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Archive for March, 2014

Introducing Bjorn Olson, Senior Environmental Project Associate

March 28th, 2014

Hi all. I’m Bjorn Olson, the new Senior Environmental Project Associate here at Environmental Initiative. I’ll be primarily working on the development of our various air quality efforts such as Project Green Fleet, Clean Air Minnesota, and other programs to reduce harmful air pollutants.

While my focus is on air, I was first exposed to an environmental ethic growing up on the Mississippi River. A river rat from the get-go, I explored the river in (and tumbling out of) a canoe, capitalizing on every opportunity to seek adventure, freedom, and dirt (principles which I still proudly adhere to). As I grew and ventured from rivers to Boundary Water lakes, my love of the physicality of the outdoors was complimented by the mental, emotional, and spiritual components we “environmentalists” value so dearly. Then college arrived and I immersed myself in Thoreau, Leopold, Abbey, Williams, and others who so eloquently articulated the intangible virtues of environmental experience and preservation. Subsequently, I found myself with a B.A. in English and unemployed; such are the rewards for romantic conservationists…

Unable to forsake my environmental roots, I pursued my M.S. in Natural Resource Science and Management at the good ol’ University of Minnesota. There, I studied the root of all environmental problems: humans. Specifically, I focused on the drivers and constraints to individual participation in conservation as well as assessing community capacity for natural resource management.

At Environmental Initiative, I look forward to using my skills and experiences to create collaborative and mutually beneficial relationships that protect and improve our environment. I’m pumped to be working with an organization that has such a prestigious history of leading environmental ingenuity and action. Most of all, I’m humbled to be a part of such a professional, talented, and dedicated team. As Abbey said, “The idea of wilderness needs no defense. It only needs more defenders.” Well, here I am.

Bjorn Olson


Senior Environmental Project Associate

Announcing the 2014 Environmental Initiative Award Finalists

March 20th, 2014

awards logoEarlier this week a group of eighteen judges from business, government, and nonprofit organizations met to discuss collaborative environmental projects from all over Minnesota. They had the tough job of selecting three finalist projects in each category for the 2014 Environmental Initiative Awards.  After some good conversations and tough deliberations, I’m excited to announce this year’s finalists:


Judges: Janet Brown, Will Steger Foundation; Zack Hansen, Ramsey County; Rachel Harris, Heartland


Judges: Nina Axelson, District Energy St. Paul; David Crisman, GE Water and Process Technologies; Larry Kramka, Houston Engineering


Judges: Anna Sherman, Minnesota Department of Agriculture; Angus Vaughn; Julie Westerlund, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources


Judges: Katherine Heilmann, Mill City Farmers Market; Marcie McGaughlin, Minnesota Department of Agriculture; Pat Mulloy, Mulloy Environmental Services


Judges: Martha Faust, Minnesota Brownfields; Faye Sleeper, University of Minnesota; Mike Whitt, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community


Judges: Becky Kenow, Land O’ Lakes; Pete Swenson, Tennant Company; Leisa Thompson, Metropolitan Council Environmental Services

Congratulations to this outstanding group of finalists! I would like to thank the judges who shared their time with us to review all of the projects and make these tough decisions. I would also like to thank Medtronic for hosting our judging event earlier this week. We’re grateful to have Medtronic as a longstanding host for this event and as sponsors of the Environmental Initiative Awards program. Thank you, Medtronic!

Finally, I hope you will join us for a night of making connections and getting inspired at the 2014 Environmental Initiative Awards on Thursday, May 22. We’ll enjoy dinner, good company, and celebrate these outstanding projects.

Full tables (seating 8), half tables (seating 4), and individual tickets are on sale now – Monday, May 12. I hope to see you there!

Andrea Robbins


Director, Engagement and Systems

Six Ways We’re Working to Improve Air Quality

March 10th, 2014

school bus exhaustLate last week we had our first air quality alert days of the year. What exactly does that mean? The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issues an air pollution health alert when air quality conditions reach levels that are unhealthy for sensitive groups like children, the elderly, and those who suffer from cardiovascular or upper respiratory ailments. When alerts are issued, these groups are encouraged to postpone vigorous activity and minimize their exposure to sources of air pollution like heavy-duty vehicle traffic and wood fires.

We’re fortunate to have relatively clean air statewide, but as demonstrated last week, we still have days when air quality is poor. We’re also fortunate have an engaged group of air quality leaders who have been working since November to develop projects that reduce air pollution, improve our environment, and protect the health of all Minnesotans. (more…)

Gena Gerard


Director, Clean Air Program

Meet Our Members: Great River Energy

March 3rd, 2014

Great River Energy is a not-for-profit, wholesale electric cooperative owned by its 28 member distribution cooperatives. We make electricity for those members, located across the state of Minnesota, who then sell it to the end-use customer — their members.

As a cooperative, Great River Energy believes in working together. We understand that shared dialogue is an effective way to find collaborative solutions. Environmental Initiative also believes that we can do better for the environment by working together. Both Environmental Initiative and Great River Energy recognize that partnerships are a powerful tool. This shared philosophy and approach is one reason why Great River Energy suppoSolar panels at Great River Energyrts Environmental Initiative’s work and is a member.

Great River Energy has had a long-term commitment to Environmental Initiative. We are a proud member of the Convener Partnership Circle and this is our seventh year as a presenting sponsor of the Environmental Initiative Awards program event held each May.

Several Great River Energy employees are individual members of Environmental Initiative as well, many of whom have participated as planning members or panelists in Environmental Initiative’s policy forums. I am also a member of Environmental Initiative’s board of directors and currently serve as board chair.

Great River Energy is committed to the communities in which we live and work. We have an ongoing commitment to manage our business in a way that minimizes impact to the environment. As an example, we recently announced plans to construct 650 kilowatts (kW) of new solar energy installations by mid-2015. The first construction project is a 250 kW solar array slated for land south of Great River Energy¹s headquarters facility and will include a mix of technologies to help determine how solar energy installations can be integrated into cooperative systems. The remaining 400 kW may include up to 20 individual projects located in our member cooperatives’ systems across the state.

Great River Energy is a proud supporter of Environmental Initiative.
A note from Environmental Initiative: We’ll be featuring information about one of our members each month on the Initiative blog and on our website. Contact Sacha Casillas at 612-334-3388 ext. 101 to learn more about this membership benefit.

Photo credit: Great River Energy.

Great River Energy’s headquarters facility, located in Maple Grove, Minn., has 72 kilowatts of on-site solar panels and a 200-kilowatt wind turbine.

Mary Jo Roth


Manager, Environmental Services at Great River Energy
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