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Archive for February, 2017

The Fierce Allegiance of Clean Air Minnesota

February 27th, 2017

Once upon a time, a group of organizations faced daunting air quality challenges. In 2001, the Twin Cities area experienced its first smog alerts in more than 30 years and the region nearly exceeded federal air quality standards. Rather than seeing it as a conflict laden, zero-sum situation, these individuals and organizations seized the moment to engage in a constructive dialogue. In a single event, our partners came together, but not as adversaries. Instead, they engaged and brought their different perspectives, voices, and skills to the table to achieve a common goal.

The Beginning of Clean Air Minnesota

Recognizing and valuing the common good of voluntary, pro-active action, a number of new and long-time Environmental Initiative partners used this dialogue to create Clean Air Minnesota (CAM). Each organization had to overcome their own internal challenges to participate. Yet, each could see the greater value of collaborative engagement, so they pushed their comfort levels and stuck with it.

Together they identified cost-effective and environmentally-sound ways to reduce emissions, decrease exposure, protect public health, and avoid economic and societal costs of violating air quality standards. Everyone had a different reason for supporting the effort.

We talked a lot—especially in those early days. We had to reconcile and balance conflicts between various emission-reduction project options, the desired returns of health benefits, and the realities of economic costs. We had rural and metro disputes. We confronted differences over technologies, costs, and ease of implementation related to emission reductions derived.

All the while, everything had to be voluntary. Our region violated no federal requirements; no one had to do anything. Ultimately, our partners’ fierce allegiance to this public-private partnership delivered simultaneous health benefits, emissions reductions, and jobs.

Clean Air Champions—Then and Now

These first partners, Mike Robertson with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Lee Paddock from the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, David Thornton with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and Mike Hansel with Flint Hills Resources, each played their part and worked to their strengths for the good of the partnership. Each gave up some level of control, but gained more in their collective actions. This group was truly living our values of “courageous innovation” and working “better together.”

The fierce allegiance to collaboration by our partners led to Project Green Fleet and cleaning up every eligible school bus in Minnesota, dozens of heavy-duty diesel engines, and even a few trains and tow boats. More recently, we’ve launched Project Stove Swap, which is also a change-out project, only for wood-burning devices. We also have been able to run the Clean Air Assistance Project, which helps small and medium-sized businesses find economical ways to reduce emissions.

As with CAM’s founding, it’s time for some constructive collaboration and action. We need to face the challenges of this time, stand as a beacon, and get down to some old-fashioned Environmental Initiative-style project work. We need to step up our efforts and expand the impact of emission reduction activities.

We need a new set of champions with that same fierce commitment to our mutual, common cause. We need to recognize and accept the risks– and, equally value and reap the rewards of collaboration. In these uncertain times, we should all be doing everything we can to advance this still unique and valuable public-private partnership and realize our common goals of cleaner, healthier air, as well as the associated economic gains.

Who will model earlier CAM champions? Who will step forward to lead together today?


A note from Environmental Initiative:
In honor of Environmental Initiative’s 25th birthday, members of our staff will take turns throughout the year highlighting the organization’s most influential and effective collaborators. We want to say thank you to the amazing people who help us achieve all we do.

Bill Droessler

POSTED BY:

Senior Director of Strategic Project Planning

A Year and 30+ dedicated organizations later…

February 23rd, 2017

The Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition is just over a year old, but already we’ve come a long way. More than 30 businesses and organizations now form a business led partnership that harnesses each member’s expertise to advance the next frontier of corporate sustainability – the circular economy.

Together, the Coalition has designated three strategic priorities for regional transformation and are actively educating on what a circular economy can do for Minnesota and the region.

NEW MEMBERS

The Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition is a business-led effort that also includes key public and nonprofit entities within its membership. This cross-sector representation is essential to advancing the circular economy. In June of 2016, the Coalition publicly announced itself as a 27 member strong collaboration. Since then, six additional organizations have joined the effort, including:

 

 

With these six additions, the Coalition expands to just over 30 members. Each new member brings a different perspective and a wealth of experience. This knowledge continues to better position the Coalition, allowing the group to more effectively work on advancing the aspects of a more circular economic system. With each new member, we get closer to realizing our vision.

