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Archive for June, 2017

Tannie Eshenaur: Collaborative Champion for Environmental Health

June 28th, 2017

There are many ways to define a champion. As someone who primarily follows and supports policy development and implementation, to me the most important “champions” in the environmental community are those leaders who share our organizational values. Particularly, the approach to decision making with the belief that we are better together— that diverse perspectives create stronger, lasting solutions for our environment.

In my years working with public-sector leaders across the full spectrum of “environmental” issues, there is a small group of individuals who stand out as true believers in that approach. Tannie Eshenaur is one of those individuals, and she came immediately to mind as a champion—through example—of someone who works each day to develop collaborative solutions to Minnesota’s environmental problems.

TANNIE ESHENAUR, ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL

Tannie grew up in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh and came to Minnesota to attend college. Following graduate school, she and her family lived for 13 years in Ethiopia, where Tannie provided health education about water and sanitation as part of a village water supply project and later taught the national language, Amharic, to new expatriates. Tannie came to the Minnesota Department of Health in 2001 and worked in the Site Assessment and Consultation Unit, specializing in risk communication for communities affected by environmental exposures to hazardous substances. Tannie currently works as Planning Director for Drinking Water Protection.

WHY PARTNERSHIP AND COLLABORATION MATTER, IN HER OWN WORDS:

Why do you believe that taking a collaborative approach to problem solving is important or valuable?
During our 13 years in community development in Ethiopia, we quickly learned that our technical expertise was not enough. The villagers had unique insight into their situations and social structures that was essential to the success and sustainability of our work. At first learning through them seemed to slow down our work – lots of cups of coffee and long conversations – but knowing their culture, dreams, and challenges helped us work together with them to create water supplies that fit their unique situations. The ultimate test was when we had to evacuate due to war for a year. When we returned, we discovered that the villagers had protected their water supplies when the government troops fled and then again when the rebels came through. In most parts of the country, development projects were destroyed in the struggle. Genuine collaboration means that all participants own the solutions; while there is give and take, each participant’s investment in the process increases their continuing commitment to the success of that work.

Here in Minnesota, we have a rich history and strong values that support a collaborative approach to problem solving, but we don’t always automatically draw on those strengths. No one perspective is enough to create durable, acceptable solutions that will endure into our shared future.

Why is it important to “hear all voices” when making decisions, particularly in the field of environmental health?
Environmental Health falls at the intersection of public health and environmental protection. That means that there are many, many different goals, missions, science disciplines, skills, and strengths at the table. Our goal is to create the conditions in which communities can be healthy. That means all sectors are appropriate for us to engage in; anywhere there is water, air, soil, food, or the built environment – we are engaged.

How did you first become involved with (or aware of) Environmental Initiative?
Even though Minnesota is my home, so many years spent in Ethiopia meant I was essentially a “newcomer” when I started working in Environmental Health here. Environmental Initiative’s forums were a great classroom for me to learn about the various partners engaged in issues and the many perspectives they bring to solving our environmental health challenges.

Environmental Initiative structures their forums so that key leaders and scientists are brought together with the environmental community for learning and discussion. I can be brought up to speed on an issue or concern in a morning or an afternoon. And, Environmental Initiative is careful to include time for networking, so in the same morning or afternoon, I can connect with current or future partners for collaboration. There’s also often national speakers or legislators that I would not otherwise be able to hear from.

In your opinion, what is the most important environmental issue that we should be seeking collaborative solutions to in Minnesota? Why?
Well, of course I’m going to point to Minnesota’s drinking water! We are rich in water and have an outstanding record of compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act – better than 99% year in and year out. But that very success can sabotage our future if we continue to take safe drinking water for granted. We should look to our Midwest neighbor states, learn from them, and take steps now to address the challenges they’ve faced. We need to ask the question, “Could this happen here?” Think of Des Moines and nitrate, Charleston and contaminant spills, Toledo and harmful algal blooms, and Flint’s infrastructure challenges. At MDH we are working hard to protect our drinking water sources and prevent these threats from becoming our reality, but we can’t do it alone. Minnesota’s drinking water future depends on many partners in drinking water protection – cities, homeowners, businesses, farmers, local government, water operators and residential well owners – each has a part to play in ensuring safe and sufficient drinking water.


A note from Environmental Initiative:
In honor of Environmental Initiative’s 25th anniversary, 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.

Meleah Houseknecht

POSTED BY:

Director, Environmental Policy

Paris Withdrawal Won’t Stop Business Sustainability

June 27th, 2017

In the wake of the United States leaving the Paris Climate Agreements, many states, cities, and individual companies have taken pledges to continue sustainability efforts. In Minnesota, we’re lucky to have major companies and thought leaders stand firm in their commitment to environmental protection, including many members of the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition.

In an effort to work toward a circular economy, environmental protection and stewardship must be a high priority. Several Coalition members have issued public statements and/or been in public support of the Paris Climate Agreements, demonstrating the leadership in our community on environmental issues.

The fact is, a commitment to the Paris Agreements, and more broadly our environment, is a smart business decision no matter your priorities.

