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Our 2012 Top 10: The Year in Review

December 27th, 2012

Happy new year, from all of us here at Environmental Initiative! Another year has flown by. Things are quiet at the office this week and we’re taking a breather to look back on 2012 — reflecting on the projects we’ve been a part of, the many partners we’ve worked with, and the successes we’ve achieved, together, for Minnesota’s environment. We’ve got plenty in store for an even more exciting 2013 but before we tell you more, join us in our reflection and embark with us on a journey back through 2012. Here, with no further ado, is our second annual Year in Review Top Ten List. Be sure to check out the slideshow too!


Georgia Rubenstein


Senior Manager, Sustainability Program

Working Together to Achieve Sustainability

December 20th, 2012

My name is Crystal Saric and I am sustainability manager at Fairview Health Services. Fairview is an academic health system with seven hospitals, including the University of Minnesota Medical Center, 40-plus primary care clinics, a wide range of specialty services, and home care and senior services. At Fairview, we began to discuss sustainability with a serious tone in 2008 and we’ve come a long way since then. If you would like to read about our initiatives you are welcome to visit www.fairview.org/about/sustainability.

So, why did we join Environmental Initiative? At Fairview, we know that there is a component of health in any discussion of the environment. If we want to be true to our mission “to improve the health of the communities we serve” then we are left with no choice but to deal with healthcare’s wide – and oftentimes ugly – environmental footprint.  We don’t pretend to have all the answers, and we don’t pretend to be better than anyone else. Many healthcare organizations have stepped up to the plate (check out Practice Greenhealth or Healthcare Without Harm). Still, healthcare has a long way to go in its efforts to be sustainable. (more…)

Crystal Saric


Sustainability Manager, Fairview Health Services

Minnesota’s Clean Air Dialogue Update

December 11th, 2012

One of the questions that we as conveners struggle with during all of our dialogue projects is how to engage the larger circle of stakeholders and the public in our work.  With particularly sensitive processes, we often find it necessary to keep the difficult conversation within the smaller circle of stakeholders sitting around our main table.  Finding the right balance between public inclusion and creating a safe space for dialogue can be difficult.  However, we also know including the public in dialogue can be a powerful tool to increase the scope and impact of our work.

Such was the case last Tuesday as Environmental Initiative held its first official public meeting for Minnesota’s Clean Air Dialogue.  Through this conversation amongst leaders in the business, government and nonprofit sectors we are exploring new opportunities for emissions reductions to improve air quality in Minnesota. We had a great crowd of over 70 stakeholders and interested members of the public at the Wilder Center in Saint Paul.  If you have never been over to the Wilder Center, it’s a wonderful space for convening and dialogue.

David Thornton of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency kicked off the meeting by discussing what could happen to Minnesota if we violate Federal air quality standards.  Mike Hansel from Barr Engineering followed up with a presentation showing predictions of how existing regulations and planned reductions might impact Minnesota’s air quality.

From there, we divided into small groups where participants engaged with Environmental Initiative staff and Work Group members on draft proposals from the process. Draft proposals have been developed for emission reductions from the following areas:

  • Area Sources
  • Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy
  • Mobile Diesel
  • Point Sources
  • Transit Demand Management, Light Duty Vehicles
  • Wood Smoke

The small groups were engaged and energized.  There was great back and forth with the Work Group members and we took in significant feedback to improve our proposals.

Thanks to everyone who made our first public input session for Minnesota’s Clean Air Dialogue a success. Did you attend the meeting? What did you learn or take away? Share your thoughts here or contact me, anytime.  We are looking forward to rolling out formal recommendations from the process in early spring 2013.  If you would like to be engaged in our ever-widening circle of clean air partners, feel free to call or email.

Mark Lundgren


Director of Environmental Projects

Focus on the Loon

December 10th, 2012

This past summer I had the pleasure of facilitating the Parks and Trails Legacy Funding Project, which brought together leaders from the three major parks and trails providers (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Metropolitan Regional Parks and Trails, and Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails) to determine a consensus-based allocation of about $40 million per year in Legacy Amendment dollars.

