Environmental Initiative - Home

Archive for April, 2016

Celebrate the Environmental Education Finalists

April 28th, 2016

This week we are featuring the Environmental Education category finalists as part of our series highlighting the 2016 Environmental Initiative Awards finalists. The Environmental Education category recognizes cooperative efforts to educate youth or adult audiences on environmental issues, improve environmental literacy, and/or inspire behavior change. Environmental education projects may be conducted in either formal or non-formal settings.

Race 2 Reduce

A community-wide partnership, Race 2 Reduce is engaging the public and educating youth in the surrounding communities Race 2 Reduce - Blogof White Bear Lake on the importance of local water conservation. By engaging the future generation of leaders, students are empowered to change community water use behaviors and influence the management and protection of our most precious resource.

“By collaborating with public school districts, the cities, and other local organizations we are bringing real world issues into the classroom,” said Sarah Alexander of H20 for Life. She is proud of the way students have taken what they learned in the classroom to become powerful advocates for change in their own communities.

Read more about how Race 2 Reduce is addressing local water resource issues through community collaboration and education »

Saint Paul EcoDistrict

Located within a four block area, the Saint Paul EcoDistrict is a sustainability education platform demonstrating Saint Paul EcoDistrict - Blogenvironmental innovations in action. Teaching students, families, and leaders alike, this free learning experience showcases real-life applications of sustainable technologies including photovoltaics, bioenergy, energy efficiency, electric vehicles, recycling, composting, and more.

“The Saint Paul EcoDistrict has developed into a place for field trips, sustainability discussions, best practices learning, and seeing renewable energy and waste reduction projects first hand,” said Nina Axelson of District Energy St. Paul. “It’s the only place in the country you can find this density of publicly accessible sustainable solutions.”

Read more about how the Saint Paul EcoDistrict is increasing environmental literacy, engagement, and implementation of sustainable technology »

Sauk River Watershed District WaterFests

The Sauk River Watershed District WaterFests invites all fourth grade students in the watershed to annually participate in a Sauk River Watershed District WaterFestswater and natural resource protection outdoor learning experience. Collaboration with teachers, school districts, and state and local governments allow students to establish environmental ethics, grow community involvement, and create the foundation for a future of natural resources protection.

“It’s great to help teachers learn how to bring this type of education into the classroom and get kids outside,” said Adam Hjelm of the Sauk River Watershed District.

Read more on the ways Sauk River Watershed District WaterFests annually educates 2,500 students on environmental issues »

Want to celebrate with the partners who worked on these projects? Purchase your tables and/or seats for the ceremony on Thursday, May 26. Stay tuned for next week’s post featuring three more finalists!

Andrea Robbins


Director, Engagement and Systems

Mississippi River Refresh for Earth Day

April 27th, 2016

To celebrate Earth Day, Environmental Initiative got out of the office for a few hours to support the Minnesota Environmental Fund’s Mississippi River Refresh clean up event. Our five staff members worked on cleaning up the riverfront area from the North Loop playground at 4th Avenue to Bassett Creek.

We moved through bushes and around trees, down steep slopes and back up, picking up all sorts of trash. Among the bottles and styrofoam, some of the gems we found included the front end of an old tricycle and part of the top of an old stove. We even found a geocache — though you have to go find that yourself!

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.


Erin Niehoff


Project Associate

Meet Erin Niehoff, Project and Administrative Assistant

April 25th, 2016

Hi there! I’m Erin Niehoff, Environmental Initiative’s new Project & Administrative Assistant, and I’m thrilled to be joining this amazing team.

Growing up in Connecticut, my first job was in the fast food industry. Though our store collected plastics for recycling in our IMG_3104webfood preparation area, the customer space did not provide recycling bins. After I noticed customers tossing water and soda bottles in the trash, I asked the store’s owner if we could place a recycling container at the front of the store. He agreed, and soon our store was saving three large bags of bottles from going to the landfill every week.

I expanded my environmental focus when I left Connecticut to attend the University of Minnesota. I earned my B.S. in Geography, concentrating on environmental systems. After serving a year with the Minnesota Math Corps, tutoring 4th through 8th grade students in math at a Minneapolis school, I headed back to the University of Minnesota to continue my own education. In May 2015, I earned my Master of Science in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy, specifically focusing on water policy. During my time at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, I worked on research projects around water reuse for the Minnesota Department of Health and for a law firm in Minneapolis. After graduation, I completed a post-graduate fellowship at the Oregon Department of State Lands, where I reviewed part of their administrative rules governing the removal and fill of material from waters of the state, providing recommendations for improvement.

