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Introducing the High-Emitting Vehicles Pilot Project

March 22nd, 2017

Our work and reach is always expanding here at Environmental Initiative! We’re excited to announce a new project that will be addressing Minnesota’s air quality by fixing pollution controls on high-emitting passenger vehicles for folks with lower incomes.

What are High-Emitting Vehicles?

Photo credit: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

It can kind of be a mouthful to say, but high-emitting vehicles are passenger cars and light-duty trucks that emit high levels of pollution into the air. These cars typically have outdated or broken emission controls or exhaust equipment that would typically be identified in vehicle emissions testing programs run in areas that have violated federal air quality standards. This new pilot project aims to repair some of those broken technologies, improving fuel efficiency and reducing air pollution all at the same time.

How does the project work?

Environmental Initiative is partnering with two nonprofit garages that provide low-cost safety and reliability repairs to help improve their clients’ economic security. While funding is available, Cars for Neighbors and The Lift Garage will offer no-cost repairs to three priority emission control systems on the cars of clients that qualify for their services: catalytic converters, evaporative emission control (EVAP) systems, and oxygen sensors. You can read more about these technologies here »

 

 

This is a pilot project, so we’ll be working on a small scale for right now. In this phase, our goal is to repair roughly 40 vehicles identified by our partners. We have high hopes, though! If the pilot is successful, we’ll be raising funds and expand our reach.

The high-emitting vehicles pilot project is one of several efforts underway to help achieve Clean Air Minnesota’s goal of reducing man-made sources of fine particulate matter (soot) and ground level ozone precursor emissions (smog) by 10%.

Clean Air Minnesota is a diverse coalition of air quality leaders convened by Environmental Initiative who are working voluntarily and proactively to reduce air pollution.

Why is this project important?

Minnesota is fortunate enough to have pretty good air quality. However, as the science around air quality advances, health impacts from air pollution are being found at ever lower concentrations. One recent study from the University of Toronto found that 25% of the worst-polluting passenger vehicles may emit up to 90% of vehicle-related air pollution (The Air We Breathe Report 2017). Focusing on vehicles that produce higher levels of pollution is one efficient and cost effective method of addressing air quality concerns in our state.

The great part about this project is that its impacts go far beyond the environmental factors. According to a report published by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Health, lower-income residents of color, children with asthma, and the elderly are often most affected by dirty air. Disadvantaged communities feel the health effects of pollution more acutely, often in the form of respiratory and cardiovascular conditions. The Lift Garage and Cars for Neighbors serve these communities that often cannot afford repairs to emission control systems. Every repair that this project makes reduces pollution in close proximity to those most vulnerable to it while furthering our partners’ missions of promoting economic stability through reliable transport.

Overall, the high-emitting vehicles pilot project is a big opportunity to reduce air pollution where it is most felt. At the same time, we can also address sources that produce large amounts of dirty air. It’s a win-win!

We’re really excited to be launching a pilot version of this project and are looking forward to expanding. If you have questions, want to learn more, or are interested in contributing, you can contact me at mweitekamp@en-in.org.

Mikey Weitekamp

POSTED BY:

Senior Project Manager, Environmental Initiative

A True Champion: Gail Cederberg

March 14th, 2017

To say that Gail Cederberg, currently the Vice President, Environmental Division at American Engineering Testing (AET), has been instrumental in our sustainability work is truly an understatement. Gail has not only dedicated her career to the environment, but has also been a champion of our work for the past 10+ years.

Cederberg spear fishing as a young woman

Gail started her career at Los Alamos National Laboratory attempting the almost impossible – building a laboratory to measure the radon in geothermal fluid in just 14 weeks. At a mere 23 years old, sitting by herself in a remote trailer in the mountains 60 miles from civilization, she learned the empowering self-confidence you only gain from an utterly trusting employer, that it’s okay to ask questions and seek the answers, and to surround yourself with kind and generous people who can help you with your work. Gail has carried these lessons with her throughout her career as she researched groundwater transport modeling for her Ph.D., worked on Superfund sites in New Jersey and EHS compliance in Minnesota, and now works on brownfield redevelopment and environmental compliance at AET.

