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Archive for December, 2017

Why I (Still) Work at Environmental Initiative

December 13th, 2017

The growing divisions of our times cut both ways for the work of Environmental Initiative. While the demand for collaborative work is greater than ever before, at the same time it has never been more challenging to bring Minnesotans together across differences in politics, in perspective, and in interest. That makes for work that is especially rewarding but also deeply frustrating when those divisions block progress.

Early one morning this past summer, Bill Droessler and I sat outside across the street from our office for our usual weekly check-in on progress, partners, and potential problems. Bill is the longest tenured Environmental Initiative staff member, other than me, and he is the architect of our clean air work, including some of the projects that make me most proud to be associated with this organization, like Project Green Fleet and Project Stove Swap.

I usually start check-in meetings with staff by asking what we need to talk about, but that morning I instead asked Bill “why do you still work here after all of these years?” His answer was surprising to me, but it resonated deeply. I won’t try to capture Bill’s answer here, but I would encourage you to ask him that
question yourself.

Bill then asked the same question of me. Now, I have a standard answer to that question, which is heartfelt, but also well practiced. What I have said for years is that I feel gifted to have had the opportunity to work in an organization that so strongly shares my core values and where my particular talents are so aligned with what the community looks to the organization to provide. It’s a gift that I never take for granted.

But that morning, I said something else. I said that now is not a time to settle or to aim low. No matter how well we have done in the past, what important differences we have already made in the world, it cannot be enough in the face of growing divisions. Where I need to be now is an organization that is constantly stretching and reaching to make a bigger difference, even when it means taking greater personal and professional risk.

In its soul, that’s the kind of organization Environmental Initiative is– one that strives to transcend its own limitations and to take on new challenges that push us into uncharted territory, even when we must do so at the risk of failure. This is exactly what we are doing as we reorient ourselves toward equity and environmental justice, and in the action-oriented work of the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition and Clean Air Minnesota, and in our work to build powerful partnerships between farmers, food companies, agricultural retailers and watershed organizations, in so many other projects at this time. At our best, Environmental Initiative is an organization that is driving to new horizons, doubling down and working ever harder for collaboration and common cause, and doing so despite society’s apparent movement in the opposite direction.

Rising to the Challenge

This is why I have stayed at Environmental Initiative all of these years, and why I stay now when the work is harder than ever before. I know that this is also why our members support us even when their own resources are stressed, and why our partners choose to work with us to make their difference in the world. Environmental Initiative’s success is always dependent on how seriously our members and partners engage, and how each of you leans into our work. We are all being challenged to step up our efforts for collaboration in these divided times, and there is no better place to do that work than with Environmental Initiative.

I hope you help us rise to the challenge of these times by contributing to our year-end fundraising campaign. We need your continued support so we can address the next set of environmental challenges we face and to ensure a healthy environment, a prosperous economy and an equitable society. Thanks to the generosity of our current and past Board of Directors, we have a $20,000 match to double your gift between now and December 31st.

Mike Harley


Executive Director

Minnesota Companies are Shaping our Clean Energy Future

December 7th, 2017

The Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition is on the cutting edge of the corporate clean energy purchasing trend. According to GreenBiz, “more than 80 of the world’s largest corporations [have committed] to 100 percent renewable energy… As the list of completed projects grows, the trend initiated by leading companies is moving beyond the early adopters to the mainstream.” The Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition seeks to lead our state toward increased renewables purchasing and new clean energy option development.

Recently, the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition took a huge step forward in our corporate renewable energy procurement work by hosting Renewables Purchasing: Corporate Leadership through Clean Energy. The workshop, broken into two sessions, brought together Coalition member companies and Minnesota’s business sustainability leaders at Best Buy’s corporate office to determine what renewable energy procurement options members may want to pursue individually and collectively.


The first session focused on utility-based purchasing options. To lead the discussion, Environmental Initiative brought in Letha Tawney with World Resources Institute (WRI), an international expert in working closely with leaders to turn big ideas into action to sustain our natural resources.

WRI gave an overview of Minnesota’s electricity regulatory context, which constrains the options available to corporate purchasers, and facilitated utility-customer discussions to uncover the values and priorities of corporate customers and identify ways to improve future offerings. Through this discussion, members explored barriers to purchasing and the potential to develop unique green tariff products.


The afternoon session was facilitated by Mark Porter and Ali Rotatori with Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), and internationally renowned expert in accelerating the adoption of market-based solutions that cost-effectively shift from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewables. Coalition members received an overview of non-utility purchasing options and Virtual Power Purchase Agreements (VPPAs), including market basics, financial considerations, and understanding risk. In addition, attendees explored the internal decision-making process required to execute a renewable energy deal. Ultimately, a VPPA is a financial agreement that requires the involvement of a variety of company functions– from energy managers to the CFO.


From here, Coalition companies and utilities are actively engaged in creating new, easier ways for private entities to purchase renewables, including exploring creating new options. These discussions will not only help companies meet their individual renewable energy goals, but it adds more sustainable sources of energy to the system, opening up opportunities for others outside of the Coalition.

In addition, members will explore the potential to aggregate our purchasing demand. Overall, we’re excited to continue our renewable energy purchasing pursuit with Minnesota’s leading companies and sustainability leaders.

Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition members know that, collectively, we have the power to not only add renewables to the grid, but also demonstrate clean energy leadership in our region. Ultimately, we believe there is a clear and undeniable need for businesses to work together to achieve environmental goals and advance our vision for a circular economy that runs on 100% renewable energy.

If you want to learn more about how utilities’ Integrated Resource Planning (IRP) process could evolve to accommodate a more diverse electric generation system, changing consumer demands, and a more efficient, more renewable, and lower-carbon grid, check out our upcoming Policy Forum: The Evolution of Utility Resource Planning: Designing for Disruption.

This workshop was a continuation of the Coalition’s clean energy work on renewable procurement. You can view the slides from both the morning and afternoon sessions. Earlier this year, we set the foundation for members to talk about potential actions through a webinar focused on the best practices in corporate clean energy purchasing.

Stephanie Weir


Project Manager

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