Environmental Initiative - Home

Archive for March, 2017

April is EarthMonth— Celebrate with Minnesota Environmental Fund

March 30th, 2017

You care about Minnesota’s environment – now you have easy ways to make a difference this April, with the Minnesota Environmental Fund.

The Minnesota Environmental Fund (MEF) gives you the opportunity to support many environmental causes with giving and volunteering. With one gift, you can help protect water, grow healthy food, support clean energy, preserve natural landscapes, and more. Environmental Initiative is just one of the Minnesotan organizations that MEF supports, and Environmental Initiative employees also have the choice to give to MEF.

Earth Day is this Saturday, April 22. This year, Minnesota Environmental Fund, along with our partners and members, is hosting a variety of celebrations, presentations, and volunteer opportunities throughout the month. I would love to see you at one (or more), of these events in honor of Earth Day.

 

MISSISSIPPI RIVER WALK

Friday, April 7, 2017
2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Nature, art and history come together at Sheridan Memorial Park, where we will explore the wild banks of the beloved Mississippi River together. Check out the flyer and register »

MISSISSIPPI RIVER CARE AND PRAIRIE PLANTING

Friday, April 21, 2017
1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Event co-leaders: Mississippi Park Connection, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, and the National Park Service

Care for our Mississippi River together, and get to know people who work or live downtown. To learn more, check out the flyer and be sure to RSVP here.

CELEBRATION AT SURLY BREWING CO.

Monday, April 24, 2017
6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

You and leaders like you are making a difference by supporting clean water, clean air, clean energy, natural places, and healthy food in Minnesota. Share your stories and network with colleagues at this free event. 

CARING FOR THE LEXINGTON-HAMLINE AREA – “CIRCUS HILL”

Friday, April 28, 2017
One-hour shifts available
Event co-leaders: Gordon Parks High School, Community Action Partners (Ramsey & Washington), the City of St. Paul, and the Trust for Public Land

Minnesota Environmental Fund is teaming up community partners to offer a volunteer experience for people who work, learn or live nearby. You can help clean up the places we share and learn about the new park being created on Griggs Street near Gordon Parks High School and Skyline Towers. Register for this free event »

 


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

Cordelia Pierson

POSTED BY:

Executive Director, Minnesota Environmental Fund

Introducing the High-Emitting Vehicles Pilot Project

March 22nd, 2017

Our work and reach is always expanding here at Environmental Initiative! We’re excited to announce a new project that will be addressing Minnesota’s air quality by fixing pollution controls on high-emitting passenger vehicles for folks with lower incomes.

What are High-Emitting Vehicles?

Photo credit: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

It can kind of be a mouthful to say, but high-emitting vehicles are passenger cars and light-duty trucks that emit high levels of pollution into the air. These cars typically have outdated or broken emission controls or exhaust equipment that would typically be identified in vehicle emissions testing programs run in areas that have violated federal air quality standards. This new pilot project aims to repair some of those broken technologies, improving fuel efficiency and reducing air pollution all at the same time.

How does the project work?

Environmental Initiative is partnering with two nonprofit garages that provide low-cost safety and reliability repairs to help improve their clients’ economic security. While funding is available, Cars for Neighbors and The Lift Garage will offer no-cost repairs to three priority emission control systems on the cars of clients that qualify for their services: catalytic converters, evaporative emission control (EVAP) systems, and oxygen sensors. You can read more about these technologies here »

 

 

This is a pilot project, so we’ll be working on a small scale for right now. In this phase, our goal is to repair roughly 40 vehicles identified by our partners. We have high hopes, though! If the pilot is successful, we’ll be raising funds and expand our reach.

The high-emitting vehicles pilot project is 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%.

Clean Air Minnesota is a diverse coalition of air quality leaders convened by Environmental Initiative who are working voluntarily and proactively to reduce air pollution.

Why is this project important?

Minnesota is fortunate enough to have pretty good air quality. However, as the science around air quality advances, health impacts from air pollution are being found at ever lower concentrations. One recent study from the University of Toronto found that 25% of the worst-polluting passenger vehicles may emit up to 90% of vehicle-related air pollution (The Air We Breathe Report 2017). Focusing on vehicles that produce higher levels of pollution is one efficient and cost effective method of addressing air quality concerns in our state.