Now I am back in the great state of Minnesota and I am looking forward to supporting the needs of various projects and programs here at Environmental Initiative!

Erin Niehoff


Project Associate

Meet the Energy and Climate Finalists

April 21st, 2016

Wow! Here’s another batch of environmental partnerships in our series featuring the 2016 Environmental Initiative Awards finalists.

Highlighted this week are the three Energy and Climate category finalists. This category recognizes partnerships that work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cut energy consumption, advance energy efficiency, or improve air quality. Projects may also include collaborative efforts to prepare Minnesota to adapt to a changing global climate.

Minneapolis Energy Benchmarking Program

The Minneapolis Energy Benchmarking Program requires the largest commercial buildings in the city to track and publicly report annual energy and water performance. Transparently aggregating whole building energy data is driving the largest Mpls Energy Benchmarking - Blogenergy users to re-think building energy, leading to a reduction in energy consumption, energy costs, and greenhouse gas emissions.

Katie Jones Schmitt of the Center for Energy and Environment said about the program, “I’m happy we’ve gotten the conversation started about whole building energy use. It’s now on the radar for decision makers.” She is excited that the partnership between the City, Xcel Energy, and CenterPoint Energy is creating awareness and enabling building managers to take action on energy efficiency.

Read more about how the Minneapolis Energy Benchmarking Program is spurring the adoption of energy efficiency projects and strategies »

Safer Products That Work

The Safer Products that Work project is expanding opportunities for businesses to improve air quality. Project partners help industrial and automotive businesses reduce volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions by identifying alternative Safer Products that Work - Blogdegreasing aids. (Decreasing aids are solvents that help remove grease). By switching to a safer degreaser, businesses are reducing odors, eliminating waste, and improving indoor air quality for employees and the neighborhood.

Laura Babcock of the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program observes, “When businesses are presented with an alternative that is better in many ways, they are willing to make a change.” She is proud to successfully assist businesses with changes that reduce worker exposure to air pollution and help the environment.

Read more about how Safer Products That Work is reducing VOC emissions to improve indoor and outdoor air quality »

The Rose

A model of the next generation of multifamily housing, The Rose successfully incorporated ultra-sustainable design, energyThe Rose - Blog efficiency, and healthy building materials into a Minneapolis apartment complex accessible to low-income families. This community-built partnership has changed the way people live by creating an environmentally conscious, net zero ready, healthy, and affordable place for residents to call home.

James Lehnhoff with Aeon said, “What we’ve done is built a partnership with the community.” He is proud to work on project that will impact the community today and into the future.

Read more about The Rose’s practical, cost-effective energy-saving features »

Don’t miss the opportunity to honor these projects at the ceremony on Thursday, May 26. Purchase your tables and/or seats today. Tune in to next week’s post featuring three more outstanding finalists!

Andrea Robbins


Director, Engagement and Systems

An Interview With Paul Helgeson: Sustainability Manager, GNP Company

April 19th, 2016

Environmental Initiative has a network of environmental leaders across all sectors of the economy – from businesses, all levels of government, nonprofits, academia, and more. In a new series, we’ll be interviewing environmental and sustainability leaders from our diverse community to share their passions and how they lead.

I’m kicking off the series with sustainability leader and Environmental Initiative board member, Paul Helgeson. Paul is currently the Sustainability Manager with GNP Company and is the founder and visionary behind the Field Stewards program.Greg interviewing Paul

To start us off, can you tell us a little bit about how you became sustainability manager at GNP Company?

I grew up in central Minnesota surrounded by the agricultural industry. My great-grandfather started what became Gold n’ Plump as one of hundreds of small hatcheries in Minnesota in the 1920’s.  For most of my life my dad was CEO and he, along with our team members, worked very hard to grow the company into the largest chicken company in the Upper Midwest.