STAYING GLOBALLY COMPETITIVE

One of the main reasons that companies and government entities are still following through with climate promises is to stay competitive. Cargill issued a statement reflecting their need to remain globally competitive, concluding that the Paris accords impact “trade, economic vitality, the state of our environment, and relationships amongst the world community.” Because of this, CEO David MacLennan said Cargill will not back away from efforts
to reduce climate change.

General Mills and several leading companies (Google, Walmart, Unilever, and more) echoed that sentiment with a letter to the President to express why the Paris Climate Agreements are important to their ability to compete globally: “the agreement ensures a more balanced global effort, reducing the risk of competitive imbalances for U.S. companies.”

INNOVATION & OPEN MARKETS

Part of being globally competitive is practicing innovation. The Paris Climate Agreements helped companies to innovate and create technologies that lower business costs. That new technology allows companies to enter new markets and keep markets open. Dow commented on how they will act in light of the executive decision, saying they will “continue to advocate for smart policies that enable the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions and ensure that global markets stay open to American exports and innovation.”

Thomson Reuters also commented on the importance of climate innovation: “In short, having a sustainability strategy integrated into your business model is an efficiency, growth and innovation driver.”

COMMITTING TO CUSTOMERS

In addition to economic arguments, Xcel Energy made a more values-driven appeal. In an op-ed, Xcel’s CEO calls out the value of their customers, and responding to their interests in achieving a higher standard of environmental protection. As a result, Xcel is already on a “path to reduce carbon emissions by 45%
by 2021, well ahead of the U.S.-Paris commitment.”

Best Buy also highlighted what they’re doing in response to customer interests, saying, “Best Buy is focused on reducing our own carbon impact, and helping our customers use less energy as well… Collective action will result in a healthier world for generations to come.”

THE BOTTOM LINE

In the end, Minnesota businesses and corporations are dedicated to the environment for more than just regulatory reasons. Investing in environmental protection is a smart business decision. Even more than that, private-sector leaders see lessened environmental protections as harmful to their organizations and global markets as a whole.

These businesses, our state, and many others are still committed to action on the environment. It’s because of that leadership that we can still look forward to climate action for years to come.

Sam Hanson

POSTED BY:

Director, Sustainability Program

Four ways to support a quarter-century’s worth of work

June 19th, 2017

All I can say is “wow.” The amount of energy and support we’ve received in response to our 25th Anniversary has been humbling. Seeing the last quarter-century of our work to build community to solve environmental problems, many folks have been asking about ways they can contribute to our future successes.

And it’s a great question! We’re in the middle of our mid-year giving campaign with the goal of raising $25,000 by the end of June. We try to offer a variety of giving options so you can contribute in a way that makes sense for you.

MEMBERSHIP

Becoming an individual or organizational member is the most effective way to contribute—your dollars go a little longer and you get special benefits. You can choose the amount you give over the course of a year, and depending on the amount, we gift you anything from a feature on our blog to free tickets to our events.

ONE TIME DONATION

If you’re already a member, fantastic! Our giving campaign is until the end of June, and we’re trying to raise a little extra. Consider a membership renewal if you’ve lapsed or a one-time donation to support the next 25 years of our work. Your gift supports event programs, consensus-based solutions, and projects that protect our air, land and water. Give today »

Attendees at the 2013 Commissioners ForumATTEND OR SPONSOR AN EVENT

In addition to the annual Environmental Initiative Awards, we hold the Business & Environment Series three times a year and the Policy Forum series four times a year. Basically, you can get current information on environmental trends and challenges while also supporting our work. Consider attending or sponsoring the Business & Environment Series or the Policy Forums »

WORKPLACE GIVING

For those that want cross-organizational impact, Environmental Initiative is also part of the Minnesota Environmental Fund (MEF), a workplace giving option that supports 19 environmental groups throughout Minnesota. Does this sound like something your workplace would be interested in? Get more information here »

We know you’re committed to our work and mission, and we want to find the giving options that work for you, whatever the level. You can contact me at sseymour@environmental-initiative.org or at 612-334-3388 ext. 8108 for more information.

Sacha Seymour-Anderson

POSTED BY:

Development Director

Member of the Month: Wenck

June 5th, 2017

Wenck is excited and honored to be featured as Environmental Initiative’s member of the month for June, and it is our pleasure to congratulate Environmental Initiative on its 25th Anniversary. Having just celebrated 30 years in the business ourselves, we understand how meaningful a milestone like 25 years is.

Throughout the years, Wenck has and continues to make a significant investment sponsoring Environmental Initiative. Why? Because Environmental Initiative is about delivering positive outcomes through collaboration and partnership which directly resonates with our core values. Both Wenck and Environmental Initiative are outcome-oriented organizations which focus on providing solutions that benefit the environment, the organizations we serve, as well as the communities we serve in. This alignment of values and outcomes is significantly enhanced through the connectedness that Environmental Initiative fosters like no other.

Wenck is proud to be a sponsor of Environmental Initiative’s Policy Forum Series, the Business and Environment Series, as well as a founding member of the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition.  All three platforms are rooted within Environmental Initiative, and together, and separately, help to educate, ideate, connect, and deliver positive and sustaining benefits to the region.

Congratulations again on 25 amazing years. On behalf of all of us at Wenck, we look forward to another 25 years of partnership, collaboration, and delivery of exceptional outcomes.


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

POSTED BY:

Vice President, Wenck
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