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From the Executive Director: Where do we go from here?

February 13th, 2017

On February 6, 1992, Environmental Initiative was born. If you do the math, you most likely know that we’re celebrating our 25th anniversary this year, but what does that mean? How do you capture what we’ve learned from a quarter-century’s worth of work, and then make it better?

Luckily, I’ve stuck around this organization for a while, so I know the whole story! Environmental Initiative began when Brett Johnson and Dan Carr were inspired to gather decision makers from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to solve environmental issues together. Others, including our first Executive Director, Ciaran Mannion, and our founding board made up of leaders from Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Northern States Power, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, amongst others, were essential to turn that idea into reality. At the time, it felt revolutionary.

Since then, we’ve had a significant impact on Minnesota’s environment. We’re removing the air pollution equivalent of 750,000 cars from the road every year through Project Green Fleet and we helped set the stage for the passage of the Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment, amongst many other accomplishments.

Of course, we want to celebrate all the great work we’ve done together so far. You don’t turn 25 everyday after all. The annual Environmental Initiative Awards will be held on May 25, 2017, and we hope you will join us to honor the people and organizations working collaboratively to improve our environment and celebrate 25 years of our shared success.

We’ve been fortunate that, over the years, we’ve been able to bring together thousands of people for hundreds of conversations that have concerned all of our lives. Now is the time to celebrate our 25 years. But, in many ways, it feels like we’re just getting started.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE—TOGETHER

Our 25th anniversary year will be an exciting one. It’s powerful to look back at what we’ve done and allow it to shape where we’re going. I wrote a year ago about why I’m still here after 20 years. All of that still holds true, and I look forward to pushing us to build even better collaborations and partnerships in the years ahead. We have a proven track record of bringing different sectors together, but to create truly lasting solutions that work for everyone, we need to be responsive to everyone’s views and concerns.

If you’ve ever heard me speak about this organization, you know I reference being “better together”— this is my way of saying that I don’t have all the answers. It’s really all of you, and the variety of perspectives you bring, that make us successful. We gather your passions, knowledge, and ideas to talk through and solve issues that affect us all.

But what good is “better together” if historically marginalized voices aren’t included in environmental solutions? We know that environmental problems disproportionately affect people of color, lower income individuals, and the elderly. This year and for years to come, we’re dedicating resources to better incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion into our work and mission. This is not only something we want to do, but something we must do to ensure the long-term health and prosperity of Minnesota’s people, economy and environment.

I know that many of our friends, partners and members care deeply about addressing the disparities that affect Minnesotans. I would like to invite anyone interested in helping us find our way forward to reach out and call me. This is a journey we are excited to start this year and know it will carry us into our next 25 years.

Mike Harley

POSTED BY:

Executive Director

Project Stove Swap Heats Up

February 6th, 2017

It’s been an amazing year for Project Stove Swap! Looking back at where this project started, I could not be happier with the results we’ve seen and where we’re headed.

Where We’ve Been

If you don’t know, Project Stove Swap operates under the umbrella of Clean Air Minnesota—a diverse coalition of air quality leaders working to reduce emissions by 10%. While Clean Air Minnesota partners identified wood smoke as a crucial area for emissions reductions, no funding was available for a project.

Recognizing that many of Northeastern Minnesota residents rely on wood as a heat and energy source, Environmental Initiative and partners decided it was the perfect region to implement a wood smoke reduction effort and, with help from Minnesota Power and a large network of regional partners, Project Stove Swap was born.

WHERE WE ARE

Now, a year or so later, we’ve officially launched Project Stove Swap in 17 Northeastern Minnesota counties. In short, Project Stove Swap provides financial incentives to consumers and businesses to replace older wood heating appliances with more efficient, less-polluting technologies.

Last week, Environmental Initiative staff and partners came together at one of the project’s vendors, Duluth Stove and Fireplace, to commemorate the launch. We heard from store co-owner Matt Boo, Environmental Initiative’s Mike Harley, Amy Rutledge of Minnesota Power, and Allison Rajala Ahcan about the importance of the project from an environmental and economic perspective.

You can read and watch the news coverage of the event below.

WHERE WE’RE GOING

Since the official launch, our phones have been ringing and ringing from residents, businesses, and stove vendors wanting to participate. I’m always working on getting vendors set up with the project, so if you don’t have a Project Stove Swap vendor in your county, you will soon!

