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Winners Announced at 2016 Environmental Initiative Awards Ceremony

May 27th, 2016

At Environmental Initiative, we create a safe space where people with different perspectives come together to learn, discuss, reach agreement, and implement environmental solutions in partnership. It’s no easy task bringing together unlikely partners to solve environmental problems. We created the Environmental Initiative Awards to honor those working in the spirit of our mission and to inspire others to collaborate.

Without further ado, here are the 2016 Environmental Initiative Award winners. Congratulations to all of the individuals and organizations involved in these outstanding projects!

Also, be sure to check out some of the great photos and social media posts shared live at the event.

2016 Partnership of the YearAgPlastic

Recycling Agricultural/Marine Plastics
With the use of plastic films on the rise, a diverse group of stakeholders identified and established environmentally and economically sustainable methods for properly managing agricultural (like bale wraps) and boat plastic wrap waste.

Community ActionSun Ray Library

Sun Ray Nature-Smart Library
The newly renovated Sun Ray Library is changing the way the community thinks about literacy, environmental stewardship, and youth leadership by becoming a hub for nature learning and recreation. The library transformed both its physical environment and programming to serve as a place for families to learn and engage with nature.

Energy & ClimateTheRose526

The Rose
A model of the next generation of multifamily housing, The Rose successfully  incorporated ultra-sustainable design, energy efficiency, and healthy building materials into a Minneapolis apartment complex accessible to low-income families.

Environmental EducationRace2Reduce

Race 2 Reduce
Race 2 Reduce is engaging the public and educating youth in the surrounding communities of White Bear Lake on the importance of local water conservation. Last year, Race 2 Reduce reached over 2,155 students and 870 adult community members and engaged more than 62 classrooms and 5 clubs.

Food StewardshipFeastLocalFoods

Feast! Local Foods Network
The Feast! Local Foods Network is a partnership committed to growing a sustainable, local and regional food system. While Feast! works to expand markets for local foods businesses and helps those businesses to grow, it also encourages businesses to move towards environmentally-responsible practices.

Natural ResourcesCoffeeCreek

Coffee Creek Daylighting and Restoration
Project partners restored a severely damaged section of Coffee Creek in the City of Duluth. The new stream channel provides valuable habitat for trout, is more resilient for future flood events, and promotes sustainable redevelopment of urban land.

Sustainable Business

Metropolitan Airports Commission’s Sustainable Solar PV and LED Lighting Project
The Metropolitan Airports Commission and Ameresco partnered to install the largest (non-utility) solar PV project in Minnesota and the largest integrated solar and lighting project at a U.S. airport.MAC - Blog

Congratulations again to all of the finalists and this year’s winning projects. Be sure to share the good news about your favorite project on social media by using #16EIAwards.

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The Environmental Initiative Awards annually honor innovative projects that have achieved extraordinary environmental results by harnessing the power of partnership. From large statewide efforts to small-scale locally based projects, many of Minnesota’s most innovative environmental efforts have succeeded as a result of collaboration.

Nominations for the 2017 Environmental Initiative Awards will open in January.

Andrea Robbins

POSTED BY:

Director, Engagement and Systems

Congratulate the Sustainable Business Finalists

May 16th, 2016

It’s been fun introducing you to the 2016 Environmental Initiative Awards finalists but alas, our series is coming to an end. This week, we are featuring the last finalists in the Sustainable Business category. This category acknowledges collaborative efforts to pursue sustainable business practices or offer private sector-based solutions to environmental challenges. Projects should contribute to environmental stewardship, economic benefit, and competitive advantage.

Go Twins, Go Green

With a goal of becoming the greenest ballpark in America, together with its partners the Minnesota Twins converted Go Twins Go Green - Blogall concession serviceware to compostable products in an effort to reduce waste. The first regional effort for a large scale sports venue of it’s kind, this initiative increases waste diversion, educates the public on waste reduction and recycling efforts, and pushes Target Field towards a zero waste facility with every ball game played.