These days, I’m grateful for her support as she continues to lend her insight and wisdom to planning the Business & Environment Series year after year. (Can you believe she’s helped plan 26 and counting events?!). I recently caught up with Gail to talk about her endless support of the Business & Environment Series and one of her lifelong passions: diversity and inclusion.

Why she stays engaged, in her own words

Q1: What was your first introduction to Environmental Initiative?

I think my first experience with Environmental Initiative is when I was working
as the Director of Environmental, Health and Safety at Imation, a long time organizational supporter of Environmental Initiative. I was asked if I wanted to be part of a newly created Business & Environment Series and I jumped at the opportunity. I’ve been participating in planning group meetings ever since.

Q2: As one of the founding supporters of the Business & Environment Series nearly 10 years ago, what is it about the series that keeps you engaged and excited year after year?

When we first started the Series, the topics were broadly focused on the intersection of business and the environment. In recent years, we began honing in on specific sustainably issues. I enjoy how the Business & Environment Series continues to evolve, bringing current issues to the forefront, and looking beyond to what might lie ahead. The Series reminds me that there is always more to do and learn, even though it sometimes feels like we’ve done it all. I’m also energized by the people – what they do, what their organizations do, how they are making an impact, and their enthusiasm. I always leave the events with new ideas, new friends and colleagues, and new ways that I can look at issues and problems facing my company.

Q3: One of our values is “better together” – the idea that bringing diverse perspectives together creates stronger environmental solutions. As an advocate for addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion issues, why do you also value the better together mentality?

As a little girl interested in science and engineering, I’ve felt first-hand what it feels like to not be heard or included. This experience at a young age helped me developed a sensitivity and empathy towards individuals and groups who are excluded simply based on who they are.

Throughout my career I’ve experienced that heterogeneous teams are often more productive than not.  Reaching out, including diverse perspectives, and working towards a common goal are core values of mine.  Without working together and including other voices, ideas, and perspectives how do I, or we, really know the issues and problems? And if we don’t know that, how could we presuppose the answers, solutions, or best ideas?

I have recently been learning more about workforce development, economic development, our marginalized communities, and working on ways to be more intentional about including and incorporating diverse perspectives, people, and ideas through my role as a Midway Chamber of Commerce board member. This brought me to examine the unconscious biases my teams and I may have that hold us back from intentional inclusion and have those uncomfortable conversations.  It’s a process of continual learning and introspection.

Q4: What do you think successfully tackling issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion would look like in the environmental field?

I think there are a few important things to keep in mind, but these relate to all fields, not exclusively the environmental field.

Say Yes: We have to say “yes” more often than “no.” Instead of saying why we can’t include a person or group, we need to ask ourselves from the onset – what are they bringing to the table that we don’t have in terms of perspectives, ideas, etc.? And even if you don’t know – let’s make the table a big one!

Be Nimble and Adaptable: We need to be much more nimble and adaptable. Let’s find ways to change course mid-way or even stop what we are doing if things are not working the way we expected. It’s important to acknowledge we are going down the wrong path or we have thought of better ideas for moving forward.

Incorporate Disruption: We need to include more disruption into our processes. Let’s delete the phrase “but we’ve always done it this way” and look towards innovation, entrepreneurs, and outsiders for ideas and new and improved processes. Then we need to listen and engage.

Our Shared Values

After my interview with Gail, I tried to reflect on exactly what makes her such a great champion of our work. Perhaps it’s the fact that she’s always one of the first to respond to my emails (who doesn’t appreciate that!), or that her unwavering dedication to the Business and Environment Series makes me want to plan better events, or maybe it’s her infectious zest to continually learn from others and improve herself, her team, and her work. But, I think it really comes down to the fact that we share the same values: creating a sustainable world and continually fighting to prove that better together is the only way.


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.

Dani Schurter

POSTED BY:

Project Manager

Putting a CAAP on Air Pollution (Now in St. Paul)

March 7th, 2017

The Clean Air Assistance Project (CAAP) has officially completed its first emissions reduction project!

