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Meet Damian Goebel, Communications Director

January 17th, 2017

Hi, folks. I’m Damian Goebel, Environmental Initiative’s new Communications Director. I’m truly excited to start working on telling you about all of the great things we do.

Fun fact about me: I’m a pragmatist. Okay, that isn’t so fun, but it is one of the things that drew me to the work that Environmental Initiative is doing. One thing that excites me about this organization is their ability to find the collaborative sweet spot between decision makers and those who are being impacted by those decisions. From that sweet spot, Environmental Initiative and partners can create innovative, yet realistic, solutions to major issues facing Minnesota’s environment. Having worked in the private sector for almost 10 years, I understand the value of partnering with businesses to create win-win solutions on environmental policy, projects, and programs.

Most recently, I come from 8.5 years of working in the nonprofit field at St. Paul Smart Trips, focusing on transportation issues, largely around air quality in St. Paul. We worked from a similar collaboration-based perspective where I found the real power in cross-sector partnerships.

Looking back though, keeping our land, air, and water clean has always been an important issue to me. Whether it was countless camping trips with my parents, weeklong excursions to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, or making the conscious choice to drive less, I’ve been involved in environmental issues for almost all my life, whether I was aware or not.

But enough about me. I can’t wait to dig in and hear from you about why you care about the environment and our organization!

Damian Goebel

POSTED BY:

Communications Director

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency 2017 Report: The Air We Breathe

January 12th, 2017

Last week, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) released its biennial air quality report, The air we breathe: The state of Minnesota’s air quality 2017. It’s a great place to learn about all things air quality in the state.

The good news is that our air is pretty clean—better than most of the rest of the country. Minnesota has seen huge improvements in air quality since the start of the Clean Air Act, all while our economy has continued to grow.

Despite these major improvements, poor air quality continues to affect people here in Minnesota. Sometimes that can be easy to forget when we compare our typically blue skies to images of Beijing and other big cities.  Scientists are constantly learning that air pollution is harmful at lower and lower levels, even at levels below national standards. Young children, the elderly, and people with lung conditions, such as asthma, are particularly susceptible to the effects of air pollution, but dirty air can affect us all. Lower-income communities and communities of color are also both disproportionately exposed to air pollution and more vulnerable to its adverse health effects.

Today, most of Minnesota’s air pollution comes from smaller, widespread sources in our neighborhoods. Only about a quarter of the air pollution in Minnesota comes from “smokestack” facilities such as power plants and factories. The remaining 75% comes from a wide variety of things we see in our daily lives: our vehicles, local businesses, heating and cooling technologies, and yard and recreational equipment.

 

Many of the successes we’ve achieved since the start of the Clean Air Act have come through regulating large facilities. Now, an important part of the MPCA’s work is with partners in the non-profit, business, and governmental sectors, including our work with Clean Air Minnesota. With our partners, we are able to develop innovative, often voluntary programs to help Minnesotans reduce their contributions to air pollution.

The MPCA strives to ensure our state’s air is healthy for all to breathe, even for the most vulnerable Minnesotans.  We’ve made important progress, but there is still much for us all to do. I highly encourage everyone to check out BeAirAwareMN.org to learn how you can both reduce your emissions and your exposure to air pollution. Our future success will depend on each and every one of us making choices to help limit emissions.

I hope you all will take a little time to explore some of the report highlights, or even dive into the report itself and learn all about the air we breathe!

Amanda Jarrett Smith

POSTED BY:

Air Policy Planner, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Thank you, thank you, thank you…

January 11th, 2017

Thank you to all of our very generous donors for their support during our year-end fundraising campaign. We could not continue to grow, solve problems collaboratively, and build relationships without supporters like you. Here is a shout out to everyone that donated:

Read more »

Sacha Seymour-Anderson

POSTED BY:

Development Director

Collaborator Shout Out: Marian Bender

January 9th, 2017

As you may have heard, my last day at Environmental Initiative is just a week or so away. My husband and I are moving to Sydney, Australia to travel, work, and experience life in another part of the world. It’s bittersweet to leave an organization that aligns so strongly with my values and that has such a tremendous network of smart, dedicated people.

