fund.” If you want to do even more to support the environment in Minnesota, you can talk to your human resources or community relations department about setting up MEF as a payroll deduction option. Feel free to talk to MEF’s Executive Director Cordelia Pierson to work on setting that up.

We’re grateful to all who donate to MEF. Your contribution helps support Environmental Initiative’s work and the larger environmental community in Minnesota. Thank you!

Erin Niehoff


Project and Administrative Assistant

Major Pollinator Action puts Minnesota ahead of Other States

September 7th, 2016

In addition to all the fried food on a stick, the 2016 Minnesota State Fair also featured an announcement from Governor Mark Dayton on pollinator protection.

Beginning in 2007, the U.S. honeybee population began declining by 30 percent each year, an unprecedented rate. Minnesota lost over half of its bee colonies in 2013.

Minnesota is home to 18 bumble bee species, and several of those populations are in decline. There are many reasons for bee death, including habitat loss and pesticide use. One native species of bee has not been documented in the state for over a decade, the Ashton bumble bee, due to severe habitat decline. The decline of monarch populations has also been linked to the slow disappearance of milkweed in the Midwest.

Monarch on flower.jpgAt an August 26 press conference, Governor Dayton laid out a plan to protect Minnesota’s bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects. Currently, pollinators contribute an estimated $17 billion to the United States agriculture industry through both bee products and by pollinating a wide variety of crops.

Dayton’s plan includes heightened restrictions on certain types of pesticides, specifically neonicotinoids. Several studies and analyses, including the by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), have tied the use of neonicotinoids, in combination with other factors such as parasites and declining forage, to the decline of pollinator populations. The Governor’s Executive Order includes banning neonicotinoids on state-owned land and restricts their use on farmland. Additionally, state agencies must develop pollinator-friendly habitats on the land they manage.

These are major actions by the Governor and place Minnesota at the fore-front of pollinator protection efforts in the United States.

The process to get to this executive order was in part informed by participants at a full day stakeholder summit on February 12, 2016. Environmental Initiative and MDA convened a diverse group of Minnesota’s insect pollinator experts and interested stakeholders—from beekeepers to environmental advocates to farmers—to discuss actions the state could take to help support declining pollinator populations.

Through a combination of large and small group discussions, stakeholders were able to share their perspectives with MDA and other decision-makers. At Environmental Initiative, we create a safe space where people with different perspectives can come together to solve problems that create stronger, lasting solutions for our environment. We captured what we heard from stakeholders at the February summit in this report.

Nearly 90 percent of pollination requires support from insect pollinators. Insect pollinators help us eat healthy diets by allowing fruits, vegetables, and other crops to flower and grow. Learn what you can do to protect Minnesota’s foreign and native pollinators »

Greg Bohrer


Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program
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