As part of Clean Air Minnesota’s efforts to improve the state’s air quality, Environmental Initiative is working with our partners and local businesses to make proactive and voluntary improvements that benefit the environment, human health, and help our local economy transition toward a clean and efficient future. CAAP is part of the Area Source Team within Clean Air Minnesota that helps smaller, more localized sources of pollution reduce their emissions. Our first project was with Raymond Auto Body Shop in St. Paul.

Smog, smells, and solvents

Raymond Auto Body has been painting cars in St. Paul for over 60 years. Historically, paints used in auto body shops are usually made from solvents. What are solvents? They usually come with names like “n-butyl acetate,” “xylene,” or “2-methoxy-1-methylethyl acetate.” Rolls right off the tongue, right? Basically, it’s the stuff that makes that spray paint smell.

Solvents evaporate faster than water, shortening the drying time needed to finish painting cars. Unfortunately, they’re also harmful to the environment and human health. These solvents are also called VOCs: Volatile Organic Compounds. When these VOCs are released into the air, they mix with other pollutants and cause ground-level ozone, also known as smog. Smog is bad. How bad? Breathing in smog has been described as the equivalent of “sunburn on your lungs.” So basically, solvent VOCs mix with other compounds in the air to make smog, which isn’t great.

But good news! The project with Raymond Auto Body switched their solvent-based paint to a water-based paint. This is a relatively new technology, but one that many states in violation of federal air quality standards are required to make. It does take a little more effort to make sure the paint booth has enough clean and dry air moving fast enough to make that water evaporate quickly (especially on a hot and humid summer day). This means that switching to waterborne paint usually requires upgrading the air blowers in the booth.

Raymond Auto Body—Exciting for 3 Reasons

This particular project is a real humdinger.

For starters, it’s exciting to get the first CAAP project under the belt! We’ve worked to promote and utilize other programs before (like the Minneapolis Green Business Cost Share Program and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) Small Business Environmental Assistance Program), but this was the first one Environmental Initiative took from start to finish using our own funding.

Second, it’s a big project! What we’ve historically seen from similar conversion projects are VOC reductions ranging from 45 – 65%! We’ll know more when the numbers come in for 2017, but for a shop like Raymond, we’re conservatively looking at tons of emissions reductions.

Third, this project is emblematic of what we’re trying to do with our air work. According to the MPCA’s Life and Breath Report, negative health impacts of air pollution fall disproportionately on lower-income residents and people of color, as well as the elderly, children, and those predisposed to respiratory illness. Raymond Auto Body is right off Lexington and W. Pierce Butler Route, a location the Metropolitan Council identified as an area of concentrated poverty. It’s also located in a corridor that has historically been affected by heavy industrial use. In short, these emission are being eliminated where Minnesotans feel the effects of air pollution more acutely.

Get Involved

While we’re celebrating this project and CAAP’s successful rollout, the last thing we want to do is rest on our heels. In fact, we’re already chasing down our next auto body project in St. Paul and looking for additional opportunities in the Metro. Know of any? Give us a call or e-mail and see if we can bring a similar success to your neck of the woods.

The Clean Air Assistance Program is made possible through generous contributions and support from our partners, 3M and Western Refining.

Bjorn Olson

POSTED BY:

Senior Environmental Project Associate

Member of the Month: Barr Engineering

March 1st, 2017

Barr Engineering Co. (Barr) is honored to be featured as Environmental Initiative’s member of the month for March. We’re excited to have this opportunity to reflect on our work with Environmental Initiative and what it means to us—and has meant to us— since the organization’s inception.

To start off with a little background on Barr, we are an employee-owned engineering and environmental consulting firm with nine offices across North America and over 700 employees. Our company was incorporated over 50 years ago in Minnesota, which is the location our headquarters as well. Some of Barr’s most active members, including Mike Hansel and Andy Polzin, have worked with Environmental Initiative since its earliest days, and they continue to help Barr maintain its commitment to Environmental Initiative’s goals.