CIRCULAR ECONOMY EDUCATION

Our members have been quick to explain and project circular economy concepts. Jessica Hellman, Director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IonE) and Coalition member, recently penned an op-ed in the Pioneer Press demonstrating the value of transformative, far-reaching sustainability efforts.

Ackerberg, a recent addition to the Coalition, is the first commercial real estate company to join. Shortly after entering the group, they shared more information on the value they see in collaboration through a piece by Finance & Commerce.

And finally, the Coalition as a whole was featured in the Harvard Business Review as part of the 9 Sustainable Business Stories that Shaped 2016. Number nine focuses on the circular economy, with special mention of the Coalition.

OUR THREE PRIORITIES

Soon after the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition launched, Environmental Initiative convened members to select priority areas for their work. Three areas of focus quickly emerged from these conversations including: 1) advancing clean energy, 2) transforming organic waste into resources, and 3) greening grey infrastructure.

Members selected clean energy as the initial priority for leadership and collaboration. Coalition members recognize a circular economy can only exist if is powered by 100% clean, renewable energy. It’s a big commitment, but we aren’t taking it lightly. Over the past six months, members have developed a clean energy work plan, have secured initial funding to support that work, and have begun taking actions that support increased access to renewable energy resources.

While a lot of progress has been made already, much more is ahead. You’ll be hearing a lot more from us as we continue to make progress on our clean energy work plan while also digging deeper in our greening grey infrastructure and organics focus areas.

Sam Hanson

POSTED BY:

Director, Sustainability Program

From the Executive Director: Where do we go from here?

February 13th, 2017

On February 6, 1992, Environmental Initiative was born. If you do the math, you most likely know that we’re celebrating our 25th anniversary this year, but what does that mean? How do you capture what we’ve learned from a quarter-century’s worth of work, and then make it better?

Luckily, I’ve stuck around this organization for a while, so I know the whole story! Environmental Initiative began when Brett Johnson and Dan Carr were inspired to gather decision makers from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to solve environmental issues together. Others, including our first Executive Director, Ciaran Mannion, and our founding board made up of leaders from Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Northern States Power, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, amongst others, were essential to turn that idea into reality. At the time, it felt revolutionary.

Since then, we’ve had a significant impact on Minnesota’s environment. We’re removing the air pollution equivalent of 750,000 cars from the road every year through Project Green Fleet and we helped set the stage for the passage of the Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment, amongst many other accomplishments.

Of course, we want to celebrate all the great work we’ve done together so far. You don’t turn 25 everyday after all. The annual Environmental Initiative Awards will be held on May 25, 2017, and we hope you will join us to honor the people and organizations working collaboratively to improve our environment and celebrate 25 years of our shared success.

We’ve been fortunate that, over the years, we’ve been able to bring together thousands of people for hundreds of conversations that have concerned all of our lives. Now is the time to celebrate our 25 years. But, in many ways, it feels like we’re just getting started.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE—TOGETHER

Our 25th anniversary year will be an exciting one. It’s powerful to look back at what we’ve done and allow it to shape where we’re going. I wrote a year ago about why I’m still here after 20 years. All of that still holds true, and I look forward to pushing us to build even better collaborations and partnerships in the years ahead. We have a proven track record of bringing different sectors together, but to create truly lasting solutions that work for everyone, we need to be responsive to everyone’s views and concerns.

If you’ve ever heard me speak about this organization, you know I reference being “better together”— this is my way of saying that I don’t have all the answers. It’s really all of you, and the variety of perspectives you bring, that make us successful. We gather your passions, knowledge, and ideas to talk through and solve issues that affect us all.

But what good is “better together” if historically marginalized voices aren’t included in environmental solutions? We know that environmental problems disproportionately affect people of color, lower income individuals, and the elderly. This year and for years to come, we’re dedicating resources to better incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion into our work and mission. This is not only something we want to do, but something we must do to ensure the long-term health and prosperity of Minnesota’s people, economy and environment.

I know that many of our friends, partners and members care deeply about addressing the disparities that affect Minnesotans. I would like to invite anyone interested in helping us find our way forward to reach out and call me. This is a journey we are excited to start this year and know it will carry us into our next 25 years.

Mike Harley

POSTED BY:

Executive Director

Project Stove Swap Heats Up

February 6th, 2017

It’s been an amazing year for Project Stove Swap! Looking back at where this project started, I could not be happier with the results we’ve seen and where we’re headed.

