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Archive for 2016

In the Air: December News

December 27th, 2016

Welcome to this month’s installment of Environmental Initiative’s new blog series focused on the environmental, economic, and health effects of air pollution. Think of this series as an easy way to keep up on the latest local and global air quality stories.

Here are the headlines and reporting that caught our attention this month – including an air quality success from the City of Minneapolis Green Business Cost Share Program and why reducing soot emissions could be a quick win for the climate:

school bus tail pipesFinance & Commerce
Minneapolis helps businesses cut pollution »

The Guardian
Why cutting soot emissions is ‘fastest solution’ to slowing Arctic ice melt »

Time
Beijing’s Air Pollution is Frightening. This video shows how bad it gets »

The Economic Times
How much does air pollution cost in India? 3 percent of its GDP. »

Spot a story worth sharing? Leave a comment below or send me a note and we’ll consider it for a future post.

Photo credit: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency 

Bill Droessler

POSTED BY:

Senior Director of Strategic Project Planning

Your Support is Needed, Now More Than Ever

December 22nd, 2016

How many times have you heard that phrase during the waning weeks of 2016?

I’ve written and said it myself hundreds of times since election day. As true as it is, and for so many worthy causes, it becomes hard for any of us to remain open to all that is asked of us during this season of mass solicitation. The onslaught of sincere and compelling requests begins on Give to the Max Day and doesn’t let up until the new year arrives.

Nevertheless, we know Minnesotans are exceptionally generous and we dig deep to support good causes and essential services, even when we have given greatly already. We are fortunate the giving of meaningful gifts is so deeply embedded in our culture, and it makes a lot of great work possible here that can happen only here, or at least that must happen here first.

The radical generosity of Minnesotans is a norm in any year, but we also know this year is different for many of us. We know many Minnesotans feel discouraged by the state of politics in our country and are struggling with despair about our collective prospects for a cleaner environment, a stronger economy, and a more equitable society. It has become harder and harder for many of us to hold fast to the conviction that we can come together across differences to solve our shared problems.

“Better together” can be a tough sell these days, but that’s exactly what I have found myself having to do the past several weeks. I’ve talked to hundreds of individuals since election day, representing a wide range of political viewpoints and interests. So many of those conversations have gone to dark places, but only a few have stuck there.

The overwhelming response of our friends and partners has been one of resolve and renewed commitment to the values that are so Minnesotan and with which we describe Environmental Initiative’s work – better together, open exchange, stewardship, outcome-focused, and solutions driven. Many of you have told us the outcomes of this election cycle do not change the increasingly clear realities of what is required of responsible businesses, creative nonprofits, and dedicated government agencies, let alone the individuals who champion environmental solutions and the triple bottom line.

 

 

Starting on the morning of November 9, I heard over and over again that the shifting of political winds changes nothing about existing corporate sustainability commitments, nor the fundamental need for Minnesotans to find common ground and work collaboratively toward shared solutions through policy change. Many have spoken passionately to the fact that the only option for continued progress is in the engagement of diverse stakeholders, and especially in the partnership of sustainability leading businesses with the most creative and effective of our public servants.

I’ve been awestruck by how many of you have said yes to an additional contribution, often giving just what we ask, and sometimes even exceeding our request. Even when an additional financial contribution is not possible, I’ve had energizing conversations about opportunities for new projects and other important work to be done. Generally, I’ve interrupted your day to ask for your personal support in the form of individual membership, and I would understand if people were a little prickly or disinterested. On the contrary, the response is almost universally warm and understanding, and even appreciative. It reminds me that we are part of a community that is committed to working together and knows what is required to make that possible.

Mike.EOY1I’m grateful for all of your support, including your financial contributions at this important moment in Environmental Initiative’s work. As many of you know, any contribution between now and year-end will be matched dollar for dollar, so that the impact of your gift will be doubled. We still have $15,000 left to raise by year-end (that’s halfway!), so that we will have the resources required to rise to the challenge of this moment when our work is more critical than ever before.

I hope that you will be able to help us meet our goal and make it possible for Environmental Initiative to step up to the challenge of helping Minnesotans be better together when so much of our politics and culture would have us moving in the opposite direction.

The answer to what I mean when I say “now more than ever” is simple – now more than ever we need to remember that we are better together, and now more than ever we need to invest in the partnerships and relationships to put better together to work for a stronger Minnesota.