Read more about the Minnesota Twin’s voluntary effort to reduce waste and educate fans on the importance of reducing our impact on the environment »

MAC’s Sustainable STAR Solar PV and LED Lighting Project

The first project of its kind in the county, the Metropolitan Airports Commission’s (MAC) comprehensive solar MAC - Blogenergy program combines LED lighting upgrades and 3-megawatts of solar PV and is completely self-funded using the energy savings. This highly visible showcase of energy innovations aims to increase public awareness on energy conservation and promote the expansion of other renewable energy projects in Minnesota.

“35 million people who use the airport each year can see the solar PV system,” said John Neville with Ameresco. He is proud to be part of a project with this magnitude of impact.

Read more about how MAC’s Sustainable STAR Solar PV and LED Lighting Project saves the equivalent emissions of removing 1,424 cars from the road each year »

Recycling Agricultural/Marine Plastics

With the use of plastic films on the rise, a diverse group of stakeholders identified and established environmentally Recycling Ag Marine Plasticsand economically sustainable methods for properly managing agricultural and boat plastic wrap waste. Recycling these plastic films conserves resources, reduces pollution and soil contamination by creating a viable alternative to current management practices such as burning or burying the plastic material on site.

“Farmers were calling because they knew what they were doing with the plastic films wasn’t right,” said Brita Sailer of the Recycling Association of Minnesota. She is proud the partnership solved this problem not only for farmers but also for the marine sector and the environment.

Read more on the ways the Recycling Agricultural/Marine Plastics project is increasing recycling rates and reducing improper disposal of agricultural and marine plastics »

We hope you join us in celebrating all eighteen finalists at the ceremony on Thursday, May 26!

Andrea Robbins

POSTED BY:

Director, Engagement and Systems

Hooray for the Natural Resources Finalists

May 12th, 2016

If you’ve been following along, you know that each week we are featuring finalists for the 2016 Environmental Initiative Awards. Coming at you this week are the finalists in the Natural Resources category. The Natural Resources category recognizes collaborations designed to implement sustainable solutions to preserve, protect, or restore Minnesota’s land, water, biological diversity, and other natural resources.

Coffee Creek Daylighting and Restoration

Flooding in 2012 severely damaged sections of Coffee Creek in Duluth, creating the opportunity to restore and Coffee Creek Daylight and Restoration - Blogdaylight the section of stream located on a golf course back to a natural stream. The new stream channel provides valuable habitat for trout, ensures the passage of aquatic species, provides a natural oasis for golfers, is more resilient for future flood events, and promotes sustainable redevelopment of urban land.

“The project partners successfully created a more resilient stream that is less likely to sustain damage in the future,” said Chris Kleist with the City of Duluth. He is proud the partners were able to balance interests and find common ground to restore this highly visible section of Coffee Creek.

Read more about how Coffee Creek Daylighting and Restoration protects and promotes environmental, social, and economic considerations of stream restoration »

Faces of Tomorrow

Focused on addressing the underrepresentation of people of color and females in natural resources careers, Faces of Faces of TomorrowTomorrow uses an innovative approach to reduce barriers to participation and increase overall diversity in the natural resources field. To prepare young adults to be competitive for federal natural resources jobs, selected program participants receive intensive training and hands-on experience in conservation management.

Read more on the ways Faces of Tomorrow is ensuring the future natural resources workforce more accurately reflects the community it serves »

Grand Marais Creek Outlet Restoration

After 100 years of environmental damage, this cooperative effort between the watershed, landowners, and state and Grand Marais Creek Outlet Restoration-Bloglocal governments restored six miles of the Grand Marais Creek Outlet back to pre-1905 conditions. Physical and hydrological restoration of the creek included improving runoff and water quality, restoring aquatic and prairie habitat, and creating channel connectivity.

Myron Jesme is proud to work on a project that restored “agricultural land that was flood prone and turned it back into native prairie, restoring the aquatic habitat of the Grand Marais Creek.”

