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Archive for April, 2017

Rice Creek Commons is Common Sense— Meet the Natural Resource Winners

April 25th, 2017

The Natural Resources category award is given to collaborative efforts that implement sustainable solutions to preserve, protect, or restore Minnesota’s land, water, biological diversity, and other natural resources.

In the land of 10,000 lakes, you can see why recognizing efforts to restore waterways and landscapes is so important.

Ramsey County, the City of Arden Hills, Wenck Associates, Inc. and many other partners are currently working to restore a piece of polluted land that has been around since World War II: The Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant.

AMMUNITION PLANT TO  VIBRANT COMMUNITY

 

 

Four years ago, Ramsey County purchased a contaminated parcel of land in Arden Hills with the goal of making it a community asset. The land once held the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant, built to manufacture small arms ammunition during World War II, and had sat dormant for nearly four decades. Partnering with the City of Arden Hills, the county began redeveloping the brownfield into a livable space for homes and businesses.

Over a 32-month period, existing buildings were demolished, and the soil was remediated to residential standards. We removed hazardous waste and recycled or reused materials like concrete and asphalt. This past summer, the county collaborated with the Rice Creek Watershed District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to transform Rice Creek, which runs through the site, back to its original, meandering path and stabilize it with surrounding trees and plants.

With the site demolished and soil restored to residential standards, infrastructure construction is set to begin this year. Soon Rice Creek Commons (named after the site’s stream) will be a walkable, vibrant commercial and residential development, creating economic and social opportunity for Arden Hills and the region.

FROM THE PROJECT PARTNERS

“When the county purchased the land, it was the largest superfund site in Minnesota. The large cost and difficulty associated with cleaning up the site had discouraged previous developers for many years. Because the property presented unique challenges, the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners recognized the land would probably stay polluted and empty for many more years unless they took action.

The project is also unique in that Ramsey County is a fully developed county. With few opportunities to grow and increase the area’s tax base, developments like Rice Creek Commons present an important opportunity for economic development.” – Heather Worthington, Deputy County Manager

“I’m proud that this project respects the history of the site and what was there before. Redeveloping the area is about honoring its past and making it a safe, economic engine once again.” – Heather Worthington, Deputy County Manager

Read the Pioneer Press piece: A cheer for Rice Creek Commons »

CELEBRATE THIS EFFORT

Join us on Thursday, May 25 to congratulate and celebrate these project partners, their positive environmental outcomes, and the lasting benefit of collaboration. To shake things up, we’re also honoring three individuals in honor of our 25th anniversary, so it’s sure to be a night of reflection and festivities for Minnesota’s environmental community. Purchase your tickets or tables here »

 


A note from Environmental Initiative:
In honor of Environmental Initiative’s 25th Anniversary, four organizational and two individual awards will be presented on May 25, 2017 at the Nicollet Island Pavilion. Get your tickets before they’re gone »

Damian Goebel

POSTED BY:

Communications Director

Hooray for Hutchinson! Meet the Energy & Climate Winners

April 18th, 2017

The Energy and Climate category award is given to a partnership that reduces greenhouse gas emissions, cuts energy consumption, advances energy efficiency, or improves air quality. It’s projects like these that prepare our state to adapt to a changing global climate.

The City of Hutchinson, Ameresco, Xcel Energy and many more partners came together in a cross-sector partnership to do just that. Through this solar project, the City reduced emissions in their community, making a better quality of life for residents and our planet. Not only is this project innovative and groundbreaking, it transformed one of Minnesota’s brown areas blue. Join us in congratulating these project partners!

A FIRST FOR MINNESOTA

 

Made possible by a generous Renewable Development Fund grant from Xcel Energy, The City of Hutchinson Landfill Solar Photovoltaic (PV) System is a 400-kilowatt system supplying 15% of the power needs of the City’s Wastewater Treatment Plant. This project is the largest solar PV installation on a landfill in Minnesota, and the first ballast-mounted on a brownfield.

In layman’s terms, not only was this mounted and installed in an innovative way, it also transformed a landfill into something restorative that gives back to the community in cost savings, and to the state in environmental benefit. As a result of repurposing a 1970s-era municipal landfill, the City reduced CO2 emissions by 1.4 million pounds per year, roughly the equivalent of taking 133 vehicles off the road each year.