In my last post for Environmental Initiative, I have the great joy of sharing a little bit about a woman who has been, and continues to be, instrumental in Environmental Initiative’s success: Marian Bender.

Marian has dedicated her career to the environment and to protecting water quality. She served as the Executive Director of Minnesota Waters, a statewide non-profit that was dedicated to engaging citizens in protecting Minnesota’s lakes and rivers. In the early 2000s, Marian also worked as the Development Director and Interim Executive Director of Friends of the River in Sacramento, California. Marian is currently the Executive Director at EcoLandscape California, an organization educating and advocating for ecologically responsible landscapes.

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Here are just a few reasons why Marian has been so important to Environmental Initiative’s success (She’s been one of my professional role models and mentors, too):

Facilitator Extraordinaire

Marian facilitated the Parks and Trails Legacy Funding Project, which I managed in 2012. We were charged with helping a group of leading parks and trails professionals (8 men, and 1 woman) reach an agreement on how to divide constitutionally dedicated funds for the state’s parks and trails. Marian facilitated six high-stakes meetings with this group of self-proclaimed “alpha dogs.” I greatly admired her ability to ask the right questions, make adjustments on the fly, and remind the group of their shared goals. Without her leadership on this project, I’m not sure if we would have reached an agreement. The Legacy Bill was passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Dayton in May 2013 with the spirit of the group’s six-year agreement reflected in the legislation.

Fundraising and Communications Coach

When Marian joined Environmental Initiative’s Board of Directors in 2011, I was relatively new in my role as Development Director. At the time, the organization was interested in growing the number of individuals who supported Environmental Initiative financially. Marian helped me develop a year-end fundraising strategy. Thanks to her leadership, we were able to grow the number of individual donors by large amounts over time. Marian helped provide the foundation to strategies we still use today.

Dedicated Long Distance Member

Despite now living in northern California, Marian continues to support Environmental Initiative’s work financially. And, she keeps increasing her contributions each year. This long-distance support means the world to us because the support we receive from members allows us to respond to emerging challenges, continue to develop our staff, and so much more.

A special thank you to Marian, and to everyone I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with over the past ten years at Environmental Initiative. It’s been an amazing ride!

A note from Environmental Initiative:
In honor of Environmental Initiative’s 25th birthday, members of our staff will take turns throughout the year highlighting the organization’s most influential and effective collaborators. We want to say thank you to the amazing people who help us achieve all we do.

Emily Franklin

POSTED BY:

Director of Communications

In the Air: December News

December 27th, 2016

Welcome to this month’s installment of Environmental Initiative’s new blog series focused on the environmental, economic, and health effects of air pollution. Think of this series as an easy way to keep up on the latest local and global air quality stories.

Here are the headlines and reporting that caught our attention this month – including an air quality success from the City of Minneapolis Green Business Cost Share Program and why reducing soot emissions could be a quick win for the climate:

school bus tail pipesFinance & Commerce
Minneapolis helps businesses cut pollution »

The Guardian
Why cutting soot emissions is ‘fastest solution’ to slowing Arctic ice melt »

Time
Beijing’s Air Pollution is Frightening. This video shows how bad it gets »

The Economic Times
How much does air pollution cost in India? 3 percent of its GDP. »

Spot a story worth sharing? Leave a comment below or send me a note and we’ll consider it for a future post.

Photo credit: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency 

Bill Droessler

POSTED BY:

Senior Director of Strategic Project Planning

Your Support is Needed, Now More Than Ever

December 22nd, 2016

How many times have you heard that phrase during the waning weeks of 2016?

I’ve written and said it myself hundreds of times since election day. As true as it is, and for so many worthy causes, it becomes hard for any of us to remain open to all that is asked of us during this season of mass solicitation. The onslaught of sincere and compelling requests begins on Give to the Max Day and doesn’t let up until the new year arrives.