Read more about Grand Marais Creek Outlet Restoration’s cooperative effort to improve agricultural and natural resources land use »

Don’t miss the opportunity to mingle with the project partners who worked on these great projects. This is the last week to purchase tables and/or seats for the ceremony on Thursday, May 26. Next week we are featuring the last three finalists – stay tuned!

Andrea Robbins

POSTED BY:

Director, Engagement and Systems

Have you met the Food Stewardship finalists?

May 5th, 2016

Up next in our series featuring the 2016 Environmental Initiative Awards finalists, we’ve got the Food Stewardship finalists. The Food Stewardship category recognizes partners working together to promote more ecologically sustainable, healthy, and socially equitable ways of growing, producing, distributing, consuming, or disposing of food.

Feast! Local Foods Network

Feast! Local Foods Network is committed to growing a sustainable, local and regional food system that Feast Local Foods Network - Blogencourages food stewardship, entrepreneurship, and innovation. The network was created to support local food producers and foodmakers by boosting access to financing, expanding resources and peer-to-peer learning opportunities amongst local food businesses, and increasing community awareness of the local food system.

“This collaborative approach to local food is really focused on the entrepreneur,” said Jan Joannides of Renewing the Countryside. “It’s about helping create small, sustainable food businesses to adopt practices that are better for all of us.”

Read more on how Feast! Local Foods Network is working to expand markets for local food businesses »

From the Ground Up North

From the Ground Up North is a digital resource for sustainable agriculture education that highlights the From the Ground Up North - Blogpeople and places dedicated to healthy food, environments, and communities throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin. This one-stop shop for resources and local sustainable agriculture stories aims to inspire and empower the community to become stewards of the land and one another.

“From the Ground Up North really tells the story of the people and places behind local, sustainable agriculture,” said Matt Frank of From the Ground Up North. Matt said before the project partnership was formed there wasn’t an outlet that provided free, accessible information highlighting not just sustainable agriculture but the people behind it.

Read more about ways From the Ground Up North is using storytelling, advocacy, and resources to promote environmental stewardship »

Wadena School Food Project

The Wadena School Food Project grows fresh, local food and delivers nutrition and plant biology education to Wadena County Food Project - Blogevery school-age child in Wadena, an area consistently ranked among the lowest for public health indicators in the state. Greenhouses and gardens on school property provide a hands-on learning opportunity for students to understand, care for, and enjoy locally grown, healthy food, which is served in their cafeterias.

“We had a big problem to solve – a county that ranked at the bottom for health indicators. Now not only do the kids get to eat better food, they are able to grow a garden, learn about the value of food, and teach their parents about healthy food,” said Del Moen, a project partner.

Read more on the ways Wadena School Food Project is exposing students to hands-on education and curriculum on food quality and nutrition »

Want to meet with the partners who worked on these projects over a delicious meal? Purchase your tables and/or seats for the ceremony on Thursday, May 26. Stay tuned for next week’s post featuring three more finalists!

 

Andrea Robbins

POSTED BY:

Director, Engagement and Systems

We’re an Air Aware Employer. Are you?

May 4th, 2016

Let’s be honest. Minnesota isn’t Beijing or New Dehli. Our air quality is generally good and we currently meet all federal regulations for clean air. But, do you know what is a little bit scary? Scientists are observing negative health effects from lower and lower levels of pollution. A recent headline even links polluted air to weight gain. Seriously.