Mike Harley

POSTED BY:

Executive Director

Growing Clean Water at the ACES Conference

December 14th, 2016

There’s been a lot happening in Environmental Initiative’s Agriculture and Environment program lately—I mean a lot. Field Stewards continues to build momentum and we’ve been hard at work bringing together agricultural interests to talk about and collaborate on creating new opportunities to improve water quality.

ACESBecause of Environmental Initiative’s work to promote market solutions for clean water through Field Stewards, I was asked to speak at the ACES: A Community on Ecosystem Services conference in Jacksonville, Florida, which was held last week. Besides having the opportunity to share our work with an exciting, growing community of practitioners, I got to learn from others around the country on how to link science, practice, and sustainable decision making in ecosystem services. (The term “ecosystem services” is meant to describe the ways humans benefit from functioning ecosystems. Pollination is an example of an ecosystem service).

ACES 2016 brought together leaders in government, NGOs, academia, Native American tribes, and the private sector to advance the use of ecosystem services science and practice in environmental decision making and practice.

MY THREE TAKEAWAYS

1. The science is there (mostly). Ecosystem services is a way of looking at how natural processes and landscapes contribute human health, economy, and quality of life. In recent years, the science and tools available for estimating ecosystem services have gotten much better and there is more confidence in how we are using them.

2. Agriculture has a huge role to play. If you want to have an impact, go work with farmers. But be ready to listen.download film Mother’s Day

3. Ecosystem services is a new way to make money. I heard from a speaker about how a custom made municipal bond that funded the creation of green landscapes in DC was bought by Goldman Sachs. Goldman didn’t invest because it looked good on their corporate sustainability report, they bought it because it made them money (sort of a big part of their business model).

Along with Paul Helgeson from GNP Company, I shared information about our Field Stewards program, particularly how the idea of a whole-farm, holistic approach to water quality protection is good for farmers, good for food companies, and good for the environment. We are doing things a little different with Field Stewards, and there is a lot of interest in how our approach can crack the nut of untraceable commodity crop supply chains. You can learn more about the ACES conference here »

Greg Bohrer

POSTED BY:

Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program

In the Air: November News

November 30th, 2016

Welcome to the second installment of a new, monthly blog series focused on the environmental, economic, and health effects of air pollution exposure. Think of this as an easy way to keep up to date on air quality news.

In this month’s issue, learn about vulnerable populations, how trees can cut air pollution, and the first EV shuttle bus fleet.

AIR QUALITY AND THE ENVIRONMENT


Study: Tree planting pays off for Minneapolis, other cities

A study conducted by The Nature Conservancy found that Minneapolis was among 16 North American cities where there is a return on investment for planting trees. They provide both a cooling effect and significant reductions in air pollution. Read MPR’s coverage »

Rise in global carbon emissions slows

The Scientific American reports, “While Americans used more oil and gas in 2015, the United States decreased emissions by 2.6 percent as the use of coal declined. Researchers expect to see a decrease in emissions of 1.7 percent in 2016.” Read the full story »

 

AIR QUALITY AND THE ECONOMY

School bus
First ever EV shuttle bus fleet launches

EV company Proterra and real estate company JLL are partnering to create an electric bus fleet in Chicago. The new fleet of 10 electric buses is more economical the first all-electric shuttle fleet to operate in the United States. Learn more »

Introducing Project Stove Swap  

Project Stove Swap provides financial incentives to residents, businesses, and organizations to replace old appliances with more efficient, less-polluting technologies. Read more about Project Stove Swap and how your organization can become more efficient »

A step toward producing cleaner air

Mathiowetz Construction in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota partnered with Project Green Fleet to retrofit one of their loaders.  Learn more about their commitment to cleaner air »

 

AIR QUALITY AND HEALTH


300M Children are breathing extremely toxic air, UNICEFF says

According to a UNICEFF report released this month, it is estimated that 300 million children around the world are breathing toxic air. Children are among the populations most vulnerable to air pollution’s health effects, and many of the affected live in areas “where outdoor air pollution exceeds international guidelines by at least six times.”

Air pollution linked to blood vessel damage in healthy young adults

While we know air pollution can impact vulnerable populations, like children and the elderly, a new study from the University of Louisville reports that fine particulate matter may be associated with blood vessel damage among young, healthy adults. Read the report »

Bill Droessler

POSTED BY:

Senior Director of Strategic Project Planning

16 Reasons to Give this Season

November 16th, 2016

GTMD16GivingTuesday

Toward the end of every year, Environmental Initiative takes time to reflect and be thankful for our collaborative efforts. We’ve launched new projects, gathered business leaders, and informed serious policy decisions— but we cannot do what we do without you.