Nevertheless, we know Minnesotans are exceptionally generous and we dig deep to support good causes and essential services, even when we have given greatly already. We are fortunate the giving of meaningful gifts is so deeply embedded in our culture, and it makes a lot of great work possible here that can happen only here, or at least that must happen here first.

The radical generosity of Minnesotans is a norm in any year, but we also know this year is different for many of us. We know many Minnesotans feel discouraged by the state of politics in our country and are struggling with despair about our collective prospects for a cleaner environment, a stronger economy, and a more equitable society. It has become harder and harder for many of us to hold fast to the conviction that we can come together across differences to solve our shared problems.

“Better together” can be a tough sell these days, but that’s exactly what I have found myself having to do the past several weeks. I’ve talked to hundreds of individuals since election day, representing a wide range of political viewpoints and interests. So many of those conversations have gone to dark places, but only a few have stuck there.

The overwhelming response of our friends and partners has been one of resolve and renewed commitment to the values that are so Minnesotan and with which we describe Environmental Initiative’s work – better together, open exchange, stewardship, outcome-focused, and solutions driven. Many of you have told us the outcomes of this election cycle do not change the increasingly clear realities of what is required of responsible businesses, creative nonprofits, and dedicated government agencies, let alone the individuals who champion environmental solutions and the triple bottom line.

 

 

Starting on the morning of November 9, I heard over and over again that the shifting of political winds changes nothing about existing corporate sustainability commitments, nor the fundamental need for Minnesotans to find common ground and work collaboratively toward shared solutions through policy change. Many have spoken passionately to the fact that the only option for continued progress is in the engagement of diverse stakeholders, and especially in the partnership of sustainability leading businesses with the most creative and effective of our public servants.

I’ve been awestruck by how many of you have said yes to an additional contribution, often giving just what we ask, and sometimes even exceeding our request. Even when an additional financial contribution is not possible, I’ve had energizing conversations about opportunities for new projects and other important work to be done. Generally, I’ve interrupted your day to ask for your personal support in the form of individual membership, and I would understand if people were a little prickly or disinterested. On the contrary, the response is almost universally warm and understanding, and even appreciative. It reminds me that we are part of a community that is committed to working together and knows what is required to make that possible.

Mike.EOY1I’m grateful for all of your support, including your financial contributions at this important moment in Environmental Initiative’s work. As many of you know, any contribution between now and year-end will be matched dollar for dollar, so that the impact of your gift will be doubled. We still have $15,000 left to raise by year-end (that’s halfway!), so that we will have the resources required to rise to the challenge of this moment when our work is more critical than ever before.

I hope that you will be able to help us meet our goal and make it possible for Environmental Initiative to step up to the challenge of helping Minnesotans be better together when so much of our politics and culture would have us moving in the opposite direction.

The answer to what I mean when I say “now more than ever” is simple – now more than ever we need to remember that we are better together, and now more than ever we need to invest in the partnerships and relationships to put better together to work for a stronger Minnesota.

Mike Harley

POSTED BY:

Executive Director

Growing Clean Water at the ACES Conference

December 14th, 2016

There’s been a lot happening in Environmental Initiative’s Agriculture and Environment program lately—I mean a lot. Field Stewards continues to build momentum and we’ve been hard at work bringing together agricultural interests to talk about and collaborate on creating new opportunities to improve water quality.

ACESBecause of Environmental Initiative’s work to promote market solutions for clean water through Field Stewards, I was asked to speak at the ACES: A Community on Ecosystem Services conference in Jacksonville, Florida, which was held last week. Besides having the opportunity to share our work with an exciting, growing community of practitioners, I got to learn from others around the country on how to link science, practice, and sustainable decision making in ecosystem services. (The term “ecosystem services” is meant to describe the ways humans benefit from functioning ecosystems. Pollination is an example of an ecosystem service).