The great part about this project is that its impacts go far beyond the environmental factors. According to a report published by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Health, lower-income residents of color, children with asthma, and the elderly are often most affected by dirty air. Disadvantaged communities feel the health effects of pollution more acutely, often in the form of respiratory and cardiovascular conditions. The Lift Garage and Cars for Neighbors serve these communities that often cannot afford repairs to emission control systems. Every repair that this project makes reduces pollution in close proximity to those most vulnerable to it while furthering our partners’ missions of promoting economic stability through reliable transport.

Overall, the high-emitting vehicles pilot project is a big opportunity to reduce air pollution where it is most felt. At the same time, we can also address sources that produce large amounts of dirty air. It’s a win-win!

We’re really excited to be launching a pilot version of this project and are looking forward to expanding. If you have questions, want to learn more, or are interested in contributing, you can contact me at mweitekamp@en-in.org.

Mikey Weitekamp

POSTED BY:

Senior Project Manager, Environmental Initiative

A True Champion: Gail Cederberg

March 14th, 2017

To say that Gail Cederberg, currently the Vice President, Environmental Division at American Engineering Testing (AET), has been instrumental in our sustainability work is truly an understatement. Gail has not only dedicated her career to the environment, but has also been a champion of our work for the past 10+ years.

Cederberg spear fishing as a young woman

Gail started her career at Los Alamos National Laboratory attempting the almost impossible – building a laboratory to measure the radon in geothermal fluid in just 14 weeks. At a mere 23 years old, sitting by herself in a remote trailer in the mountains 60 miles from civilization, she learned the empowering self-confidence you only gain from an utterly trusting employer, that it’s okay to ask questions and seek the answers, and to surround yourself with kind and generous people who can help you with your work. Gail has carried these lessons with her throughout her career as she researched groundwater transport modeling for her Ph.D., worked on Superfund sites in New Jersey and EHS compliance in Minnesota, and now works on brownfield redevelopment and environmental compliance at AET.

These days, I’m grateful for her support as she continues to lend her insight and wisdom to planning the Business & Environment Series year after year. (Can you believe she’s helped plan 26 and counting events?!). I recently caught up with Gail to talk about her endless support of the Business & Environment Series and one of her lifelong passions: diversity and inclusion.

Why she stays engaged, in her own words

Q1: What was your first introduction to Environmental Initiative?

I think my first experience with Environmental Initiative is when I was working
as the Director of Environmental, Health and Safety at Imation, a long time organizational supporter of Environmental Initiative. I was asked if I wanted to be part of a newly created Business & Environment Series and I jumped at the opportunity. I’ve been participating in planning group meetings ever since.

Q2: As one of the founding supporters of the Business & Environment Series nearly 10 years ago, what is it about the series that keeps you engaged and excited year after year?

When we first started the Series, the topics were broadly focused on the intersection of business and the environment. In recent years, we began honing in on specific sustainably issues. I enjoy how the Business & Environment Series continues to evolve, bringing current issues to the forefront, and looking beyond to what might lie ahead. The Series reminds me that there is always more to do and learn, even though it sometimes feels like we’ve done it all. I’m also energized by the people – what they do, what their organizations do, how they are making an impact, and their enthusiasm. I always leave the events with new ideas, new friends and colleagues, and new ways that I can look at issues and problems facing my company.

Q3: One of our values is “better together” – the idea that bringing diverse perspectives together creates stronger environmental solutions. As an advocate for addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion issues, why do you also value the better together mentality?

As a little girl interested in science and engineering, I’ve felt first-hand what it feels like to not be heard or included. This experience at a young age helped me developed a sensitivity and empathy towards individuals and groups who are excluded simply based on who they are.

Throughout my career I’ve experienced that heterogeneous teams are often more productive than not.  Reaching out, including diverse perspectives, and working towards a common goal are core values of mine.  Without working together and including other voices, ideas, and perspectives how do I, or we, really know the issues and problems? And if we don’t know that, how could we presuppose the answers, solutions, or best ideas?