November 17 and 29, Give to the Max Day and Giving Tuesday, are two days of the year when individuals across the state make donations to the causes they care about. In 2016, our staff grew to 16 employees, so to celebrate we discussed 16 reasons to give to Environmental Initiative.

Here are our thoughts on the most important reasons to donate today:

The 16 Most Important Reasons to Give:

1. “No one can solve environmental problems alone, and we all have to help! We’re better together.” – Greg Bohrer, Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program

2. “I think our most exciting project right now is the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition. It’s an unprecedented venture, seeking a sustainable and renewable supply chain.” – Brian Columbus, Business Manager

3. “For those who believe in collaborative, inclusive, partnership-driven change, now is the time to support Minnesota’s best example of this behavior on environmental issues.” – Bill Droessler, Director, Air Program

4. “We’re an organization that truly works with people in mind. Our efforts have far-reaching health benefits for individuals living across the state.” – Rachel Dupree, Communications Associate

5. “We’re not a single issue nonprofit—we work to improve Minnesota’s air, land, water, public health, and energy practices. Your donation can mean a lot of different things.” – Emily Franklin, Communications Director

6. “Invest in innovation! We’re not afraid to try things that have never been done before.” – Ellen Gibson, Senior Director, Project and Programs

7. “Environmental Initiative is truly courageous in its approach. We are an organization of big thinkers and we deliver real results.” – Sam Hanson, Director, Sustainability

8. “Help us celebrate our 25 years of established and results-driven work with your support and partnership!” – Mike Harley, Executive Director

9. “Our policy programs are always changing, and your gift allows us to scope new projects and respond to community needs.” – Meleah Houseknecht, Director, Environmental Policy

10. “Now, more than ever, we need to work to find common ground to solve our state’s environmental problems.” – Erin Niehoff, Project and Administrative Assistant

11. “We’ll use your gift in the most responsible way possible for the greatest impact.” – Judd Larson, Chief Financial Officer

12. “We don’t say it because we’re “Minnesota nice,” but we’re the best at what we do. From consensus to execution, we are efficient, effective, and always striving to get better. I’m proud of the work we do and you should be too.” – Bjorn Olson, Senior Environmental Project Associate

13. “We don’t just pioneer projects, we also lift up the work of others. We seek out local environmental champions and honor them every year at the Environmental Initiative Awards.” – Andrea Robbins, Director, Designer and Engagement

14. “When you give to Environmental Initiative, it demonstrates that your values align with ours.” – Dani Schurter, Project Manager

15. “We bring people together that normally may not sit at the same table and work to build consensus, which is something the world needs more of these days.” – Sacha Seymour-Anderson, Director, Development

16. “In a time of division, Environmental Initiative cuts through disagreement, partisanship, and rhetoric to build lasting partnerships that lead to real, measurable environmental results.” – Mikey Weitekamp, Senior Project Manager

Mike Harley

POSTED BY:

Executive Director

Greg Bohrer Selected to Participate in the Minnesota Agricultural & Rural Leadership Program

November 14th, 2016

We are proud to share that Greg Bohrer, Senior Manager of Agriculture & Environment at Environmental Initiative was one of thirty individuals selected to participate in the Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership Program. Two thirds of participants are agricultural producers and the other third are people involved in agribusiness or rural leadership positions.

GregAs a member of Class IX, Greg will participate in a dynamic two-year educational experience featuring several in-state seminars, a six-day national study seminar, and a 10- to 14-day international study seminar. The current cohort meets starting next week through April 2018.

“I am really looking forward to the program, said Greg Bohrer – Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment, “This is a tremendous opportunity to get to know other emerging leaders in agriculture and rural Minnesota and to develop my own leadership skills and understanding of agricultural issues. I am excited to start diving into it and am grateful to have been selected.”

Program curriculum covers a range of topics including leadership development, rural industry and trade, natural resources, and diversity. The goal of the program is to help rural and agricultural leaders develop the necessary skills to maximize their impact across local, state, and international arenas.