FROM THE PROJECT PARTNERS

“The City of Hutchinson was able to make Minnesota’s first landfill mounted Solar PV project possible through strong partnerships with Xcel Energy, AMERESCO, Hutchinson Utilities, tenKsolar, Hunt Electric, and many more,” said Hutchinson Mayor Gary Forcier. “Being recognized by Environmental Initiative for this project affirms the importance of this unique collaboration and that our City’s commitment to innovation can foster resounding benefits to our residents as well as others across the state and region.”

“The electrical energy produced by the solar panels provides enough dollar savings such that the project is guaranteed to pay for itself in less than 18 years, and with an estimated life of over 30 years; the City and residents will receive all the financial benefits in future years.” —John Neville, AMERESCO

CELEBRATE THIS EFFORT

Join us on Thursday, May 25 to congratulate and celebrate these project partners, their positive environmental outcomes, and the lasting benefit of collaboration. To shake things up, we’re also honoring three individuals in honor of our 25th anniversary, so it’s sure to be a night of reflection and festivities for Minnesota’s environmental community. Purchase your tickets or tables here »

 

 

 


A note from Environmental Initiative:
In honor of Environmental Initiative’s 25th Anniversary, four organizational and two individual awards will be presented on May 25, 2017 at the Nicollet Island Pavilion. Get your tickets before they’re gone »

Damian Goebel

POSTED BY:

Communications Director

Have you met the Community Action category winners?

April 13th, 2017

The Community Action category award is given to partnerships that solve environmental challenges on a community scale—which can mean a lot of things. From grassroots efforts and utilizing volunteers, to policy initiatives that contribute to improved quality of life, this award recognizes those who come together.

The Metropolitan Council, the Metro Clean Energy Resource Team (CERTs), a slew of local governments, and many more project partners came together to produce solid environmental and economic outcomes—making them this year’s Community Action winner.

An Award-Winning Effort

 

 

The Governmental Solar Garden Collaborative is a joint effort by and for 31 local governments in the greater Twin Cities metropolitan region to procure solar garden subscriptions from a single Request for Proposals (RFP) process. The goal in getting these subscriptions is to offset the energy usage at public facilities.

The results? Twenty-four of the 31 participants said that they were moving to sign subscription agreements for a cumulative 33 megawatts of solar capacity. If you’re like me, you have no idea what this means.

Basically, most participating local governments are working to offset public facility energy use by signing up for a clean energy alternative. By doing so, these local governments have added a surprising figure of solar capacity to the state. To give you an idea of how meaningful 33 megawatts is, Minnesota generated a total of 35 megawatts for community solar subscriptions during the entirety of 2015.

Perhaps more importantly, this project highlights the power of partnership—and its lasting benefit. Because of this effort, the group is continuing conversations concerning additional collaborative purchasing for public building solar and electric vehicles for local government fleets.

FROM THE PROJECT PARTNERS

“By working together and sharing resources, the partners could reduce costs, create opportunities for communities of all sizes, and make a larger impact than any organization could have had alone. The result will be the development of 33 megawatts of solar electricity– enough to power over 4,000 Minnesota homes for 25 years– and a significant reduction of government spending on energy in public facilities.” –Trevor Drake, Co-Director of the Metro Clean Energy Resource Team and Project Manager at Great Plains Institute.

“What will have long lasting impact is how public and private entities combined their knowledge, skills and expertise to generate subscriptions to 33 MW of solar development… This type of procurement for solar energy was a groundbreaking, innovative approach that has applied across the nation in only a few regions.” –Peter Lindstrom, Local Government Outreach Coordinator with the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) at the University of Minnesota’s Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships and Extension.

“I’m most proud of the willingness and determination of everyone involved to try something new. It’s easy to look back at something that was successful and be glad to have done it. It’s much more difficult, however, to move forward with something that seems like a good idea but might not succeed. Everyone involved in this project took a risk in joining the process and seeing it through. I’m proud that our region is made up of local governments and partners that are willing and determined to be innovative in the face of great challenges.” –Trevor Drake, Co-Director of the Metro Clean Energy Resource Team and Project Manager at Great Plains Institute.