Talking with Mike and Andy, you get a sense of how important Environmental Initiative has been to them, to Barr, and to our community of members. Andy recently reminisced about his involvement with Environmental Initiative when he was just starting out:

Interview: Andy Polzin—Vice President, Senior Environmental Consultant

“In the early days, Environmental Initiative had a reoccurring program called the Environmental Management Excellence Series. Representatives of industry, government, academia and young, impressionable consultants like me met three or four times a year and talked about the big regulatory topics. The Clean Air Act of 1990 (the Title V permit program) and implementation of the NPDES stormwater permitting program at the federal and state levels in 1992 were two of those big topics. We all learned together about these programs.

“In subsequent years, Environmental Initiative started getting out in front of new programs and set up forums to discuss issues like NESHAP attainment in the Twin Cities metro area and climate change. Nobody does partnerships and creates space for discussion around current issues quite like Environmental Initiative.”

Duluth Coffee Creek repairs project, winner of the 2016 Natural Resources Award

Andy also pointed out how Environmental Initiative membership has helped him maintain connections with others dedicated to addressing complex environmental problems.

“The annual Environmental Initiative Awards ceremony is the one event I make sure to attend every year. I see people there that I don’t get to see at any other time. It’s great to see the slate of award nominees and wonder at the partnerships that produce such impressive environmental results. Barr has been involved in many nominated partnerships over the years, and we feel fortunate to have been on a winning team in 2016 (in the Natural Resources category).”

Interview: Mike Hansel — Senior Chemical Engineer

Looking back over his decades of involvement, Mike Hansel focused on Environmental Initiative’s ability to bring together stakeholders and serve as a catalyst for action.

“Back in 2002 (or thereabouts) Environmental Initiative convened a Policy Forum on air quality. During a presentation by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, it was pretty clear that the Twin Cities were in danger of becoming a non-attainment area for ozone and fine particulate matter. During a break, the Chamber [of Commerce], the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, and Barr got together and concluded ‘this is a big deal!’ Out of that conversation grew Clean Air Minnesota, an Environmental Initiative-led coalition working to reduce air pollution that Barr has been involved with since inception.”

At Barr, we recognize that we’ve benefited greatly from our work with Environmental Initiative over the years. The people we’ve met and the conversations we’ve had have enabled us to develop lasting relationships. Through our membership and the opportunities for collaboration Environmental Initiative provides, we’re able to engage with the essential environmental issues of the day. We look forward to continuing our involvement and service.

Michelle Stockness

POSTED BY:

Senior Environmental Engineer, Barr Engineering

The Fierce Allegiance of Clean Air Minnesota

February 27th, 2017

Once upon a time, a group of organizations faced daunting air quality challenges. In 2001, the Twin Cities area experienced its first smog alerts in more than 30 years and the region nearly exceeded federal air quality standards. Rather than seeing it as a conflict laden, zero-sum situation, these individuals and organizations seized the moment to engage in a constructive dialogue. In a single event, our partners came together, but not as adversaries. Instead, they engaged and brought their different perspectives, voices, and skills to the table to achieve a common goal.

The Beginning of Clean Air Minnesota

Recognizing and valuing the common good of voluntary, pro-active action, a number of new and long-time Environmental Initiative partners used this dialogue to create Clean Air Minnesota (CAM). Each organization had to overcome their own internal challenges to participate. Yet, each could see the greater value of collaborative engagement, so they pushed their comfort levels and stuck with it.

Together they identified cost-effective and environmentally-sound ways to reduce emissions, decrease exposure, protect public health, and avoid economic and societal costs of violating air quality standards. Everyone had a different reason for supporting the effort.

We talked a lot—especially in those early days. We had to reconcile and balance conflicts between various emission-reduction project options, the desired returns of health benefits, and the realities of economic costs. We had rural and metro disputes. We confronted differences over technologies, costs, and ease of implementation related to emission reductions derived.

All the while, everything had to be voluntary. Our region violated no federal requirements; no one had to do anything. Ultimately, our partners’ fierce allegiance to this public-private partnership delivered simultaneous health benefits, emissions reductions, and jobs.