Where We’ve Been

If you don’t know, Project Stove Swap operates under the umbrella of Clean Air Minnesota—a diverse coalition of air quality leaders working to reduce emissions by 10%. While Clean Air Minnesota partners identified wood smoke as a crucial area for emissions reductions, no funding was available for a project.

Recognizing that many of Northeastern Minnesota residents rely on wood as a heat and energy source, Environmental Initiative and partners decided it was the perfect region to implement a wood smoke reduction effort and, with help from Minnesota Power and a large network of regional partners, Project Stove Swap was born.

WHERE WE ARE

Now, a year or so later, we’ve officially launched Project Stove Swap in 17 Northeastern Minnesota counties. In short, Project Stove Swap provides financial incentives to consumers and businesses to replace older wood heating appliances with more efficient, less-polluting technologies.

Last week, Environmental Initiative staff and partners came together at one of the project’s vendors, Duluth Stove and Fireplace, to commemorate the launch. We heard from store co-owner Matt Boo, Environmental Initiative’s Mike Harley, Amy Rutledge of Minnesota Power, and Allison Rajala Ahcan about the importance of the project from an environmental and economic perspective.

You can read and watch the news coverage of the event below.

WHERE WE’RE GOING

Since the official launch, our phones have been ringing and ringing from residents, businesses, and stove vendors wanting to participate. I’m always working on getting vendors set up with the project, so if you don’t have a Project Stove Swap vendor in your county, you will soon!

Even beyond this last week’s media coverage, the goal has always been to expand the project and reach the whole state. All Minnesotans should reap the benefits of a newer, cleaner heating alternative. After all, it does get pretty cold here, so any way we can help people be safer, pollute less, and support local businesses is always a good thing. I can’t wait to share all the stories that come out of Project Stove Swap with you, so stayed tuned.

Mikey Weitekamp

POSTED BY:

Senior Project Manager, Environmental Initiative

Member of the Month: 3M

February 1st, 2017

3M has a long history of partnership with Environmental Initiative, including financial support for Clean Air Minnesota programs and sponsorship of the Environmental Initiative Awards. As part of their 25th anniversary, the Environmental Initiative team asked that we look back over the last quarter-century and share a favorite partnership, project, or memory. It’s quite the assignment, but I’ll gladly share a more personal memory and 3M’s broader appreciation of Environmental Initiative’s role in the Minnesota ecosystem.

As a fresh engineering graduate from the University of Minnesota in the late 1990s, I was looking to work in the environmental field. I connected with Mike Harley, Environmental Initiative’s Executive Director, through a mutual friend. Mike made a positive impression of the approach he wanted to take with his—then young— organization.

Nearly 20 years later, Environmental Initiative continues the collaborative practices Mike described to me as a recent graduate, and enables our community to advance important environmental projects in Minnesota. More than any one project, Environmental Initiative’s push for ongoing dialogue, bridging differing opinions and looking for win-win solutions drives the engagement of 3M and individual 3Mers in the organization’s work. There are many organizations that may use collaborative approaches, but Environmental Initiative’s commitment to pragmatic engagement and problem solving is unique.

3M’s admiration for Environmental Initiative’s approach is due, in part, to the longstanding collaborative and purpose-driven culture of the company. 3Mers are encouraged to leverage our 46 technology platforms in unique ways to create new products to help solve our customer’s challenges, and the challenges facing our global community. Our Pollution Prevention Pays (3P) program is more than 40 years old, with more than 2 million tons of pollution prevented to date. Our company-wide greenhouse gas emissions decreased by nearly 70% between 2002 and 2015.

As a company rooted in scientific exploration, we continue to innovate in markets from abrasives to energy, applying our technological expertise to help solve some of the challenges that serve as barriers to the improvement of every life on the planet. Overcoming global challenges requires recognizing their interdependence: the importance of water access and its impact on health; energy and dependence on raw materials, etc. It also requires a deep commitment across the organization and collaboration with partners, customers and communities.

We appreciate the opportunity to continue to partner with Environmental Initiative and offer our congratulations for 25 years of successes.

Chris Nelson

POSTED BY:

Environmental Permitting Manager, 3M Environmental Operations
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