ACES 2016 brought together leaders in government, NGOs, academia, Native American tribes, and the private sector to advance the use of ecosystem services science and practice in environmental decision making and practice.

MY THREE TAKEAWAYS

1. The science is there (mostly). Ecosystem services is a way of looking at how natural processes and landscapes contribute human health, economy, and quality of life. In recent years, the science and tools available for estimating ecosystem services have gotten much better and there is more confidence in how we are using them.

2. Agriculture has a huge role to play. If you want to have an impact, go work with farmers. But be ready to listen.

3. Ecosystem services is a new way to make money. I heard from a speaker about how a custom made municipal bond that funded the creation of green landscapes in DC was bought by Goldman Sachs. Goldman didn’t invest because it looked good on their corporate sustainability report, they bought it because it made them money (sort of a big part of their business model).

Along with Paul Helgeson from GNP Company, I shared information about our Field Stewards program, particularly how the idea of a whole-farm, holistic approach to water quality protection is good for farmers, good for food companies, and good for the environment. We are doing things a little different with Field Stewards, and there is a lot of interest in how our approach can crack the nut of untraceable commodity crop supply chains. You can learn more about the ACES conference here »

Greg Bohrer

POSTED BY:

Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program

In the Air: November News

November 30th, 2016

Welcome to the second installment of a new, monthly blog series focused on the environmental, economic, and health effects of air pollution exposure. Think of this as an easy way to keep up to date on air quality news.

In this month’s issue, learn about vulnerable populations, how trees can cut air pollution, and the first EV shuttle bus fleet.

AIR QUALITY AND THE ENVIRONMENT


Study: Tree planting pays off for Minneapolis, other cities

A study conducted by The Nature Conservancy found that Minneapolis was among 16 North American cities where there is a return on investment for planting trees. They provide both a cooling effect and significant reductions in air pollution. Read MPR’s coverage »

Rise in global carbon emissions slows

The Scientific American reports, “While Americans used more oil and gas in 2015, the United States decreased emissions by 2.6 percent as the use of coal declined. Researchers expect to see a decrease in emissions of 1.7 percent in 2016.” Read the full story »

 

AIR QUALITY AND THE ECONOMY

School bus
First ever EV shuttle bus fleet launches

EV company Proterra and real estate company JLL are partnering to create an electric bus fleet in Chicago. The new fleet of 10 electric buses is more economical the first all-electric shuttle fleet to operate in the United States. Learn more »

Introducing Project Stove Swap  

Project Stove Swap provides financial incentives to residents, businesses, and organizations to replace old appliances with more efficient, less-polluting technologies. Read more about Project Stove Swap and how your organization can become more efficient »

A step toward producing cleaner air

Mathiowetz Construction in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota partnered with Project Green Fleet to retrofit one of their loaders.  Learn more about their commitment to cleaner air »

 

AIR QUALITY AND HEALTH


300M Children are breathing extremely toxic air, UNICEFF says

According to a UNICEFF report released this month, it is estimated that 300 million children around the world are breathing toxic air. Children are among the populations most vulnerable to air pollution’s health effects, and many of the affected live in areas “where outdoor air pollution exceeds international guidelines by at least six times.”

Air pollution linked to blood vessel damage in healthy young adults

While we know air pollution can impact vulnerable populations, like children and the elderly, a new study from the University of Louisville reports that fine particulate matter may be associated with blood vessel damage among young, healthy adults. Read the report »

Bill Droessler

POSTED BY:

Senior Director of Strategic Project Planning

16 Reasons to Give this Season

November 16th, 2016

GTMD16GivingTuesday

Toward the end of every year, Environmental Initiative takes time to reflect and be thankful for our collaborative efforts. We’ve launched new projects, gathered business leaders, and informed serious policy decisions— but we cannot do what we do without you.

November 17 and 29, Give to the Max Day and Giving Tuesday, are two days of the year when individuals across the state make donations to the causes they care about. In 2016, our staff grew to 16 employees, so to celebrate we discussed 16 reasons to give to Environmental Initiative.