Clean Air Champions—Then and Now

These first partners, Mike Robertson with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Lee Paddock from the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, David Thornton with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and Mike Hansel with Flint Hills Resources, each played their part and worked to their strengths for the good of the partnership. Each gave up some level of control, but gained more in their collective actions. This group was truly living our values of “courageous innovation” and working “better together.”

The fierce allegiance to collaboration by our partners led to Project Green Fleet and cleaning up every eligible school bus in Minnesota, dozens of heavy-duty diesel engines, and even a few trains and tow boats. More recently, we’ve launched Project Stove Swap, which is also a change-out project, only for wood-burning devices. We also have been able to run the Clean Air Assistance Project, which helps small and medium-sized businesses find economical ways to reduce emissions.

As with CAM’s founding, it’s time for some constructive collaboration and action. We need to face the challenges of this time, stand as a beacon, and get down to some old-fashioned Environmental Initiative-style project work. We need to step up our efforts and expand the impact of emission reduction activities.

We need a new set of champions with that same fierce commitment to our mutual, common cause. We need to recognize and accept the risks– and, equally value and reap the rewards of collaboration. In these uncertain times, we should all be doing everything we can to advance this still unique and valuable public-private partnership and realize our common goals of cleaner, healthier air, as well as the associated economic gains.

Who will model earlier CAM champions? Who will step forward to lead together today?


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.

Bill Droessler

POSTED BY:

Senior Director of Strategic Project Planning

A Year and 30+ dedicated organizations later…

February 23rd, 2017

The Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition is just over a year old, but already we’ve come a long way. More than 30 businesses and organizations now form a business led partnership that harnesses each member’s expertise to advance the next frontier of corporate sustainability – the circular economy.

Together, the Coalition has designated three strategic priorities for regional transformation and are actively educating on what a circular economy can do for Minnesota and the region.

NEW MEMBERS

The Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition is a business-led effort that also includes key public and nonprofit entities within its membership. This cross-sector representation is essential to advancing the circular economy. In June of 2016, the Coalition publicly announced itself as a 27 member strong collaboration. Since then, six additional organizations have joined the effort, including:

 

 

With these six additions, the Coalition expands to just over 30 members. Each new member brings a different perspective and a wealth of experience. This knowledge continues to better position the Coalition, allowing the group to more effectively work on advancing the aspects of a more circular economic system. With each new member, we get closer to realizing our vision.

CIRCULAR ECONOMY EDUCATION

Our members have been quick to explain and project circular economy concepts. Jessica Hellman, Director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IonE) and Coalition member, recently penned an op-ed in the Pioneer Press demonstrating the value of transformative, far-reaching sustainability efforts.

Ackerberg, a recent addition to the Coalition, is the first commercial real estate company to join. Shortly after entering the group, they shared more information on the value they see in collaboration through a piece by Finance & Commerce.

And finally, the Coalition as a whole was featured in the Harvard Business Review as part of the 9 Sustainable Business Stories that Shaped 2016. Number nine focuses on the circular economy, with special mention of the Coalition.

OUR THREE PRIORITIES

Soon after the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition launched, Environmental Initiative convened members to select priority areas for their work. Three areas of focus quickly emerged from these conversations including: 1) advancing clean energy, 2) transforming organic waste into resources, and 3) greening grey infrastructure.

Members selected clean energy as the initial priority for leadership and collaboration. Coalition members recognize a circular economy can only exist if is powered by 100% clean, renewable energy. It’s a big commitment, but we aren’t taking it lightly. Over the past six months, members have developed a clean energy work plan, have secured initial funding to support that work, and have begun taking actions that support increased access to renewable energy resources.

While a lot of progress has been made already, much more is ahead. You’ll be hearing a lot more from us as we continue to make progress on our clean energy work plan while also digging deeper in our greening grey infrastructure and organics focus areas.

Sam Hanson

POSTED BY:

Director, Sustainability Program

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
Environmental Initiative - Home