Even beyond this last week’s media coverage, the goal has always been to expand the project and reach the whole state. All Minnesotans should reap the benefits of a newer, cleaner heating alternative. After all, it does get pretty cold here, so any way we can help people be safer, pollute less, and support local businesses is always a good thing. I can’t wait to share all the stories that come out of Project Stove Swap with you, so stayed tuned.

Mikey Weitekamp

POSTED BY:

Senior Project Manager, Environmental Initiative

Member of the Month: 3M

February 1st, 2017

3M has a long history of partnership with Environmental Initiative, including financial support for Clean Air Minnesota programs and sponsorship of the Environmental Initiative Awards. As part of their 25th anniversary, the Environmental Initiative team asked that we look back over the last quarter-century and share a favorite partnership, project, or memory. It’s quite the assignment, but I’ll gladly share a more personal memory and 3M’s broader appreciation of Environmental Initiative’s role in the Minnesota ecosystem.

As a fresh engineering graduate from the University of Minnesota in the late 1990s, I was looking to work in the environmental field. I connected with Mike Harley, Environmental Initiative’s Executive Director, through a mutual friend. Mike made a positive impression of the approach he wanted to take with his—then young— organization.

Nearly 20 years later, Environmental Initiative continues the collaborative practices Mike described to me as a recent graduate, and enables our community to advance important environmental projects in Minnesota. More than any one project, Environmental Initiative’s push for ongoing dialogue, bridging differing opinions and looking for win-win solutions drives the engagement of 3M and individual 3Mers in the organization’s work. There are many organizations that may use collaborative approaches, but Environmental Initiative’s commitment to pragmatic engagement and problem solving is unique.

3M’s admiration for Environmental Initiative’s approach is due, in part, to the longstanding collaborative and purpose-driven culture of the company. 3Mers are encouraged to leverage our 46 technology platforms in unique ways to create new products to help solve our customer’s challenges, and the challenges facing our global community. Our Pollution Prevention Pays (3P) program is more than 40 years old, with more than 2 million tons of pollution prevented to date. Our company-wide greenhouse gas emissions decreased by nearly 70% between 2002 and 2015.

As a company rooted in scientific exploration, we continue to innovate in markets from abrasives to energy, applying our technological expertise to help solve some of the challenges that serve as barriers to the improvement of every life on the planet. Overcoming global challenges requires recognizing their interdependence: the importance of water access and its impact on health; energy and dependence on raw materials, etc. It also requires a deep commitment across the organization and collaboration with partners, customers and communities.

We appreciate the opportunity to continue to partner with Environmental Initiative and offer our congratulations for 25 years of successes.

Chris Nelson

POSTED BY:

Environmental Permitting Manager, 3M Environmental Operations

Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition Spotlight: Uponor

January 23rd, 2017

The Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition is a nationally unique collaboration of leading businesses and organizations working together to advance the circular economy. Over the course of the year, we’ll profile member businesses and organizations to learn more about how they are thinking and what they are doing to advance the circular economy and achieve their sustainability goals.

We sat down with Rusty Callier, the Director of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability for Uponor, an international provider of plumbing and indoor heating and cooling systems. Uponor North America is headquartered in Apple Valley, Minnesota. Here’s our interview:

 

Tell me a little bit about you and your role at Uponor.

This year will mark my fifteenth anniversary at Uponor. Over those fifteen years I’ve been predominately in operations with jobs ranging from Manufacturing Manager all the way up to Director of Operations. A little over a year ago I took on a new role as Director of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability. In a way this change was kind of like going back to my beginnings because prior to Uponor I was focusing on environmental management and trying to break into a career in that area. So, after spending a lot of time in operations, its all come full circle and now I’m able to focus on environmental management and sustainability full-time.

How is Uponor working to advance the circular economy? How are you thinking about it as a company?

That’s a great question. First and foremost, we’re always thinking about it. Uponor as a company believes heavily in innovation. We’re always thinking about how we can be thought leaders in our industry and bring solutions to market that meet the customers needs all while balancing the triple bottom line. It’s a work in progress. We’re still figuring this out.