Here are our thoughts on the most important reasons to donate today:

The 16 Most Important Reasons to Give:

1. “No one can solve environmental problems alone, and we all have to help! We’re better together.” – Greg Bohrer, Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program

2. “I think our most exciting project right now is the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition. It’s an unprecedented venture, seeking a sustainable and renewable supply chain.” – Brian Columbus, Business Manager

3. “For those who believe in collaborative, inclusive, partnership-driven change, now is the time to support Minnesota’s best example of this behavior on environmental issues.” – Bill Droessler, Director, Air Program

4. “We’re an organization that truly works with people in mind. Our efforts have far-reaching health benefits for individuals living across the state.” – Rachel Dupree, Communications Associate

5. “We’re not a single issue nonprofit—we work to improve Minnesota’s air, land, water, public health, and energy practices. Your donation can mean a lot of different things.” – Emily Franklin, Communications Director

6. “Invest in innovation! We’re not afraid to try things that have never been done before.” – Ellen Gibson, Senior Director, Project and Programs

7. “Environmental Initiative is truly courageous in its approach. We are an organization of big thinkers and we deliver real results.” – Sam Hanson, Director, Sustainability

8. “Help us celebrate our 25 years of established and results-driven work with your support and partnership!” – Mike Harley, Executive Director

9. “Our policy programs are always changing, and your gift allows us to scope new projects and respond to community needs.” – Meleah Houseknecht, Director, Environmental Policy

10. “Now, more than ever, we need to work to find common ground to solve our state’s environmental problems.” – Erin Niehoff, Project and Administrative Assistant

11. “We’ll use your gift in the most responsible way possible for the greatest impact.” – Judd Larson, Chief Financial Officer

12. “We don’t say it because we’re “Minnesota nice,” but we’re the best at what we do. From consensus to execution, we are efficient, effective, and always striving to get better. I’m proud of the work we do and you should be too.” – Bjorn Olson, Senior Environmental Project Associate

13. “We don’t just pioneer projects, we also lift up the work of others. We seek out local environmental champions and honor them every year at the Environmental Initiative Awards.” – Andrea Robbins, Director, Designer and Engagement

14. “When you give to Environmental Initiative, it demonstrates that your values align with ours.” – Dani Schurter, Project Manager

15. “We bring people together that normally may not sit at the same table and work to build consensus, which is something the world needs more of these days.” – Sacha Seymour-Anderson, Director, Development

16. “In a time of division, Environmental Initiative cuts through disagreement, partisanship, and rhetoric to build lasting partnerships that lead to real, measurable environmental results.” – Mikey Weitekamp, Senior Project Manager

Mike Harley

POSTED BY:

Executive Director

Greg Bohrer Selected to Participate in the Minnesota Agricultural & Rural Leadership Program

November 14th, 2016

We are proud to share that Greg Bohrer, Senior Manager of Agriculture & Environment at Environmental Initiative was one of thirty individuals selected to participate in the Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership Program. Two thirds of participants are agricultural producers and the other third are people involved in agribusiness or rural leadership positions.

GregAs a member of Class IX, Greg will participate in a dynamic two-year educational experience featuring several in-state seminars, a six-day national study seminar, and a 10- to 14-day international study seminar. The current cohort meets starting next week through April 2018.

“I am really looking forward to the program, said Greg Bohrer – Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment, “This is a tremendous opportunity to get to know other emerging leaders in agriculture and rural Minnesota and to develop my own leadership skills and understanding of agricultural issues. I am excited to start diving into it and am grateful to have been selected.”

Program curriculum covers a range of topics including leadership development, rural industry and trade, natural resources, and diversity. The goal of the program is to help rural and agricultural leaders develop the necessary skills to maximize their impact across local, state, and international arenas.

Congratulations to Greg and to his fellow Minnesota Agricultural & Rural Leadership Program participants. Meet Class IX »

Ellen Gibson

POSTED BY:

Senior Director, Projects & Programs
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