In past bienniums, the money was allocated based on what some called “a food fight at the legislature,” that left most parties dissatisfied. Our project was set up to avoid a similar fate when it came time to the allocation for FY 2014 – FY 2015. The idea was that nine reasonable parks and trails professionals, three from each provider, could meet six times and come up with a more thoughtful, sensible and consensus-based approach. Common Loon in breeding plumage

I worried that the food fight had just been moved from the Capitol to my meeting room.

Yet in a year that saw so many issues obstructed by divisive rhetoric, I was impressed by the calm, amenable discussion during our six meetings. Although at one point I did have to encourage them to quit being Minnesota nice and state their positions or we’d never reach our goal! (To which one group member memorably replied, “You’ve got a room full of alpha dogs here, just circling and taking each other’s measure.” So true!)

It was interesting to see the different approaches each team member took to the task at hand. Some were focused on data, trying to discover a clean mathematical answer to the allocation of funds. Others took a more philosophical approach, keying in on ideals and goals all the groups shared.

But all the members agreed on one thing: that Parks and Trails dollars from the Legacy Fund should be used to improve the recreation experience for all Minnesotans. “The people using Minnesota’s parks don’t care which group built them or maintain them – they just want to have a good experience,” summarized one group member.

I used a small plush loon as a visual totem of this idea, and it sat in front of me at every meeting. I was very gratified that many group members referred to the loon throughout the process to remind them to think of the whole state before their own professional positions.

I’m immensely proud of this project’s success and all the players involved: Environmental Initiative, which doggedly believes that civilized discussion can solve contentious challenges; the State of Minnesota for investing time and funds to host the discussion, and especially the nine parks professionals from diverse background who worked so hard to come to an informed agreement.


A note from Environmental Initiative:

Marian Bender facilitated Work Group meetings for the Parks and Trails Legacy Funding project from April – October 2012. Consensus was reached on an agreement to allocate parks and trails funding for FY 2014 – FY 2019. The final report and process recommendations are available on the Parks and Trails Legacy Funding Project page.

Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Headquarters via Flickr.

Marian Bender


Facilitator, Parks and Trails Legacy Funding Project

Policy Forum Recap: Managing Minnesota’s Groundwater Supply

December 5th, 2012

The news of Minnesota’s ongoing drought and the recently filed lawsuit against the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) over low water levels in White Bear Lake was fresh in the minds of 130 attendees at last week’s policy forum, “Minnesota’s Groundwater Supply: Policy Challenges and Opportunities.”

As we heard last Thursday, some parts of the state are already seeing groundwater shortages, and the problem is likely to worsen in the absence of new approaches to governance, allocation, and consumption. The need for better data about our state’s groundwater supplies, and for more proactive, holistic management – instead of the current practice of issuing long-term permits on an individual basis, without allowing for potential new or changing information about supply – were some of the primary topics of discussion.


Georgia Rubenstein


Senior Manager, Sustainability Program

Expand the Choir, Find Common Ground

November 30th, 2012

In the thirty (plus) years since I left college I have worn many hats; field biologist, National Park Service ranger, laboratory director, community organizer, lobbyist, regulator, and environmental consultant.  My friend Phil Hunsicker suggests that this indicates that I can’t keep a job, but I prefer to think of my career path as a study in how one gets things done – which activities or strategies are most likely to lead to lasting protection or improvement of the environment.

I still strongly believe that there is an essential role for the government, and that strong regulation and enforcement are essential for protection of public health and natural resources.  However, I have also learned that harnessing the self-interest and creativity of the private sector can often lead to more innovative solutions (and more comprehensive adoption) of effective policy while avoiding the antagonism associated with many public debates in our past.