CELEBRATE THIS EFFORT

Join us on Thursday, May 25 to congratulate and celebrate these project partners, their positive environmental outcomes, and the lasting benefit of collaboration. To shake things up, we’re also honoring three individuals in honor of our 25th anniversary, so it’s sure to be a night of reflection and festivities for Minnesota’s environmental community. Purchase your tickets or tables here »

 

 

 


A note from Environmental Initiative:
In honor of Environmental Initiative’s 25th Anniversary, four organizational and two individual awards will be presented on May 25, 2017 at the Nicollet Island Pavilion. Get your tickets before they’re gone »

Damian Goebel

POSTED BY:

Communications Director

Mike Robertson: Critical Collaborator Award Recipient

April 4th, 2017

The Critical Collaborator award recognizes an individual over the age of 50 who has utilized partnership and collaboration to achieve positive and lasting environmental outcomes.

Mike Robertson has been part of nearly every major environmental policy decision in Minnesota for the last 30 years. Though he’s retired now from his time as an Environmental Lobbyist and Attorney for various public and private sector clients, he’s one of the founding members and minds behind Clean Air Minnesota and the Clean Water Legacy Act. You can read more about his professional career on our recipients page

Join us in honoring Mike at the 25th Anniversary Environmental Initiative Awards on May 25, 2017. Purchase your seats or tables here » 

We have two Critical Collaborator recipients this year, and I got to sit down with them both and talk about their career, passions, and get their advice for those currently working on environmental issues.

SITTING DOWN WITH MIKE ROBERTSON

What excites you about the environmental community, sector, or movement in Minnesota?

I think it’s the tradition that we started to build through Environmental Initiative of collaboration. It’s really the vehicle to make things happen, and that is what excited me about working with Environmental Initiative and being a leader in that group.

There are always going to be specific issues where there is conflict on the environment—an example would be the future of mining in Minnesota. For the most part, though, I think collaboration is possible and successful if the various groups are working together and the work that we’ve done at Environmental Initiative has given me confidence that, going forward, this tradition that we’ve built can work for the future.

You’re one of the founding members of Clean Air Minnesota—as well as one of the minds that shaped the effort. What made you go to bat for this group?

Clean Air Minnesota was really important because in the evaluation of the state’s air quality problems, the data showed that 75% of air pollution was coming from non-point sources. In other words, all the industries had permits for their point-source air issues, and followed those for the most part, and still we were concerned about meeting the ozone standard and other air quality standards.

Part of the federal law is that if the state is not in compliance, then it’s the point source permit holders (the industries) who may be penalized for that. Because pollution was coming from smaller non-smoke stack pollution, there’s no way that Minnesota could maintain or improve air quality without having a collaborative process. Local governments, business, and the environmental community needed to try to take some voluntary actions to maintain the status of our air quality.

Partnership and consensus isn’t always easy. What was your most difficult collaborative endeavor (or problem)?

One was very successful, and the other was much less so.

The most successful was the Clean Water Legacy Project where we formed a group which worked on creating a framework for addressing the state’s water quality issues, and then finding a source of funding. It took several years to figure this out, with all these interests, and they are still working together on it. It was a very successful process, and the legislature agreed with the legislation and eventually found a method to fund and provide resources to the state agencies and local governments. It’s an effort that will go on for many, many years and I think it’s a tremendous success.

The one that was more difficult was the Environmental Initiative stakeholder process on chemical regulation. The federal government, under the Toxic Substances Control Act, regulates hazardous substances. That law needed work for a long time, and Congress was not able to do it, and there were efforts for the state regulation of chemicals—so we brought the stakeholders together.

It was a very interesting process, but there was not significant consensus that came out of it. One thing that did occur after the fact was that Congress eventually did pass amendments to the Toxic Substance Control Act which are now being implemented and hopefully the situation will improve.

As you look at these issues over time, one factor of success is getting the timing right. At the time in which we were working on the chemical issue, the timing wasn’t exactly right. With air and water quality, everybody moved together.

What advice would you give those currently working in the environmental sector?