I have recently been learning more about workforce development, economic development, our marginalized communities, and working on ways to be more intentional about including and incorporating diverse perspectives, people, and ideas through my role as a Midway Chamber of Commerce board member. This brought me to examine the unconscious biases my teams and I may have that hold us back from intentional inclusion and have those uncomfortable conversations.  It’s a process of continual learning and introspection.

Q4: What do you think successfully tackling issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion would look like in the environmental field?

I think there are a few important things to keep in mind, but these relate to all fields, not exclusively the environmental field.

Say Yes: We have to say “yes” more often than “no.” Instead of saying why we can’t include a person or group, we need to ask ourselves from the onset – what are they bringing to the table that we don’t have in terms of perspectives, ideas, etc.? And even if you don’t know – let’s make the table a big one!

Be Nimble and Adaptable: We need to be much more nimble and adaptable. Let’s find ways to change course mid-way or even stop what we are doing if things are not working the way we expected. It’s important to acknowledge we are going down the wrong path or we have thought of better ideas for moving forward.

Incorporate Disruption: We need to include more disruption into our processes. Let’s delete the phrase “but we’ve always done it this way” and look towards innovation, entrepreneurs, and outsiders for ideas and new and improved processes. Then we need to listen and engage.

Our Shared Values

After my interview with Gail, I tried to reflect on exactly what makes her such a great champion of our work. Perhaps it’s the fact that she’s always one of the first to respond to my emails (who doesn’t appreciate that!), or that her unwavering dedication to the Business and Environment Series makes me want to plan better events, or maybe it’s her infectious zest to continually learn from others and improve herself, her team, and her work. But, I think it really comes down to the fact that we share the same values: creating a sustainable world and continually fighting to prove that better together is the only way.


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.

Dani Schurter

POSTED BY:

Project Manager

Putting a CAAP on Air Pollution (Now in St. Paul)

March 7th, 2017

The Clean Air Assistance Project (CAAP) has officially completed its first emissions reduction project!

As part of Clean Air Minnesota’s efforts to improve the state’s air quality, Environmental Initiative is working with our partners and local businesses to make proactive and voluntary improvements that benefit the environment, human health, and help our local economy transition toward a clean and efficient future. CAAP is part of the Area Source Team within Clean Air Minnesota that helps smaller, more localized sources of pollution reduce their emissions. Our first project was with Raymond Auto Body Shop in St. Paul.

Smog, smells, and solvents

Raymond Auto Body has been painting cars in St. Paul for over 60 years. Historically, paints used in auto body shops are usually made from solvents. What are solvents? They usually come with names like “n-butyl acetate,” “xylene,” or “2-methoxy-1-methylethyl acetate.” Rolls right off the tongue, right? Basically, it’s the stuff that makes that spray paint smell.

Solvents evaporate faster than water, shortening the drying time needed to finish painting cars. Unfortunately, they’re also harmful to the environment and human health. These solvents are also called VOCs: Volatile Organic Compounds. When these VOCs are released into the air, they mix with other pollutants and cause ground-level ozone, also known as smog. Smog is bad. How bad? Breathing in smog has been described as the equivalent of “sunburn on your lungs.” So basically, solvent VOCs mix with other compounds in the air to make smog, which isn’t great.

But good news! The project with Raymond Auto Body switched their solvent-based paint to a water-based paint. This is a relatively new technology, but one that many states in violation of federal air quality standards are required to make. It does take a little more effort to make sure the paint booth has enough clean and dry air moving fast enough to make that water evaporate quickly (especially on a hot and humid summer day). This means that switching to waterborne paint usually requires upgrading the air blowers in the booth.

Raymond Auto Body—Exciting for 3 Reasons

This particular project is a real humdinger.

For starters, it’s exciting to get the first CAAP project under the belt! We’ve worked to promote and utilize other programs before (like the Minneapolis Green Business Cost Share Program and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) Small Business Environmental Assistance Program), but this was the first one Environmental Initiative took from start to finish using our own funding.

Second, it’s a big project! What we’ve historically seen from similar conversion projects are VOC reductions ranging from 45 – 65%! We’ll know more when the numbers come in for 2017, but for a shop like Raymond, we’re conservatively looking at tons of emissions reductions.