Environmental Initiative is a high functioning nonprofit organization, but it is also represents a “place” where thoughtful and respectful conversations can occur, and creative ideas matured to lead to better, faster, and sometimes more cost effective environmental programs.  I was recruited to participate in Environmental Initiative by a leading mentor in the conservation community, but I have likely learned more from my friends in the “regulated community.”

Too often conservationists “preach to the choir,” but if our goal is sustainable economic development (good jobs) and a safe, vibrant ecosystem than we need to expand the choir, reach across the aisle, find the areas that we can agree on and inform public policy with ideas that work.  By supporting Environmental Initiative you are supporting ideas, conversations, projects, and sound policies. Please join me in making sure these conservations continue to lead to outcomes that matter.


A note from Environmental Initiative:
Our current and past Board of Directors (including Don Hickman) generously donated $10,000.00 in matching funds for Environmental Initiative’s year end fundraising efforts. We only need 29 more contributions to unlock this generous match. We hope you will consider supporting us with a tax-deductible year end gift. Make your contribution today:

Don Hickman


Environmental Initiative Board of Directors

Taking Action to Prevent Waste: Lessons from Hennepin County Volunteers (and the Lorax)

November 26th, 2012

Research has shown that no matter how compelling, information alone doesn’t lead to behavior change. Sure, sometimes the information lands in front of someone at just the right moment and a new behavior is adopted, but more often than not, it takes much more.

Hennepin County’s Master Recycler/Composter program attempts to bridge the gap between awareness and action by providing training to residents who then share the information (and their passion for waste reduction and recycling) with neighbors, friends, family and co-workers. The personal connection is key to motivating behavior change.



Hennepin County Environmental Services

Giving Thanks

November 21st, 2012

We throw the words “thankful,” “grateful” and “appreciation” around a lot this time of year – not only as the holidays begin but also in the season of year-end fundraising appeals. I realize that I’ve used those three words over and over again this month as I’ve signed fundraising letters and thank you notes by the hundred. After all of that, it’s possible the power of those words could wear thin. It’s possible my cramping hand and blurring mind could lose hold of the real meaning of those words.

Nothing could be farther from the truth for me. As I signed all of those request letters and as I send out thank you notes for each donation coming in, I am struck over and over again by how much support there is for this organization, for its mission and for its board and staff. If that sounds trite, then my words are failing to express the depth of my appreciation, my gratefulness and my thankfulness. (more…)

Mike Harley


Executive Director

Why I Give

November 15th, 2012

There is something about autumn that always makes me reflect back on the year that is rapidly slipping away and the things that remain to be done.  One of those things is taking stock of my charitable giving for the year to make sure I followed through on all of my original good intentions.

There are a few organizations I try to support, even when my own wallet is feeling thin, because they have certain characteristics important to me.  These are the organizations that have missions that align with my personal values and interests, are well managed so I know my investment will be wisely spent, and that operate with a high level of intellectual honesty and integrity.  It’s surprising how many organizations fail to meet those three criteria, and while I can respect differences on the first point (even my loving wife disagrees with me sometimes), the other two seem rather fundamental.  Fortunately, Environmental Initiative solidly rings all three bells. (more…)

Terry Coss


Environmental Initiative Board of Directors

Business & Environment Session Recap: Closing the Loop

November 8th, 2012

Whether through cradle-to-cradle design, zero waste commitments, or simply trying to toss out a little less each week, Minnesota companies continue to seek new ways to reduce their waste, and maybe save some money and make their processes more efficient in the meantime. This was the focus of our recent event, “Closing the Loop: Managing Downstream Waste,” the third and final session of the 2012 Business & Environment Series.

Over sixty individuals including sustainability practitioners, facilities managers, and communications experts from Minnesota businesses, state, county, and city governments, nonprofits, and educational institutions, came together at Medtronic World Headquarters in Fridley to discuss why downstream waste matters, what the challenges are to managing it, and how we can find solutions.


Georgia Rubenstein


Senior Manager, Sustainability Program
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