This inspired me to pursue a business education and during my undergrad days I studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. There I visited Carlsberg, the big beer company. This was my first exposure to a large company advocating for sustainability. Beverage companies had worked with the Danish government to put a high deposit on bottles. So those bottles were getting turned back in and Carlsberg was reusing them to bottle beer. This reduced litter, saving the government money, and saved Carlsberg from having to buy expensive new bottles. Seeing this win-win for business, government, and the people of Denmark sparked my interest in harnessing the profit motive of business to achieve social and environmental goals.

I remained interested in sustainability while earning my MBA from the Carlson School of Business at the University of Minnesota and working outside the company. When I joined GNP Company in 2010 I helped my family’s business to consider sustainability and together we developed the 4 P Framework: people, poultry, progress, and planet. We set aggressive planet goals for improving the resource efficiency of our operations and made a commitment to working with our supply chain.  During this time, I also helped develop the Field Stewards idea and I’m the liaison from GNP Company on the project.

For folks who haven’t heard about it before, how would you describe the Field Stewards project?

At the core, it’s a way to connect consumers and farmers who care about water quality.fieldstewards

Functionally, it is a certification and market system that recognizes and rewards farmers for their environmental protection efforts.  Food companies can buy certificates to offset some of the environmental impacts of their commodity crop inputs. The market system allows us to support farmers in our local area who have gone above and beyond the norm to protect water quality on their farms.

Consumers increasingly care about their food and how it was produced. The underlying sentiment is “Do the people creating my food share my values?” However, the commodity crop system isn’t set up for food companies to track sustainability at the farm level. Like a lot of food companies, we buy the grain used in our feed off of what is essentially an international commodity market.  The grain markets and the commodity crop systems are not designed for food companies or consumers to track on-farm sustainability practices.  So, we have no way to know what practices were used in the fields that our grain came from.

This is the opportunity for Field Stewards. It is a program that gives food-marketing companies like GNP Company the ability to create a more sustainable supply chain for their most critical inputs. (more…)

Greg Bohrer


Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program

Celebrate Earth Day with Minnesota Environmental Fund

April 18th, 2016

Did you know you can help protect clean water, grow healthy food, support clean energy, preserve natural places, and more – all with one gift to the Minnesota Environmental Fund? I’m grateful to those of you who donate to Minnesota Environmental Fund at work and am so proud to have Environmental Initiative among our members.MEF_logo_web

Earth Day is this Friday, April 22 and Minnesota Environmental Fund, Climate Generation, the US Green Building Council, and several Minneapolis employers are teaming up on two great events to celebrate. I would love to see you at one (or both) of these events in honor of Earth Day.

Here are the details:


Wednesday, April 20, 2016
6:00 p.m. – Reception
6:30 p.m. – Film Screening
Mill City Museum, Minneapolis, MN 55401

Climate change is affecting our state’s varied regions and residents in different ways. All Minnesotans have a climate story to tell. Celebrate Earth Week with a screening of the film “Minnesota Stories in a Changing Climate” at Mill City Museum. The Twin Cities PBS production showcases three individual climate stories, narrated by some of the state’s leading experts. The film will be followed by a facilitated discussion with Climate Generation and City of Minneapolis Sustainability Staff.

This event is free and open to the public and includes a pre & post reception with an hour of hosted bar and appetizers.

Learn more or register »


Friday, April 22, 2016
3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
327 West River Parkway, Minneapolis, MN 55401

Take a healthy break from work and help clean up our downtown Mississippi River shoreline and park with the Minnesota Environmental Fund and US Green Building Council – a great way to celebrate Earth Day. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board will provide gloves and bags. Wear closed-toed shoes appropriate for outdoor activities and bring water to drink.

Learn more or register »

You can also contact me at Minnesota Environmental Fund at 651-917-1876 if you have questions. Happy Earth Week!

A note from Environmental Initiative: We’re one of more than twenty member organizations receiving support from Minnesota Environmental Fund’s workplace giving program. In honor of Earth Day, we wanted to share these two event opportunities as you make plans to celebrate. Interested in adding Minnesota Environmental Fund to your workplace giving campaign? Learn more »


Cordelia Pierson


Executive Director, Minnesota Environmental Fund

Get to Know the Community Action Finalists

April 15th, 2016

To celebrate the successes of eighteen incredible environmental partnerships, I’ll be featuring the 2016 Environmental Initiative Awards finalists in a series of posts leading up to the event on Thursday, May 26.