My advice would be that environmental professionals and volunteers need to get to know each other. Everybody kind of works in a different environment, representing different interests. One of the things that I’ve discovered over the years is that people need to get together and get to know each other and get to know the issues that are of concern to them. Even though you may not be working at the top level of policymaking, even if you’re an engineer working on a permit, or you’re a volunteer working in your community—all the folks affecting the issue need to get together and talk. It doesn’t need to be done regarding a specific issue, and just the professional relationships that can develop and can be helpful later when folks are in a situation of conflict.

Your favorite Environmental Initiative memory… (serious, funny, impactful… your choice!)

The memory that I have is being a member of Environmental Initiative’s board of directors back in 2003. We brought this question of creating a collaborative process on water quality (The Clean Water Legacy Project) to the board, and there was a lot of concern about that at the time. Environmental Initiative had been focusing on a lot on dialogue and bringing people together to talk about the issues, and now we were talking about something very different, which was actually trying to find solutions in an elaborate process. It hadn’t been tried before at the organization.

I remember the board meeting where that decision was made. The board eventually came around and made the decision that, ‘Yes, we need to go forward.’ I think that changed Environmental Initiative from that day forward. We worked on The Clean Water Legacy Project for three or four years, it was successful, and it developed the organization’s experience in how to collaborate. It was the genesis of the collaborative effort in Minnesota, and it worked. The air quality process (Clean Air Minnesota) went from there, the solid waste collaboration, the chemical dialogue—so there are huge successes that came out of that first collaborative endeavor in 2003.


A note from Environmental Initiative
In honor of our 25th Anniversary, we’re taking the time to acknowledge those who’ve been essential and influential in Minnesota’s environmental community. In addition to celebrating outstanding projects, we’re also recognizing the leaders that have helped us get to this point, and those that will continue to improve our community.

Damian Goebel

POSTED BY:

Communications Director

Ron Nargang: Critical Collaborator Award Recipient

April 4th, 2017

Ron Nargang is one of two recipients of the Critical Collaborator award, recognizing an individual over the age of 50 who has used partnership and collaboration to achieve positive and lasting environmental outcomes. At the time of his retirement, Ron Nargang was the State Director for the Minnesota Chapter of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), but he’s also held high level positions at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

He also has extensive experience in the formulation, passage, and implementation of public policy initiatives, playing a key role in the Reinvest In Minnesota Program, Wetlands Conservation Act, and Groundwater Protection Act. You can read more about his professional career on our awards page. We hope you join us in honoring Ron at the 25th Anniversary Environmental Initiative Awards ceremony on Thursday, May 25. Purchase your tables and/or seats today »

We have two Critical Collaborator recipients this year, and I got to sit down with them both and talk about their career, passions, and get their advice for those currently working on environmental issues.

SITTING DOWN WITH RON NARGANG

Where do you see the most opportunity for collaborative action on the environment in Minnesota?

This has got to be a difficult time for anyone in the trenches doing this work right now, particularly those trying to do things collaboratively.

I guess I would be inclined to say, in this environment, to look at things that are very provable by science so that you can get truth on the table. Focus on things that are compelling—like any issues related to public health or to water. I certainly think water continues to be an issue that people understand and have a pure concern about because it’s so inherently essential to all of us and everything we do. I’d be looking for something like that that doesn’t have as much gray area associated with it like some of the other environmental issues do.

You’ve been involved with Environmental Initiative for a long time, and your legacy has shaped the way we work and what we value. What made you invest so much of your time into this organization?

I’ve operated on a collaborative basis my whole career, and it was kind of refreshing to find an organization that really built their entire purpose around collaboration and cooperation between parties that are often adversarial. The business community and environmental community, and regulators. I think Environmental Initiative is unique in that respect. There may be a lot of other organizations that have warm fuzzy words built into their mission and philosophies, but I just think that Environmental Initiative distinguishes itself by being totally committed to collaboration. It’s refreshing and proved to be quite successful. It was easy.

What success are you most proud of in your career? Why? 

It would be really tough for me to answer anything but the Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge for a whole lot of reasons. It was a tremendous resource management opportunity but it happened to be set in the middle of a place that was hard for conservation—politically. It was intimidating from a cost standpoint because you just didn’t have an individual that was standing there with a deep enough pocket to say, “We’ll take this thing on.” It took some creative approaches to generate operating dollars and restoration money and while still recovering costs so that organizations could put money back into other projects.

