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Working Together With Honor, Humility, and Humor

December 16th, 2015

An old coach taught us to compete and conduct ourselves with honor, humility, and humor. I don’t know whether or not that was original, but it resonated and stuck with me. My time and work at Environmental Initiative strike the same chord as that coach’s lesson. I’ve stayed with, and came back to, Environmental Initiative because our mission, our approach, and our partners fit that lesson equally well.

With diverse partners as dedicated as we are, we do hard, meaningful work. Many times in the air quality world, what we do is the first time it’s been done in Minnesota. At the same time, there is always that Environmental Initiative flavor – we rarely do anythProject Green Fleet partners on the Becky Sue tugboating like everyone else. Our projects and events are always uniquely crafted and implemented. In fact, we just successfully pitched a project that involved telling the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that every other time they’ve done this type of project it was wrong. Well, not wrong necessarily, but that we could do it better with a different model. But, of course, our message was conveyed with humility.

We typically do our work well and with minimal fanfare. Our projects have garnered regional and national awards, but we did the work to reach the outcomes. The recognition follows the effort and the results.

Most of my time these days is spent working on Clean Air Minnesota, a partnership between business, government, and nonprofit leaders that has been working to reduce emissions voluntarily since 2003. Some of you might not know, but Clean Air Minnesota was originally expected to be around for only a few years. Thankfully, we had some staying power and a proven worth based upon consistently achieving valuable outcomes. With our partners, we have also kept our eyes on the horizon – always looking to maintain this successful and mutually beneficial public/private partnership. Along with always demonstrating meaningful results, this is fundamental to our success.

Another one of my favorite things about this job is the diversity of partners with whom we get to work. It is refreshing that we can be concerned first and foremost with results and not get caught up in the self-imposed limitations around descriptions and positions that plague so much of our society today. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to work cooperatively, simultaneously, and constructively for the common good with all of our partners. And, especially with the leadership of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. That is a broad spectrum of wisdom and knowledge upon which to draw. And for that, I am thankful.

If you share some of these values, join me in supporting Environmental Initiative with a financial contribution. Our current and past board of directors have contributed $15,000 to help us raise another $15,000 from individuals like you between now and December 31st. Annual or recurring monthly membership contributions will be matched dollar for dollar.

Bill Droessler

POSTED BY:

Senior Director of Strategic Project Planning

In it for the Money or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Self-Interest

December 10th, 2015

I’ve been working at Environmental Initiative for about a year and a half now, and I’m still as much a believer in the values and philosophy of this organization as I was on my first day.

I continue to believe, reinforced by experience, that lasting solutions are collaborative, not divisive. At the same time, I also believe people and organizations are fundamentally driven by self-interest. Self-interest is often conflated with selfishness, and is frequently cited as a barrier to progress. That’s a dark view of things, and it ignores the strong Minnesota tradition of collaboration, respect for the opinions and needs of others, and a willingness to forgo short-term selfishness for long term common gain.

The savviest politicians and the most effective leaders understand that leadership is largely about gathering people around a shared vision and motivating them to support it. However, you don’t get very far by asking folks to act directly against their own self-interest, instead, you have to find a way to harness that self-interest in the pursuit of the greater good.GregThankYouBlog

Environmental Initiative, its members, board, sponsors, and staff embody this kind of leadership. In our Clean Air program, a wide variety of organizations from both the public and private sectors collaborate to create and fund projects that reduce criteria air pollutants in order to keep us in compliance with federal standards. The self- interest that drives this work is that many of these organizations would face complicated, expensive regulatory efforts if we exceed those standards. In exchange, Minnesotans enjoy cleaner, healthier air.

In the Field Stewards project, we’ve partnered with GNP Company, the largest poultry producer in the Upper Midwest, to create a market system that will connect farmers engaged in a high level of water quality protection with food companies that will financially reward their efforts.

Here again we are capturing the self-interest of actors and using it to benefit the common good. Farmers benefit by receiving a financial support that is not dependent on the vagaries of the commodities market, land rental rates, or weather. GNP and other companies benefit by aligning themselves with the changing tastes of the food consumer, who are demanding more sustainable products. The public benefits through the protection of our natural resources, better water quality in our lakes and rivers, and a more sustainable food system for the future.

So, “in it for the money” may not be such a bad thing, especially when there are leaders who can recognize and harness such self-interest for efforts that everyone can benefit from. I’m proud to work in an organization that recognizes this and works to bring self-interested actors together in the pursuit of a better Minnesota.