Congratulations to Greg and to his fellow Minnesota Agricultural & Rural Leadership Program participants. Meet Class IX »

Ellen Gibson

POSTED BY:

Senior Director, Projects & Programs

Introducing Project Stove Swap

November 3rd, 2016

Since Clean Air Minnesota’s inception, members of the partnership have been thinking about and working on many strategies to improve Minnesota’s air quality. While wood smoke had been identified as a major source of pollutants, a significant funding source has not been available to start a project until this year with Minnesota Power. After consulting with air experts, securing funding, setting concrete goals, and hiring staff (me!), we’re excited to introduce Project Stove Swap.

PSS-HEADER-shortIn short, Project Stove Swap is a voluntary wood stove change-out program. The project provides financial incentives to residents and organizations to replace old appliances with new, more efficient, less-polluting technologies. Currently, Project Stove Swap is working in 17 Northeastern Minnesota counties. We’re excited to be expanding the scope of our clean air work (And I’m excited to be visiting 17 Northeastern Minnesota counties on a regular basis!) 

How Project Stove Swap Works

Residents and organizations that use older, non-EPA certified wood heaters as a primary or major heat source are eligible for a financial incentive to change out their appliance.

To start, participants can contact one of our pre-qualified vendors, to verify their eligibility, select a new appliance, and fill out an application. If approved, vendors will provide the Project Stove Swap incentive as a straight discount off of the total cost at the time of payment. Learn more about the application and change-out process »

Why Wood Smoke?

While the smell of wood smoke on a crisp November day may seem cozy and nostalgic, wood smoke is composed of gases, chemicals, and fine particles that can lead to a variety of serious health issues. The finest particles are so small that they can be absorbed by your lungs and enter your bloodstream, causing cardiac and respiratory complications. Learn more about your health and wood smoke »

While Minnesota is fortunate to have generally good air quality, negative health effects of air pollution are being observed at ever lower concentrations. Because of this, federal air quality standards are predicted to become stricter over time, putting Minnesota at risk of violating these standards.

Swapping out just one older wood stove for a new, more efficient model is the pollution reduction equivalent of removing over 700 cars from the road per year. In other words, it’s a cost effective way to proactively and voluntarily reduce air pollution, improve health outcomes, and avoid costly federal regulations. In addition, many of the heating appliances are made in Minnesota and all of the vendors are Minnesota-based so every dollar Project Stove Swap spends is pumped into the local economy.

We’re just getting Started

Project Stove Swap is just 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%.

Though we’re thrilled our clean air work is growing, we’re never really satisfied. While our efforts in Northeastern Minnesota will continue for at least the next year, we’re keeping our eyes peeled for ways to improve and expand the project.

Getting Involved

Want to get involved? Contact me at 612-334-3388 ext. 8109 to learn more about replacing your wood burning appliance, becoming a participating a vendor, or educating your community about wood smoke. Visit our frequently asked questions page for additional information.

Mikey Weitekamp

POSTED BY:

Senior Project Manager, Environmental Initiative

Meet Antea Group: Member of the Month

November 1st, 2016

Antea Group is an international engineering and environmental consulting firm with USA headquarters in Minnesota. We work to reduce environmental footprints, mitigate safety risks, protect against engineering failures and minimize social impacts for our clients worldwide. Subscribing to a philosophy of Better Business, Better World®, we believe that doing the right thing environmentally and socially will improve competitive position and prosperity over the long-term.

As an environmental consulting firm, we are always looking for new ways to bring value to clients that positively impacts both their business performance and their environmental performance. A concept that has become increasingly important to our clients recently is the Circular Economy, a framework that departs from the linear ‘take-make-dispose’ manufacturing process and urges that businesses cycle materials and resources back into supply chains, effectively eliminating waste. Today, we are at the forefront of these discussions as a founding member of the Circular Economy 100, a global platform bringing together leading companies and emerging innovators to accelerate a sustainable path forward for industry.MemberoftheMonth

Another way we are helping clients make better decisions when it comes to sustainability is through our Accounting for Sustainability practice. We are often asked: How do I know which sustainability projects to invest in? Which sustainability efforts will create the greatest environmental, social and business benefits? To reduce this uncertainty, we’ve developed a process and set of tools that enable quantification and monetization of business benefits, both tangible and intangible, that accompany sustainability investments. Through business case development, cost/benefit analysis, predictive modeling, and metrics formulation, we can help demonstrate business impact for every dollar spent on sustainability. Check out this explainer video.

Antea Group has been a proud supporter of Environmental Initiative for over two decades. Through membership, board participation and sponsorship of the annual awards program, we demonstrate our excitement and appreciation for all of the great work that Environmental Initiative undertakes to develop collaborative solutions to Minnesota’s environmental problems.