During the Bush Administration, this was the only National Wildlife Refuge created administratively— I think Congress may have created a couple of small ones. Getting done with that and being able to sit down with county commissioners, local farmers, environmentalists, agency staff… having everybody feeling good about something like that… and using it as an economic development opportunity for the whole area… that one feels really good to me. Read more about Glacial Ridge here »

What advice would you give those currently working in the environmental sector? 

Train for endurance. I think it’s going to be a bumpy ride. This is not unusual—we’ve seen ebb and flow on environmental issues all through the last few decades. We’ve seen high points with the passage of the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, and we’ve seen low points. I think it’s going to be a rough patch for a while. I think the best advice is to keep the faith, cling to the science, and present it as the truth. Keep selling that— that we need to deal with truth on these issues and not let emotions and hearsay dictate what happens.

Your favorite Environmental Initiative memory…

As I thought about it, it’s not one specific event but it’s something that I always watched for and marveled at while doing stakeholder processes. It was to see the emergence of who the leaders were going to be in each one of those processes because every single time, when you’ve got a successful one, it’s because out of the group around that table, somebody steps up and moves the rest. It’s a powerful moment to watch that happen in a group, and I never could predict who might be the one, but it was always such a joy to watch it happen. You could literally see in a matter of moments a transformation in a process and suddenly you’re headed down a different road.

A good example would be the Mercury Reduction Project. It was rough, and the industries weren’t too anxious, particularly the mining industry. But, Xcel Energy stepped up and they laid out what they were going to commit— and then demanded that others do the same. You had to kind of wonder, have they got the gravitas to pull this off? But the way it was presented, the people presenting it, the tension in the room… it was successful. That was the turning point in that process.

There’s always that sort of profound moment that happens, and as I thought back on it, those were the things that tickled me! You knew you had a good one when it happened, and you were going to get a good outcome.


A note from Environmental Initiative
In honor of our 25th Anniversary, we’re taking the time to acknowledge those who’ve been essential and influential in Minnesota’s environmental community. In addition to celebrating outstanding projects, we’re also recognizing the leaders that have helped us get to this point, and those that will continue to improve our community.

Damian Goebel

POSTED BY:

Communications Director

Member of the Month: Best Buy

April 3rd, 2017

At Best Buy, we are thrilled to be Environmental Initiative’s member of the month. As Environmental Initiative celebrates 25 years, I want to reflect on the organization’s impact both on Best Buy as well as the greater Twin Cities community.

 

When Best Buy began our sustainability journey a decade ago, Environmental Initiative was one of the first organizations we sought out to help guide our strategy and have continued to be a trusted resource in the years since.

I see Environmental Initiative as the convener of environmental thought leaders in Minnesota. The team has built a solid network of organizations who seek to drive sustainability forward. We are part of a unique community, with 16 Fortune 500 companies in the metro area, yet a close-knit group of individuals. Perhaps it’s our Midwest values-driven organizations, but there is a small-town feeling within our sustainability community. I can pick up the phone and call my environmental counterparts at any organization in town, thanks in part to the network Environmental Initiative helped build.

Not only does Environmental Initiative connect large companies, but also brings together smaller companies, academics and government agencies, facilitating conversations on topics that affect all of us, like smart transportation, sustainable consumption and renewable energy. I appreciate the variety of programming, which engages members of my team at all levels. From the case studies presented at the Business and Environment Series, to the more specialized Sustainability Practitioners Roundtable to the advocacy-focused Policy Forums, I see a common thread of collaboration and problem-solving throughout.

 

I’m excited about the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition, an Environmental Initiative-led partnership of 30 businesses working together to advance the circular economy. One aspect of the work focuses on renewable energy, a topic Best Buy is deeply connected with, as 12 percent of our 45 percent carbon reduction goal is dedicated to renewables. By facilitating an open discussion with energy providers, Environmental Initiative has helped advance green tariff design that aligns with the energy and carbon reduction goals of our respective companies.

Congratulations Environmental Initiative, on 25 years of convening, educating, advocating for the environment. We are proud to be on this journey with you.

Alexis Ludwig-Vogen

POSTED BY:

Director, Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability, Best Buy
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