If you share my enthusiasm, join me in supporting the work of Environmental Initiative. Our current and past board of directors have contributed $15,000 to help us raise another $15,000 from individuals like you between now and December 31st. Annual or recurring monthly membership contributions will be matched dollar for dollar. We still have about $8,000 to raise to meet our goals. If you’ve already donated, thank you so much for investing in our approach to solving environmental problems.

Greg Bohrer

POSTED BY:

Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program

Using Business as a Force for Good

December 8th, 2015

There are plenty of buzzwords flying around in sustainability conversations – cradle to cradle, carbon footprint, net positive, etc. It is an exciting time of new collaborations and great momentum regarding the role of business in tackling large environmental challenges, but what if while protecting the environment, we do even more?

At Tech Dump, we consider it a great honor and privilege to apply yet another buzzword – “triple bottom line.” We focus on people, planet, and profit, while refurbishing and recycling unwanted electronics for residents and businesses. In doing so, we also hope to invite other organizations to make an impact through their daily business operations.

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People: Beyond our environmental impact, we focus on employability training for adults facing barriers to employment. We firmly believe that just as electronics are not disposable, people are not disposable. While the United States is home to 5% of the world’s population, we consume 25% of the world’s resources and incarcerate 25% of the world’s incarcerated people. Jobs are a small part of the solution. About 75% of our employees have spent time in the justice system, and we are a stepping stone for earning a reputation as a reliable worker allowing for an individual to successfully move on to a livable wage job after successfully completing 9-12 months of employment with us.

Planet: It is true that one man’s trash is another’s treasure. While a company may no longer believe a laptop meets their employee’s needs, it may still be a great system that we can refurbish and get back into use. For items that cannot be repaired and reused, we work with vetted vendors to process the components back to usable steel, plastic, silver, gold, etc. And we don’t just want a company to have to take our word for it; we pursued the R2 Certification, a voluntary third-party certification to make sure our practices meet high industry standards.film Dark Places streaming

Profit: No matter the tax structure of an organization as a for-profit or nonprofit, the organization must be financial sustainable to ensure important work continues. Previous mentalities of social impact only being possible in the nonprofit sector are long gone—the emergence of social enterprises has shown business principles can be applied to all sorts of structures. Establishing metrics to measure impact, not just our ability to cash flow, allows us to gauge the effectiveness of our efforts.

We recognize every organization is different, so here a few ways to apply triple bottom line thinking:

  • How can your current daily business activities increase your social and environmental impact?
  • When considering vendors, do you consider a broader social mission in your decision-making?
  • What partnerships could allow your organization to increase your impact?

There is no shortage of electronics recycling resources for your home and your business. We’re here to help, so drop me an email or leave a comment here with questions or to learn more.

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A note from Environmental Initiative:
Tech Dump has been an invaluable partner on the Waste Reduction Collaborative. In September, we had the opportunity to tour the Golden Valley facility where we responsibly recycled our accumulating e-waste. Amanda LaGrange’s passion for her work was so inspiring during the tour, we wanted to share the Tech Dump story and the great work they’re doing. For more information on Tech Dump, visit www.TechDump.org.

Amanda LaGrange

POSTED BY:

CEO, Tech Dump

Project Green Fleet’s Video Debut

December 3rd, 2015

Project Green Fleet is a great story. A pilot scale effort to clean up a handful of school buses grows into a statewide campaign – with more than 4,600 cleaner diesel vehicles as a result. None of it would have happened without the hundreds of fleet owners, equipment manufacturers, installers, project funders – and of course a little creative risk-taking. But, don’t take my word for it…

Thanks to the generosity of Flint Hills Resources and the creativity of our friends at Goff Public, we’re thrilled to share this short video, which wonderfully captures the Project Green Fleet story – from where we’ve been to the new roads (and rivers) ahead.

I’m also excited to announce we’ll be working with Mathiowetz Construction over the next several weeks to replace a bulldozer. The replacement equipment is certified to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s highest emission standard – reducing fine particulate matter by 86% – or the equivalent of removing almost 500 cars from the road.

In addition to Environmental Initiative’s efforts, our partners at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) are now offering about $270,000 in federal grant funds to help diesel fleet owners retrofit or replace their old engines. Grant funds will pay for 25% – 50% of the total cost to retrofit or replace diesel equipment. The deadline to apply is January 7, 2016. Learn more & apply »

Project Green Fleet is just one of several voluntary emission reduction projects that have been designed and conceived by members of the Clean Air Minnesota partnership. This diverse coalition of public and private sector air quality leaders has committed to a 10% reduction in man-made sources of fine particulate matter and ground level ozone precursor emissions. This is a BIG goal that will require significant financial investment from both the public and private sectors. If you’re interested in supporting Project Green Fleet financially – through a corporate sponsorship or a grant, please contact me to learn more.

