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Circular Economy in the News

September 29th, 2016

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

Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition Meeting 8-17-16

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Hanson


Director, Sustainability Program

Three Minnesota Construction Companies Enroll in Project Green Fleet

September 13th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Bjorn Olson


Senior Environmental Project Associate

Trending Green: Understanding Corporate Renewable Procurement in the Midwest

September 12th, 2016

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Sam Hanson


Director, Sustainability Program

Watch for Minnesota Environmental Fund at Work

September 8th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erin Niehoff


Project and Administrative Assistant

Major Pollinator Action puts Minnesota ahead of Other States

September 7th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greg Bohrer


Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program

Minneapolis recognized nationally for Green Business Cost Sharing Program

August 23rd, 2016

A big congratulations are in order for the City of Minneapolis!

Earlier this month, the National Association of County and City Health Officials’ (NACCHO) awarded the Model Practice Award to the City of Minneapolis. The national award honors the city’s Green Business Cost Sharing Program. The Green Business Cost Sharing Program was one of 23 local health department programs across the nation to receive NACCHO’s prestigious Model Practice Award.

The program offers funds to small businesses to make equipment conversions and adopt other practices that reduce emissions, which impact air quality. Emissions from these smaller, more dispersed sources aren’t regulated like power plants or other large facilities. Because of this, smaller area sources like auto body shops or printing facilities are a growing concern for our region.

The Green Business Cost Sharing Program is unique in that it treats businesses as a potential partner to address pollution. According to city officials, since 2013, the program has reduced pollution from entering Minneapolis air by nearly 12 tons.

Along with the City of Minneapolis, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and Minnesota Technical Assistance Program, Environmental Initiative is a proud partner in the Green Business Cost Share Program through Clean Air Minnesota, a statewide public-private partnership to improve air quality.

For more information, visit www.minneapolismn.gov/greenbusiness.



Bill Droessler


Senior Director of Strategic Project Planning

What Does it Mean to “Advance a Circular Economy?”

August 15th, 2016

I stumbled across this quote the other day from Albert Einstein, “If you can’t explain it SIMPLY, you don’t understand it well enough.” This resonated so much with me, I put it on a post-it and stuck it on my office wall. So, what does my office decorating endeavors have to do with a circular economy?

The idea of a circular economy is one of those sort of gnarly, complicated concepts. Especially when you to try to apply it in a real world scenario. But, let’s break it down. To put it simply, a circular economy is an economy that works like nature does. Minnesota Public Radio’s Elizabeth Dunbar captured the idea nicely in a recent article:

“Imagine yourself in a native prairie. Birds and insects feed on plants. When they die, they decompose and nourish the soil. The prairie lifecycle forms a circle, where waste from one species is used by another, year after year.”

In the case of a prairie, forest, or other ecosystem, everything is a resource and there is no waste. Our economy is the opposite. We extract natural resources, use those resources to make stuff, we use the stuff we make, and then we throw it away. And, our current “take, make, dispose” model is reaching its physical limitations – as natural resources become scarce and more expensive to extract. This video from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation provides a four-minute crash course.

Earlier this summer, more than twenty-five companies and organizations announced the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition. The purpose of the partnership is to re-imagine business as usual through the acceleration and advancement of a thriving circular economy. It’s a big vision, a huge task.

But, what does that mean and what will it take? How can a business (or a group of businesses) really help advance our global, linear economic system to a circular one? Coalition members are working together to help figure it out. In the meantime, we’ll spare you all of the theory (and plethora of diagrams about what a circular economy is and how it could work). Instead, here are a couple of inspiring examples of circular projects in action:


In a truly unlikely pairing, Ford Motor Company will collaborate with Jose Cuervo to use discarded agave plant fibers leftover from tequila production in place of plastic to build things like fuse boxes and cup holders in cars. Cheers to that. Read the full story>>


Did you know that the footwear and tire industries are two of the biggest users of virgin rubber? In another unique pairing, Timberland and Omni United (a tire manufacturer) worked together to develop tires for cars and trucks that can be recycled into soles for boots and shoes. Treads that go on and on? Cool.

Later this month, the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition will be identifying specific clean energy projects to pursue. What do you think this group of companies and organizations could do together? Share your circular economy inspired ideas in the comments below.

Emily Franklin


Director of Communications

Meet Rachel Dupree, Communications Associate

August 11th, 2016

Hi, everyone!

My name is Rachel Dupree and I’m joining the Environmental Initiative team as a Communications Associate. I’m super excited to be part of the work that’s happening here!

RachelI’m a recent graduate of Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, but I was born and raised in the greater Twin Cities area.  At Drake, I earned degrees in Public Relations and International Relations with a concentration in Global Public Health. I know that sounds like a weird combination—it is. If I could’ve majored in social justice, I would have, but here we are.

My environmental career started with a study abroad trip, actually. I spent a month in Ecuador my junior year, and while it was life changing in a lot of ways, it was also eye opening. After hiking for five days in the Amazon, myself and 15 other students toured the less awe-inspiring parts of the forest: the deforestation efforts and the indigenous farms impacted.  Meeting with community members from deep in the jungle and hearing their life experiences was sobering to say the least.

Those images lead me to the environmental sector. As an undergraduate, I worked for one of Iowa’s largest land and water conservation groups, the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF). My main function was to spread awareness and convey the importance of conserving Iowa’s natural prairies, community trails, and threatened wildlife. Additionally, I was part of the communications team at the World Food Prize Foundation (WFP) in Des Moines, an organization most noted for awarding the “Nobel Peace Prize for agriculture” to those who tackle global food scarcity.