Dirty air and its connection to our health are just one of the reasons why Environmental Initiative is committed to working with our Clean Air Minnesota partners to voluntarily reduce emissions – regardless of where federal air quality standards are set. And, it’s why we’ve signed up to be an Air Aware employer. air-aware-badge-300-134

The Be Air Aware employer program is a cooperative effort of Minnesota state government agencies and their partners. The goal is to help raise awareness, to share information on days when air is unhealthy, and to pass along ideas for how you and your employees can help minimize air pollution. As a participant in the program you’ll:

  • Receive air quality alerts to share with your employees on days when air quality is poor
  • Get tips on how employees can minimize their exposure to and help reduce air pollution
  • Receive notice of new stories posted on BeAirAwareMN.org
  • Receive BeAirAwareMN.org promotional items for your website and social media accounts
  • Join a network of like-minded employers committed to clean air

On days when air quality is poor, it might not be healthy for your employees or their children to exercise outdoors. Through Be Air Aware, you’ll be notified of air quality conditions in Minnesota, which will keep your employees informed so they can minimize their exposure to air pollution.

I’m the contact person at Environmental Initiative who receives information from Be Air Aware. I pass along messages and tips from Be Air Aware to the Environmental Initiative staff. Easy, right? Since the program’s launch, 17 organizations have joined, connecting with more than 30,000 employees. Will you?

May 2 – May 6 is Air Quality Awareness week. What better way to celebrate than to sign up for the program and keep your employees informed?

Contact Rebecca Place at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to become a Be Air Aware employer or to learn more.

Emily Franklin

POSTED BY:

Director of Communications

Member of the Month: CenterPoint Energy

May 2nd, 2016

CenterPoint Energy is Minnesota’s largest natural gas utility, serving over 800,000 customers. We have supported Environmental Initiative since 1999 and appreciate the opportunity to be highlighted as Member of the Month. We are committed to identifying and implementing ways to help mitigate the environmental impact of our company’s operations and our customers’ energy needs.

Energy Efficiency

Known as the Conservation Improvement Program (CIP), CenterPoint Energy’s award-winning natural gas energy efficiency programs are among the best and highest-achieving in the country. From simple energy-saving tips to engineering assistance and financial incentives, our efficiency offerings can help nearly any of our customers find ways to reduce usage and save money.

Here are a few highlights of CenterPoint Energy’s 2015 CIP achievements:

  • More than 260,000 customers participated in our programs, receiving energy audits, technical assistance, and other benefits – including more than $10.5 million in rebates for high efficiency equipment installation.
  • Together with our customers, we saved approximately 1.85 billion cubic feet of natural gas – that’s enough to supply nearly 20,300 homes with natural gas for a year, representing annual cost savings of about $11.1 million.
  • That energy savings represents about 99,000 metric tons of avoided carbon dioxide emissions per year – comparable to taking 16,300 cars off the road.

Green Energy Leader…

Clean Energy Partnership wins EPA award
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently presented the Minneapolis Clean Energy Partnership with a 2016 Climate Leadership Climate Leadership Awards 2016Award in the Innovative Partnerships category. The Innovative Partnerships certificate recognizes organizations working collaboratively on leading-edge climate initiatives. CenterPoint Energy is a partner in the Clean Energy Partnership along with the city of Minneapolis and Xcel Energy. The partnership aims to help Minneapolis achieve the clean energy goals set forth in the city’s 2013 Climate Action Plan and Energy Vision for 2040.

CenterPoint Energy named Founding Partner and takes EPA Methane Challenge Program
The EPA officially launched the Natural Gas STAR Methane Challenge Program with 41 Founding Partners at the Global Methane Forum on March 30, 2016 in Washington, D.C. Founding partners made a commitment to implement a suite of best management practices across their operations within five years, as outlined in the “Methane Challenge Program Best Management Practice (BMP) Commitment Framework” (PDF). CenterPoint Energy is one of the founding partners who took on the Natural Gas STAR Methane Challenge Program.

Fueling the Future – Natural Gas Vehicles (NGVs)
CenterPoint Energy is taking a leadership role building gas infrastructure to serve compressed natural gas fueling stations, converting its own fleet to natural gas, and providing tools to encourage natural gas fleet conversion. We believe our role is to educate, promote and facilitate the economic and environmental advantages of natural gas vehicles, and strive to become a leading energy company for this technology. More businesses and consumers are turning to NGVs as the solution to their needs for clean, cost-effective transportation.