If you imagine people, planet, and profit in those traditional sustainability circles, we want to achieve balance. We want to achieve all three. In the search for that balance, we’re putting processes in place to evaluate projects and ideas through a sustainability lens. We ask ourselves: How are we changing our practices to be better stewards of the earth’s resources? How are we taking into account the human element of our business? How are we looking at the communities in which we operate and the communities in which we extract, or others extract, raw materials? We want to be cognizant of all of these questions and smart about how we deliver our products and solutions to our customers.

Is there anything in your recent memory or recent experience that has been a victory for Uponor?

I would love to point to the single home run, but that’s very rare, especially when you’re trying to build something different than what was done before. So, we’ve had what I’d call a lot of base hits. Some examples are getting our executive leadership to agree to participate in efficiency programs with Xcel Energy, or allowing us to take some liberties to implement different technologies in our facility to cut our energy use. A big, big win years ago – which is still a big deal even today – was our conversion from oil heaters on our extruders to electric energy. This resulted in a 40% energy reduction across the plant, which is a huge savings.

More recently we’ve been converting our chiller systems for our extruders to be able to be reversed to use the natural cooling the Minnesota winters provide so we don’t have to run our chillers for five or six months out of the year. This has resulted in significant energy savings and carbon reductions from our operations – and its exciting to be able to tap into a homegrown resources to do so.

We’re also looking at alternative energy with a goal of 100% renewable energy by 2020 as a company. We’ve installed a solar array at our North American headquarters in Apple Valley and are exploring ways to purchase additional renewable energy – both wind and solar.

Is there anything you would like to do as a company on circular economy, but you’re not quite sure how?  

That list is long. There are plenty of companies to point to who are doing great work, many that are involved with Environmental Initiative, and we will steal shamelessly from others best practices. I have no trouble admitting that. Ultimately, that’s the true essence of sustainability – it’s how do you learn from others? How can you take messages, techniques, lessons learned from other companies and apply them to your own situation? Being able to see and adopt opportunities from other facilities is vital. It helps from a sustainability standpoint, a continuous improvement standpoint, and from an operations standpoint. It’s part of how we’ll eventually get to a circular economy. Information sharing between companies can help advance that disruptive innovation that’s going to be needed to get to the next step.

What’s the biggest barrier or challenge that Uponor faces when it comes to achieving that balance of the triple bottom line or advancing towards more circular models?

Many will probably have a similar answer. There’s an inherent push-pull between the two concepts – a linear versus circular economic system. Putting a value on natural resources is really challenging – the whole idea of natural capital.

When you’re having a conversation with somebody its easy to get them to nod in agreement that natural capital makes sense, when you talk about how you’re valuing the natural resources used everyday to produce your product, run your plants, or move your people. But, when it comes right down to it finding the value of those resources and agreeing upon that value in terms of the true cost, it becomes difficult. So, to me that’s a challenge. Because when you’re putting your projects together to move them forward, you’re trying to set it up in terms of how to look at this for what the future brings. But in a lot of cases it still comes back to what the traditional accounting models demand in the short-term.

What do you hope the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition will achieve? What value do you see in being a member?

I think the biggest value we get out of membership is the exposure to other ideas. That’s huge. But, it’s also the ability to have strength in numbers and to be able to collaborate. We know as a coalition there are still things we need to learn about circular economy and what circular economy means for our region. What we’re really excited to be able to support the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment’s research project and the work Maddie Nordgaard is doing on behalf of the coalition to further our understanding on circular economy. We’re proud to have our name associated with something that is going to serve more than just Uponor, and to be alongside many other leading companies who are committed to advancing on these issues.

Is there a circular economy story or example that inspires you?  

Absolutely, there are so many examples both from within our industry and outside of it. I’ll stick with one that’s close because it’s from within our own company. We have a product in one of our European factories that we were able to improve by adding waste material from another product at another factory in our operations.

Essentially, location A could use the waste from location B to make a superior product. All of the work and materials are staying within Uponor. So, while it’s not a fully circular product, the principles of a circular economy are being applied – we’re transforming waste into resources, reducing emissions, and providing jobs within the company.

I wish I could say more about it, but we’re going to officially announce this project later on in the year. I’ll have more details to share then!

Sam Hanson

POSTED BY:

Director, Sustainability Program

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.

Bender1

Bender2

 

 

 

 

 

 

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
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