Now, I’m happily back in my home state and ready to continue my work in the environmental sector with a stellar organization. I’m sure you’ll be hearing from me!


Rachel Dupree


Communications Associate

Meet Waste Management: August Member of the Month

August 2nd, 2016


Waste Management has been a proud member and sponsor of Environmental Initiative since 2009. In the past, Waste Management was the Series Sponsor of the Business & Environment Series, which helped Environmental Initiative grow the program into what it is today.  Waste Management has also been a sponsor of the Environmental Initiative Awards. We are so happy for their continued membership support.

Waste Management: Embracing the Circular Economy

The concept of recycling discarded materials back into the manufacturing process is a no-brainer.  Instead of mining new resources, this “Circular Economy” mindset urges us to use and reuse materials time and again, recycling them and reusing them, in a closed loop of innovations. Avoiding the mining and extraction of new materials reduces demands on natural resources and reduces the carbon and other emissions that result from the manufacturing process. The concept works particularly well for metals, which are almost indefinitely reusable. For products like paper and metal, resource reuse is also generally cheaper than use of virgin materials.bale of crushed cans

But there’s more to the circular economy. The value lies not just in completing the circle, but in what you gain along the way. A functioning circular economy helps to continually reduce emissions and other environmental impacts. Waste, including residual waste, is reduced as is the use of non-renewable energies in traditional manufacture.

It’s important to remember that the concept of a circular economy remains, after all, an “economy”.  There are market forces to be reckoned with, including unpredictable externalities and shifting public demand. And, when we consider all of our daily activities, by far the most important is to avoid producing waste in the first place. Through waste reduction, we produce fewer waste related impacts to manage and we save money.  Our Waste Management Sustainability Services, Public Sector Services and Manufacturing and Industrial teams focus on how we can all better protect the environment by working with customers to reduce the waste they generate. For these customers, we become the “Zero-Waste Management” company.

Waste Management of Minnesota

Waste Management is Minnesota’s largest recycling and waste services provider in Minnesota, recycling nearly 250,000 tons of material per year at the Twin Cities Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in Minneapolis. The Twin Cities MRF is the top Waste Management performing recycling facility of over 100 Waste Management facilities.

Waste Management also provides premium waste collection services and disposal facilities that meet all state and federal requirements for environmental protection.

With the largest network of recycling facilities, transfer stations and landfills in the nation, Waste Management’s entire business can adapt to meet the needs of every distinct customer group.

For more on Waste Management’s sustainability efforts visit http://www.wm.com/sustainability.

Thank you, Waste Management for your continued support of Environmental Initiative and we look forward to our future partnerships.

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


Sacha Seymour-Anderson


Development Director

Air Pollution Advisory: Five Things You Can Do

July 20th, 2016

With this week’s heat wave in full swing, forecasts for ground level ozone, or smog, are forecast to spike, peaking this Friday with an air quality index of 101, a level classified as “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.” The air quality levels have triggered the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to issue an air pollution advisory for the Twin Cities Metro and some outlying areas. While ozone is essential for life when it exists 10 to 30 miles above the earth’s surface in the stratosphere, ozone at ground level can best be compared to a sunburn on the lungs, causing irritation, triggering asthma, and contributing to reduced lung function over time.air alert map

Why does the spike coincide with the heat wave, you might ask? Ground level ozone, or smog, forms when Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) (pollutants from wood burning and internal combustion engines) react with volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) (what you smell when paint dries, when you fuel up, or when you have a bonfire) in the presence of heat and sunlight. With this week bringing an abundance of both heat and sunlight, the reactions that create smog will be running in high gear.

The good news is that there are some easy things that we can all do can do before or on air alert days to reduce  pollution and help us all breathe easier.

Reduce single-occupancy vehicle trips
Cars are a source of both VOCs and NOx, especially if they are in need of a tune-up. Consider avoiding single-occupancy trips by carpooling, taking public transit, or working from home on poor air quality days. Taking your car into the mechanic? Have them check to make sure your car’s pollution controls are running smoothly.

Avoid Burning Wood
Wood fires, both recreational and for heating purposes, are a substantial source of VOC’s, NOx, and particulate matter (another harmful pollutant). Skip the bonfire and go for a swim on air alert days.

Re-fuel after 6 p.m.
The smell of gasoline is actually the smell of volatile organic compounds that come out of your gas tank when you fill it up. By waiting to fuel up, you can avoid VOC emissions during the heat of the day when ozone formation is at its peak.

Postpone lawn/landscape maintenance
Small, two-stroke engines like those on most lawn equipment, can be a substantial source of both VOCs and NOx. In addition, cut grass itself emits VOCs. Consider holding off on mowing until the heat wave passes and save yourself a wicked sunburn.

Reduce/Defer use of Paints, Solvents, and other VOC-containing products
The volatile organic compounds in paints and solvents allow them to dry quickly and do their job, but they go into the atmosphere as they evaporate. Painting with a 105-degree heat index is no fun anyway, so consider holding off on that household project.

Have questions or want to learn more about what you can do to reduce your air pollution impact? Check on air quality forecasts on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s website and consider signing up for alert e-mails and downloading their mobile app.

Visit Environmental Initiative’s website to learn about what Clean Air Minnesota partners are doing on an ongoing basis to improve air quality and how you can help.

Air pollution advisory map credit:  Minnesota Pollution Control Agency




Mikey Weitekamp


Senior Project Manager, Environmental Initiative
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