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A note from Environmental Initiative:
Each month, we feature information about one of our members on the Initiative blog and on our website. Contact Sacha Seymour-Anderson anytime at 651-308-4950 to learn more about this membership benefit.

Nick Mark

POSTED BY:

Conservation & Renewable Energy Policy Manager, CenterPoint Energy

Celebrate the Environmental Education Finalists

April 28th, 2016

This week we are featuring the Environmental Education category finalists as part of our series highlighting the 2016 Environmental Initiative Awards finalists. The Environmental Education category recognizes cooperative efforts to educate youth or adult audiences on environmental issues, improve environmental literacy, and/or inspire behavior change. Environmental education projects may be conducted in either formal or non-formal settings.

Race 2 Reduce

A community-wide partnership, Race 2 Reduce is engaging the public and educating youth in the surrounding communities Race 2 Reduce - Blogof White Bear Lake on the importance of local water conservation. By engaging the future generation of leaders, students are empowered to change community water use behaviors and influence the management and protection of our most precious resource.

“By collaborating with public school districts, the cities, and other local organizations we are bringing real world issues into the classroom,” said Sarah Alexander of H20 for Life. She is proud of the way students have taken what they learned in the classroom to become powerful advocates for change in their own communities.

Read more about how Race 2 Reduce is addressing local water resource issues through community collaboration and education »

Saint Paul EcoDistrict

Located within a four block area, the Saint Paul EcoDistrict is a sustainability education platform demonstrating Saint Paul EcoDistrict - Blogenvironmental innovations in action. Teaching students, families, and leaders alike, this free learning experience showcases real-life applications of sustainable technologies including photovoltaics, bioenergy, energy efficiency, electric vehicles, recycling, composting, and more.

“The Saint Paul EcoDistrict has developed into a place for field trips, sustainability discussions, best practices learning, and seeing renewable energy and waste reduction projects first hand,” said Nina Axelson of District Energy St. Paul. “It’s the only place in the country you can find this density of publicly accessible sustainable solutions.”

Read more about how the Saint Paul EcoDistrict is increasing environmental literacy, engagement, and implementation of sustainable technology »

Sauk River Watershed District WaterFests

The Sauk River Watershed District WaterFests invites all fourth grade students in the watershed to annually participate in a Sauk River Watershed District WaterFestswater and natural resource protection outdoor learning experience. Collaboration with teachers, school districts, and state and local governments allow students to establish environmental ethics, grow community involvement, and create the foundation for a future of natural resources protection.

“It’s great to help teachers learn how to bring this type of education into the classroom and get kids outside,” said Adam Hjelm of the Sauk River Watershed District.

Read more on the ways Sauk River Watershed District WaterFests annually educates 2,500 students on environmental issues »

Want to celebrate with the partners who worked on these projects? Purchase your tables and/or seats for the ceremony on Thursday, May 26. Stay tuned for next week’s post featuring three more finalists!

Andrea Robbins

POSTED BY:

Director, Engagement and Systems

Mississippi River Refresh for Earth Day

April 27th, 2016

To celebrate Earth Day, Environmental Initiative got out of the office for a few hours to support the Minnesota Environmental Fund’s Mississippi River Refresh clean up event. Our five staff members worked on cleaning up the riverfront area from the North Loop playground at 4th Avenue to Bassett Creek.

We moved through bushes and around trees, down steep slopes and back up, picking up all sorts of trash. Among the bottles and styrofoam, some of the gems we found included the front end of an old tricycle and part of the top of an old stove. We even found a geocache — though you have to go find that yourself!


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

 

Erin Niehoff

POSTED BY:

Project and Administrative Assistant

Meet Erin Niehoff, Project and Administrative Assistant

April 25th, 2016

Hi there! I’m Erin Niehoff, Environmental Initiative’s new Project & Administrative Assistant, and I’m thrilled to be joining this amazing team.