Stay tuned for more good air quality news to come – our work to reduce diesel emissions is far from over.

Bill Droessler

POSTED BY:

Senior Director of Strategic Project Planning

Grateful on #GivingTuesday

November 30th, 2015

I’ve been with this organization for nine years. Seriously. How did that happen? Ultimately, I came (and stayed) because I believe in the work Environmental Initiative is trying to do. The world can be a crazy complicated place and the environmental problems we face, and are trying to address, are just as thorny.

Like it or not we’ve all had a hand in creating the environmental problems affecting the world. You can’t remove the link be2015-11-12 12.22.01tween our natural resources and the economy. You can’t remove the connection between our environment and our communities and our health. So isn’t it up to all of us to work together with all of these connections and complexities in mind – to come up with feasible solutions? This is what Environmental Initiative is all about.

I’m extremely grateful for the individuals and organizations that support Environmental Initiative financially. Over the past year, you’ve made work like this possible. You’ve also supported and helped make possible a few of the things I’m most proud of during my time with the organization:

Funding for Parks & Trails
I don’t think I’ve ever sweat bullets as seriously as I did during the final meeting of our Parks & Trails Legacy Funding work group. Leaders reached an agreement on how to fairly divide constitutionally dedicated funds for Minnesota parks and trails across the state in the final moments of our final meeting together. Whew! I’m so proud of managing that project and for having the privilege to work with such a dedicated, smart group of people.

Project Green Fleet
Did you know I was once a school bus retrofit sales-lady? One of my first jobs at this organization was to hop on the phone and convince school districts across the state they should give us access to their school buses so certified equipment manufacturers could install pollution control equipment to reduce emissions. Nearly 5,000 engines later we’re still at it. And, now I have the extremely fun job of helping to tell those stories. Did you know our latest project was a 38 year-old tugboat? Insane!

Environmental Initiative Awards

The very first project I managed at Environmental Initiative was the Environmental Initiative Awards. Honestly? What could be more fun than this? We get to hear about environmental success stories from across the state and recognize them at a HUGE party each May. One of the best parts of being attached to Environmental Initiative is this event. (Mark your calendars, the 2016 party is on May 26th).

Not only am I (still) on staff, I’m also an individual member. I support Environmental Initiative financially because our way of bringing people together to find common ground and solutions that can work for everyone – it’s the way we should be trying to solve more of our problems. If you agree, we could use your support!

Between now & December 31, 2015 we’re trying to raise $15,000 from individuals like you. We’ve got about $9,000 to raise to meet our goal. There are two easy ways to donate and either way your contribution will be matched by our current and past board of directors:

I hope you will join me and invest in this work by becoming an individual member. To those of you who already are? THANK YOU for supporting Environmental Initiative’s efforts to work together to solve problems.

Emily Franklin

POSTED BY:

Director of Communications

Support Ongoing Sustainability Leadership

November 24th, 2015

Environmental Initiative is an incredible organization that provides so much for our state and the region. Now, I might be a little biased being an employee of the organization, but that bias doesn’t alter the real impact Environmental Initiative has in our community. While I’ve only been on staff for a few months, my recognition of Environmental Initiative as a leader, especially in the space of business sustainability, has been present for years. With all the avenues for businesses to engage – through events, collaborative projects, and so much more – Environmental Initiative truly is a major convener of Minnesota’s business community around environmental sustainability.

In a state that is so fortunate to have a wide range of private businesses, public entities, nonprofits, institutions, and Sam Hanson Minnesota lakeindividuals that are all interested in addressing our shared environmental challenges, it is crucial for Environmental Initiative to convene these interests and help catalyze the changes that we collectively know are important. We’re so proud to be a part of the sustainability community in Minnesota.

Environmental Initiative’s leadership, and the corresponding impact that it makes in our community, is what has drawn my interest to the organization for many years. It’s also the reason that I am so excited to be a part of the team. I am thrilled to be able to work with such a wide variety of stakeholders on improving the environmental sustainability of our region.

If you share my enthusiasm, join me in supporting the work of Environmental Initiative. Our current and past board of directors have contributed $15,000 to help us raise another $15,000 from individuals between now and December 31st. Annual or recurring monthly membership contributions will be matched dollar for dollar. We still have about $9,000 to raise to meet our goals.

I’m an individual member and I hope you will be too!

Sam Hanson

POSTED BY:

Director, Sustainability Program

From the Executive Director: Why Environmental Initiative?

November 10th, 2015

“Why are you still there?”