Kicking it off this week are three innovative projects in the Community Action category. This category recognizes collaborations that utilize residents or volunteers to solve sustainability challenges on a community scale. This could include grassroots efforts in neighborhood revitalization or beautification efforts, alternative land use strategies, or policy initiatives that contribute to economic prosperity, environmental stewardship, and improved quality of life.

Frogtown Park and Farm

Frogtown Park and Farm started with a dream by four Frogtown residents interested in engaging the community on growing local food. A public-private partnership was formed to bring the dream to life, creating a 13-acre public park and farm in one of the most park-poor neighborhoods A bundled-up boy and girl stand in snow checking out frozen leaves under a tree at Wilder Park in St. Paul, MN. Formerly Wilder Foundation's campus, not yet a TPL project, Minnehaha Ave. W and N Victoria St.in the City of Saint Paul. The park now serves as hub for community gathering, recreation, and a connection to nourishing, healthy food grown right in the neighborhood.

“Not everyday you create a new neighborhood park in the City of Saint Paul,” says project partner Susan Schmidt with The Trust for Public Land. What inspires her is the community-based approach to creating an urban treasure that people truly love.

Read more about Frogtown Park and Farm’s goal to nourish, connect, and empower the community »

Sun Ray Nature-Smart Library

The newly renovated Sun Ray Library is changing the way the community thinks about literacy, environmental stewardship, and youth leadership by becoming a hub for nature learning and recreation. Quickly becoming a national model of success, the library transformed both its physical environment and programming to serve as a place for families and children to Sun Ray Nature-Smart Library - Blog
gather, learn, explore, and engage with nature. The library and surrounding Conway Park now boast family resources for nature engagement, a youth environmental leadership program, increased tree canopy, and a thriving pollinator garden.

Rebecca Ryan, library manager at Sun Ray Library says you often forgot the library was in a park before project renovations created a renewed connection to nature. “We are used to thinking of reading and learning as something we do inside. For people to start thinking about how we support working outside, and what that means, is an idea I’d like to see spread.”

Read more about the nature-based education and engagement activities of Sun Ray Nature-Smart Library »

Washburn Center for Children

What was once a vacant, distressed, and environmentally-challenged plot of land, was transformed into a new facility for the Washburn Center for Children, one of the state’s leading children’s mental health centers. Significant environmental Washburn Center for Children - Blogcleanup of the site, in combination with incorporating natural and therapeutic environmental elements into the building’s design, has created a safe, healing space for families in the community. The Washburn Center for Children has been designed, inside and out, to foster a child’s healing, quickly becoming an asset for the community.

One of the most impactful projects he’s worked on, project partner Imants Pone of Braun Intertec says, “The Washburn Center for Children has a significant impact on the future of our community, the City, and children in need.”

Read more about the healing natural design elements of Washburn Center for Children »

We hope you join us in honoring these projects at the 2016 Environmental Initiative Awards ceremony on Thursday, May 26. Purchase your tables and/or seats today. Tune in to next week’s post featuring three more outstanding finalists!

Andrea Robbins


Director, Engagement and Systems

Member of the Month: Wenck

April 4th, 2016

Wenck is excited to be highlighted as Environmental Initiative’s April Member of the Month.  We have been a proud sponsor of Environmental Initiative for nearly 15 years including the Business and Environment Series, Policy Forums, and the Legislative Preview.

We continue to support and sponsor Environmental Initiative thanks to their exemplary track record of “courageous innovation.”  Our organizations align.  Environmental Initiative coordinates and convenes thought leaders of today to bring community_logo_final.jpgsustainable solutions to the challenges facing Minnesota across multiple sectors. They educate to help people see, and invest in, the stacked benefits of sustainable solutions necessary to solve organizational and environmental issues across these sectors.  While not all organizations consistently operate in the nexus between agriculture, business, government, and the environment, Environmental Initiative lives in this intersection. Wenck does too. We bring together engineers, scientists, construction and business professionals in energy, sustainability, water, air, and waste to build a healthy environment, a healthy economy and healthy communities.

We are excited to partner with Environmental Initiative and its other esteemed supporting organizations to build the future of Minnesota.


A note from Environmental Initiative:
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.

Bill Brown


Vice President, Wenck

Environmental Initiative - Home