Growing up in Connecticut, my first job was in the fast food industry. Though our store collected plastics for recycling in our IMG_3104webfood preparation area, the customer space did not provide recycling bins. After I noticed customers tossing water and soda bottles in the trash, I asked the store’s owner if we could place a recycling container at the front of the store. He agreed, and soon our store was saving three large bags of bottles from going to the landfill every week.

I expanded my environmental focus when I left Connecticut to attend the University of Minnesota. I earned my B.S. in Geography, concentrating on environmental systems. After serving a year with the Minnesota Math Corps, tutoring 4th through 8th grade students in math at a Minneapolis school, I headed back to the University of Minnesota to continue my own education. In May 2015, I earned my Master of Science in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy, specifically focusing on water policy. During my time at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, I worked on research projects around water reuse for the Minnesota Department of Health and for a law firm in Minneapolis. After graduation, I completed a post-graduate fellowship at the Oregon Department of State Lands, where I reviewed part of their administrative rules governing the removal and fill of material from waters of the state, providing recommendations for improvement.

Now I am back in the great state of Minnesota and I am looking forward to supporting the needs of various projects and programs here at Environmental Initiative!

Erin Niehoff

POSTED BY:

Project and Administrative Assistant

Meet the Energy and Climate Finalists

April 21st, 2016

Wow! Here’s another batch of environmental partnerships in our series featuring the 2016 Environmental Initiative Awards finalists.

Highlighted this week are the three Energy and Climate category finalists. This category recognizes partnerships that work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cut energy consumption, advance energy efficiency, or improve air quality. Projects may also include collaborative efforts to prepare Minnesota to adapt to a changing global climate.

Minneapolis Energy Benchmarking Program

The Minneapolis Energy Benchmarking Program requires the largest commercial buildings in the city to track and publicly report annual energy and water performance. Transparently aggregating whole building energy data is driving the largest Mpls Energy Benchmarking - Blogenergy users to re-think building energy, leading to a reduction in energy consumption, energy costs, and greenhouse gas emissions.

Katie Jones Schmitt of the Center for Energy and Environment said about the program, “I’m happy we’ve gotten the conversation started about whole building energy use. It’s now on the radar for decision makers.” She is excited that the partnership between the City, Xcel Energy, and CenterPoint Energy is creating awareness and enabling building managers to take action on energy efficiency.

Read more about how the Minneapolis Energy Benchmarking Program is spurring the adoption of energy efficiency projects and strategies »

Safer Products That Work

The Safer Products that Work project is expanding opportunities for businesses to improve air quality. Project partners help industrial and automotive businesses reduce volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions by identifying alternative Safer Products that Work - Blogdegreasing aids. (Decreasing aids are solvents that help remove grease). By switching to a safer degreaser, businesses are reducing odors, eliminating waste, and improving indoor air quality for employees and the neighborhood.

Laura Babcock of the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program observes, “When businesses are presented with an alternative that is better in many ways, they are willing to make a change.” She is proud to successfully assist businesses with changes that reduce worker exposure to air pollution and help the environment.

Read more about how Safer Products That Work is reducing VOC emissions to improve indoor and outdoor air quality »

The Rose

A model of the next generation of multifamily housing, The Rose successfully incorporated ultra-sustainable design, energyThe Rose - Blog efficiency, and healthy building materials into a Minneapolis apartment complex accessible to low-income families. This community-built partnership has changed the way people live by creating an environmentally conscious, net zero ready, healthy, and affordable place for residents to call home.

James Lehnhoff with Aeon said, “What we’ve done is built a partnership with the community.” He is proud to work on project that will impact the community today and into the future.

Read more about The Rose’s practical, cost-effective energy-saving features »

Don’t miss the opportunity to honor these projects at the ceremony on Thursday, May 26. Purchase your tables and/or seats today. Tune in to next week’s post featuring three more outstanding finalists!

Andrea Robbins

POSTED BY:

Director, Engagement and Systems
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