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.

Alison Bryant

POSTED BY:

Antea Group

In the Air: October News

October 31st, 2016

Welcome to a new blog series!

Every month, we’ll be keeping you up to date with the latest in air quality news. Think of this as your one-stop shop for air news, with special focus on the environmental, economic, and health effects of air pollution exposure.

In this month’s issue, learn about local air quality heroes, how clean air legislation affects the way we see the world, and how science is advancing around air pollution and health.

Air Quality and the Environment


Alternate Reality: U.S. Cities without The Clean Air Act

In a weird, alternate reality, you can see two versions of major U.S. skylines: one with The Clean Air Act, and one without. The results? The Statue of Liberty would be “submerged in a sea of smog” without the legislation. See the eerie photos for yourself »


Mathiowetz Construction Invests in Cleaner Air

A construction company in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota took the steps to invest in clean air with Project Green Fleet. Pollution reductions from their diesel equipment upgrades are equal to removing 2,200 cars from the road each year in Minnesota. Read about their accomplishments »

 

Air Quality and the Economy


Judge Approves VW’s $14.7 Billion Settlement Over Emissions Scandal

Earlier this month, a federal judge approved the “largest civil settlement in automaker history” with Volkswagen in regard to their vehicle emissions. The process of compensating U.S. car-owners is beginning now. NPR covers this historic settlement »


Clean Car Standards Continue to Save Americans Money, Reduce Air Pollution

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, consumers will save an estimated 1.7 trillion dollars in gas money over the life of the current federal Clean Car Standards. In doing so, we’ll eliminate 6 billion metric tons of air pollution. Read more about how consumers benefit from the Clean Car Standards »

 

Air Quality and Health


In New Ozone Alert, A Warning of Harm to Plants and to People

Midwest scientists continue to discover the negative effects air pollution can have on the environment and our bodies. As the world warms, ground-level ozone is causing plants to “turn brown and sickly,” and is having negative health outcomes in people as well. Ozone is both a naturally occurring and human-created gas, but on the ground level, it can be highly toxic. Learn more »


Air Pollution a Risk Factor for Diabetes, Say Researchers

A new study suggests air pollution exposure in a place of residence can increase the risk of developing insulin resistance, a pre-diabetic state. As science advances, we discover more about how air pollution affects us, and federal air regulations can become more stringent as a result. Read the study »

Bill Droessler

POSTED BY:

Senior Director of Strategic Project Planning

Partnership to Watch: Ceres, WWF, and the AgWater Challenge

October 28th, 2016

Food companies face a range of social and environmental challenges. Global freshwater supplies are increasingly at risk for scarcity and pollution. Consumers are also demanding more information, transparency, and sustainability from companies who produce our food.

Environmental Initiative is working to address these challenges and trends through Field Stewards – an innovative program that provides financial incentives to farmers who implement best practices to protect water quality. But, we aren’t the only ones who are using the power of partnership to achieve better environmental and business results.

The AgWater Challenge

Ceres and WWF launched the AgWater Challenge, a collaborative initiative to advance water stewardship and sustainable food sourcing solutions in the food and beverage sector. This sector alone uses more than 70 percent of the world’s freshwater supply, largely for growing the food we eat. The AgWater Challenge aims to inspire the world’s most influential food and beverage companies to:

  • Reduce the water impacts associated with key agricultural commodities (like corn and soy)
  • Implement locally-relevant strategies to mitigate water quality concerns and water scarcity risks in agricultural sourcing areas
  • Support and incentivize farmers and other agricultural producers to strengthen water stewardship

Minnesota Companies Recognized

Minnesota-based General Mills and Hormel, along with five other companies representing $123 billion in net annual revenue, are currently being recognized for their participation in the challenge.

AgWater Challenge

Hormel is a multi-national manufacturer and marketer of consumer-branded food and meat products, specializing in processing and marketing pork and turkey. The Austin, MN-based company has committed to develop a sustainable agriculture policy, assess water quality and water quantity challenges in priority sourcing areas, and establish time-bound goals aimed at improving water quality in high water risk regions. Learn more about Hormel’s commitment here.

General Mills was recognized for their ongoing efforts across all five stewardship activities.

Congratulations to Ceres, WWF, Hormel, General Mills and all of the AgWater Challenge partners. It’s inspiring to see collaboration in action for our shared water resources.

Greg Bohrer

POSTED BY:

Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program
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