Third, this project is emblematic of what we’re trying to do with our air work. According to the MPCA’s Life and Breath Report, negative health impacts of air pollution fall disproportionately on lower-income residents and people of color, as well as the elderly, children, and those predisposed to respiratory illness. Raymond Auto Body is right off Lexington and W. Pierce Butler Route, a location the Metropolitan Council identified as an area of concentrated poverty. It’s also located in a corridor that has historically been affected by heavy industrial use. In short, these emission are being eliminated where Minnesotans feel the effects of air pollution more acutely.

Get Involved

While we’re celebrating this project and CAAP’s successful rollout, the last thing we want to do is rest on our heels. In fact, we’re already chasing down our next auto body project in St. Paul and looking for additional opportunities in the Metro. Know of any? Give us a call or e-mail and see if we can bring a similar success to your neck of the woods.

The Clean Air Assistance Program is made possible through generous contributions and support from our partners, 3M and Western Refining.

Bjorn Olson

POSTED BY:

Senior Environmental Project Associate

Member of the Month: Barr Engineering

March 1st, 2017

Barr Engineering Co. (Barr) is honored to be featured as Environmental Initiative’s member of the month for March. We’re excited to have this opportunity to reflect on our work with Environmental Initiative and what it means to us—and has meant to us— since the organization’s inception.

To start off with a little background on Barr, we are an employee-owned engineering and environmental consulting firm with nine offices across North America and over 700 employees. Our company was incorporated over 50 years ago in Minnesota, which is the location our headquarters as well. Some of Barr’s most active members, including Mike Hansel and Andy Polzin, have worked with Environmental Initiative since its earliest days, and they continue to help Barr maintain its commitment to Environmental Initiative’s goals.

Talking with Mike and Andy, you get a sense of how important Environmental Initiative has been to them, to Barr, and to our community of members. Andy recently reminisced about his involvement with Environmental Initiative when he was just starting out:

Interview: Andy Polzin—Vice President, Senior Environmental Consultant

“In the early days, Environmental Initiative had a reoccurring program called the Environmental Management Excellence Series. Representatives of industry, government, academia and young, impressionable consultants like me met three or four times a year and talked about the big regulatory topics. The Clean Air Act of 1990 (the Title V permit program) and implementation of the NPDES stormwater permitting program at the federal and state levels in 1992 were two of those big topics. We all learned together about these programs.

“In subsequent years, Environmental Initiative started getting out in front of new programs and set up forums to discuss issues like NESHAP attainment in the Twin Cities metro area and climate change. Nobody does partnerships and creates space for discussion around current issues quite like Environmental Initiative.”

Duluth Coffee Creek repairs project, winner of the 2016 Natural Resources Award

Andy also pointed out how Environmental Initiative membership has helped him maintain connections with others dedicated to addressing complex environmental problems.

“The annual Environmental Initiative Awards ceremony is the one event I make sure to attend every year. I see people there that I don’t get to see at any other time. It’s great to see the slate of award nominees and wonder at the partnerships that produce such impressive environmental results. Barr has been involved in many nominated partnerships over the years, and we feel fortunate to have been on a winning team in 2016 (in the Natural Resources category).”

Interview: Mike Hansel — Senior Chemical Engineer

Looking back over his decades of involvement, Mike Hansel focused on Environmental Initiative’s ability to bring together stakeholders and serve as a catalyst for action.

“Back in 2002 (or thereabouts) Environmental Initiative convened a Policy Forum on air quality. During a presentation by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, it was pretty clear that the Twin Cities were in danger of becoming a non-attainment area for ozone and fine particulate matter. During a break, the Chamber [of Commerce], the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, and Barr got together and concluded ‘this is a big deal!’ Out of that conversation grew Clean Air Minnesota, an Environmental Initiative-led coalition working to reduce air pollution that Barr has been involved with since inception.”

At Barr, we recognize that we’ve benefited greatly from our work with Environmental Initiative over the years. The people we’ve met and the conversations we’ve had have enabled us to develop lasting relationships. Through our membership and the opportunities for collaboration Environmental Initiative provides, we’re able to engage with the essential environmental issues of the day. We look forward to continuing our involvement and service.


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.

Michelle Stockness

POSTED BY:

Senior Environmental Engineer, Barr Engineering

Environmental Initiative - Home