I’ll admit that I find this question jarring every time someone asks me. It’s not that it offends me, but it does take me off guard. I will also admit once I get past my surprise, the question reliably prompts some of the best conversations I get to have about why Environmental Initiative is important to me and important to the world.

MEI-MikeHarley.pho.jpgI’ve been doing this job for 19 years, and I can say without hesitation that I enjoy it even more today than when I first came back from India in 1996 to become Executive Director. I love this job and this organization. I love the commitment we make to human potential and power of community. I love our unfailing hopefulness that we will be better together than on our own, and I love being associated with the remarkable outcomes that we achieve. I pour my heart and soul into this organization, and I feel grateful for the opportunity to do it.

For me, this job is a labor of love, and the work of Environmental Initiative is exactly what this world needs as we strive for a healthier environment, a more equitable society and a more sustainable economy. Who would walk away from that? Not me, and I know that’s also true for the growing list of individuals who invest in this organization with their time, their talent and their money.

Each year at this time, I have the great fun of reconnecting with past board members, to both catch up and to ask for their renewed financial support of the organization. Some of these individuals “graduated” from the board as long as 15 years ago, and yet, they enthusiastically say yes when I ask them to contribute once again to the matching fund that our current and past board members create for our year-end individual giving campaign. (Our goal is to raise $15,000 from individuals between now and the end of the year – which will be matched dollar for dollar by our current and past board).

Past board members mostly talk to me about their appreciation for the work of the organization. They marvel at the impact we’ve had, while bemoaning the divided discourse that too often prevents society from making progress on our toughest problems, and then tell us to keep at it no matter how hard it gets. This is real vision and real commitment and it is no wonder that they continue to support us so generously.

And every so often when I get asked that pesky question, “Why are you still here?” It takes me a moment to recover from my surprise, and then I have a great conversation that almost always ends in an increased financial commitment to Environmental Initiative. I hope that you will do the same, and step up your support as we launch our 2015 year-end individual member campaign today.

Our current and past board of directors have contributed $15,000 to help us raise another $15,000 from individuals like you. There are three ways to give:

  • $5,000 – Dollar for dollar match for any gift scheduled or made on Give to the Max Day
  • $5,000 – Dollar for dollar match for annual membership contributions
  • $5,000 – Dollar for dollar match for monthly membership contributions

So, whether you join in the Give to the Max day donating fun, make an annual membership contribution, or give to Environmental Initiative monthly – your gift will be matched.

We’re only as strong as the individuals who invest in us and we cannot do our work without you. Thanks for all you do to make our work possible.

Mike Harley

POSTED BY:

Executive Director

Most Twin Cities Businesses Now Required to Recycle

November 4th, 2015

By January 1, 2016, owners of commercial property in the seven-county metro area will need to make sure their buildings have recycling services along with garbage collection. The new law (Minn. Stat. 115A.151) applies to most commercial buildings that have service for 4 cubic yards (or more) of trash per week, and requires that a minimum of three material types be collected for recycling. Recyclables could include, but are not limited to paper, plastic, glass, metal, and organics (food scraps and compostable paper). Depending on the type of business you operate, there may also be opportunities to recycle more unique materials such as textiles. Many businesses also have a good amount of clean plastic film from packaging and shipping that can be collected. Knowing the type of materials your business discards will help determine which items will make the most sense to recycle; you may have opportunities that you never expected!

recycling bins

Even if the law does not apply to your commercial property, it provides an opportunity for all businesses to increase their recycling. Unlike many other aspects of running a business where spending is examined regularly, businesses frequently set up their disposal services and then rarely think about it again. However, with a 17 percent state tax on garbage (recycling is not taxed), and sometimes an even higher fee assessed by the local county, trashing recyclables can be expensive. Minnesotans spend a good deal of money throwing away recyclable material every year, but they have great potential value to the economy – recycling directly and indirectly supports nearly 37,000 jobs, and the materials have a value of over $250 million. In addition, many businesses are finding it is good for business to recycle – many customers want to know that the companies they support are committed to sustainable practices in their operations.

Implementing a successful recycling program can take work. Some businesses may need to make changes to accommodate recycling bins in the layout of their workplace, as well as on their docks. Similarly, helping staff learn how to properly participate in the program is essential to success, so you will need to set up a quality training program. Many cities and counties offer assistance to business owners, sometimes in the form of financial support to set up new or improved collection systems. There are also several local resources for signage and education, including the Recycling Association of Minnesota and Rethink Recycling. All of these resources, and more, can be found on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Commercial Recycling page. Additional questions? Contact Emily Barker or 651- 757-2030.

Emily Barker

POSTED BY:

Organics and Recycling Specialist, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Member of the Month: Barr Engineering Co.

November 2nd, 2015

Barr Engineering Co. is honored to be Environmental Initiative’s member of the month. We’re proud to support Environmental Initiative’s efforts to promote collaboration and interaction as well as to serve as a catalyst for turning thoughts into actions and discussions into environmental solutions.

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We’ve been involved in Clean Air Minnesota, the state’s public and private partnership convened by Environmental Initiative to voluntarily reduce air pollution, for years. As a member of this partnership, we provide technical expertise and work with others from industry, government agencies, and environmental organizations to craft solutions to improve air quality. Barr Engineering Co. has also been a supporter of the annual Environmental Initiative Awards program.

For nearly half a century, Barr has been providing engineering and environmental consulting services to clients in the power, mining, and fuels industries, natural resource management organizations, government agencies, and others with complex problems. We know that working together is hard work—and we are proud to sponsor this program that rewards individuals and organizations for partnering to solve problems.

We appreciate the opportunities we’ve had through nearly two decades of involvement with Environmental Initiative to work with a diverse group of members and address environmental issues we all care deeply about.

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A note from Environmental Initiative:
Mike Hansel is a Vice President and Senior Chemical Engineer at Barr Engineering as well as member of Environmental Initiative’s Board of Directors. Each month, we feature information about one of our members on the Initiative blog and on our website. Contact Sacha Seymour-Anderson anytime at 651-308-4950 to learn more about this membership benefit.

Mike Hansel

POSTED BY:

Vice President, Senior Chemical Engineer - Barr Engineering

Three Tips for Better Meetings

October 12th, 2015

IMG_9474smallMeetings are part of work life and volunteer life – day in and day out. In a quick scan using the Google machine, the amount of time Americans spend in meetings was staggering – ranging from 35% – 50% depending on job title. At the same time, a whopping 63% of meetings happen without a pre-planned agenda. Yikes!

Meetings, gatherings, small group discussions, one-on-ones – all of this is in the DNA at Environmental Initiative. We’re conveners, all the time. Recently, our staff had the opportunity to take a pause for a 3-hour mini-crash course in the Art of Convening with Craig Neal and Rachel Harris of Heartland. Here are the three things I took away from the training in the hopes that we can make meetings a bright spot, rather than something to dread (or an opportunity to multi-task):

Start Inside
The idea of starting with yourself is especially important if you’re leading a conversation, meeting, or other engagement. I’ve found this aspect of the Art of Convening extremely helpful – especially as I stepped in to facilitate a series of meetings with the seven Clean Water Fund agencies during our work on the Clean Water Roadmap in 2014.

It might feel a little “hippy-dippy,” but taking some time to ground yourself, consider who you are, and how you want to be in relationship with others is powerful. Before you step in to lead a meeting, take some time to think about these two questions:

  • What are the core nonnegotiable values that guide your life and work?
  • How do I aspire to be in relationship with others?

Had I not done this internal work ahead of Clean Water Roadmap meetings, I would have been an anxious, less confident convener.

“String the Beads”
Another trick we’ve picked up from our friends at Heartland, known as “stringing the beads,” is a wonderful way to begin a meeting or conversation and ensure you hear all of the voices around the table. This is a great way to handle introductions during meetings, because it gets people thinking and engaged early on. It’s also pretty easy. Ask your meeting participants to share their name and answer a question. The question can be meeting relevant, such as “What does success look like?” or “What do you hope to accomplish in this meeting?” Or, you can go deeper – asking people about their identity, what matters to them, or significant events going on in their lives outside of work. Either way, “stringing the beads” can set the tone for your meeting in a very powerful way.

Set Context
Nothing is quite as bad as sitting in a meeting and wondering to yourself, “What is the point of this? I don’t know what we’re trying to do here.” This drives me especially insane, and for whatever reason I’m getting less patient about directionless meetings as I get older.

Setting context is another tip that doesn’t take much time, but is easily forgotten. At the start of your meeting (as well as when you make the invitation to the meeting ahead of time), make sure everyone understands the form, function, and purpose of the gathering. Have you answered the questions, “What are we here to do together? What is the goal of this meeting?”

Don’t assume everyone remembers why the meeting is happening. Take two minutes to remind everyone involved why they’re together and you’ll save yourself from blank stares and awkward silence.

What tips or tricks do you have for better meetings? Share your thoughts with a comment, or contact me anytime. And be sure to check out Heartland’s website for more information about the Art of Convening and other leadership programming.

Emily Franklin

POSTED BY:

Director of Communications
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