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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

Reducing “Junk Mail”: Our Lessons Learned

June 22nd, 2015

About a year ago, in an effort to be more “environmental” at the office, I decided to take on a little pet project of my own – reducing JUNK MAIL. I know, I know, those two little words are cringe worthy, which means it’s worth tackling, right?

Whether at home or at the office, we are all inundated with unwanted mail. And although it’s hard to resist the temptation to simply throw it all junk mailin the recycling bin, it’s totally worth it once your mailbox is filled with mail you actually enjoy receiving (besides bills, of course).

Today, as I celebrate removing Environmental Initiative from 100 different direct mail lists, here are a few tips I learned along the way.

  • Keep a log of who sent the mail, who it’s addressed to, and the date you requested removal. It can take a few months to process so it’s good to keep track of your efforts.
  • Be persistent. Sometimes it takes multiple emails or phone calls but the satisfaction is worth it in the end, trust me.
  • Although it might not have been “junk” at one time, be sure to request removal of all former employees.
  • If you receive several copies of the same mailing, request to receive only one to circulate around the office.
  • Think about what your organization is sending. Are there ways to consolidate or eliminate the materials you mail?
  • And finally, celebrate your waste reduction successes with your colleagues!

Reducing unwanted mail is just one example of the things we’re doing at Environmental Initiative to keep our office green. To learn more about other ways businesses are reducing waste, check out information about our Waste Reduction Collaborative or contact me anytime.

 

Dani Schurter

POSTED BY:

Project Manager

Environmental Initiative Staff Tour the ‘HERC’

December 10th, 2014

When Pete Swenson at Tennant Company invited us to join members of their operations team on a tour of the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center, I could barely type “YES!” fast enough. After working on the Waste Reduction Collaborative project for the past 10 months, an opportunity to see first hand where our community’s waste goes was definitely on the top of my list.

The HERC – Hennepin Energy Recovery Center – is a refuse-fired electric generating facility. Meaning, this is Group photo of staff in hard hatswhere 35% percent of Hennepin County’s waste – both residential and commercial – is burned as fuel to generate electricity. You’ve probably seen it without realizing as it’s located adjacent to Target Field.

As Pete mentioned in his initial email, the experience was definitely “eye-opening.” As I stood above the pit, the location where trash haulers dump their day’s collection, I tried to grasp the magnitude of waste that our society generates. But after watching truck after truck unload, and scoop after scoop of waste being added to the boilers, it wasn’t hard to understand.

Besides being saddened and overwhelmed by the extreme volume of waste, I stood there and reflected on what I could do to help the problem. I decided to pledge to think more critically, and encourage others to as well, about what we are throwing away. Instead of mindlessly tossing our trash into the bin (I’m guilty too), let’s actually pay attention.

For example, did you know that the HERC still receives tires, appliances, electronics, and aluminum cans on a daily basis? All of these items cause tremendous problems at HERC. At the same time, they all have reputable, mainstream recycling options available. Let’s be mindful and use them!

We also learned that wet, organic material doesn’t mix well with the boiler. What if we helped out the HERC and got our organics out of the waste stream? I encourage you to talk with your local county to explore options for organics collection in your area.

And finally, if you have a group that could use an “eye-opener” sign-up to take a tour of HERC. I promise it will be worth your time.

Dani Schurter

POSTED BY:

Project Manager

Reflections from the Net Impact Conference

November 11th, 2014

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Net Impact Conference – a forum for students and professionals to come together to tackle the world’s toughest social and environmental problems. As a board member of NetNet Impact Conference Logo Impact Minneapolis, I’ve been gearing up for the conference since March. Although it came and went by in the blink of an eye, here are the top three things I took away:

Community. As I prepared for the conference, I envisioned myself moving from breakout to breakout, networking at the expo, and being inspired by the keynotes. What I wasn’t expecting was the true sense of community that surrounded me. From the very first keynote all the way to the closing party, you could feel the rich community around you. I felt the community presence most when I volunteered to help 3M put on a service activity. Over 100 people came together over 2 days during lunch to assemble 250 solar-powered lamps to send to families in Africa without reliable access to electricity. All I can say is the experience was truly heartwarming.

Leadership. Let’s just say I was blown away by our future leaders. As 60% off the conference attendees are undergraduate or graduate students, I had the pleasure of rubbing elbows with these extremely passionate and well-educated (future) leaders. There is no doubt in my mind that the next generation of environmentalists is ready to tackle the challenges ahead of us face on.

Leading by example. After working on the Waste Reduction Collaborative for almost a year, you could say waste is always on my mind. I was so impressed to not only see the Minneapolis Convention Center collecting organics for compost but also seeing their extremely robust collection system. I never saw a lone garbage can the entire time! I know it may seem small, but I applaud our regions efforts to lead by example. Knowing the community that surrounded me, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who noticed our efforts.

Did you attend the Net Impact conference? What did you take away from the event? Send me an email or leave a comment here. If you missed it, you can catch the keynote and some of the session presentations on Net Impact’s website.

I hope to see you at next year’s conference.

Dani Schurter

POSTED BY:

Project Manager

What’s New With the Waste Reduction Collaborative

June 13th, 2014

As we look ahead to a summer filled with continued outreach, education, and developing solutions to businesses’ most challenging waste problems, I’d like to reflect on the great work we’ve done so far with members of the Waste Reduction Collaborative.

At our first meeting of the year we welcomed Trudy Richter, with the Solid Waste Management Coordinating Board (SWMCB), to help decode waste hauler contracts and invoices. A commercial recycling study commissioned by SWMCB found that many businesses are not familiar with hauler contract terms, invoice components, or even the price difference between trash and recycling services. Trudy offered tangible takeaways to help businesses understand their contracts and work with their hauler to truly get services tailored to their particular business needs.

Taking a more innovative waste management approach, our May meeting focused on by-product synergy – a model in which one company’s waste can be used in a novel way as a resource or input for another company. The collaborative was led through a “Meet Your Match” exercise (think speed dating) to look for synergies between companies waste materials and inputs. Members left the meeting not only feeling energized to look at waste in a new light but also understanding the true power of collaborative solutions.

Although our large meetings focus mostly on dialogue, we are also working to bring real action to the Waste Reduction Collaborative. Drawing on the knowledge of our members, local county and state staff, and waste experts with the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program and Minnesota Waste Wise, we are working to develop and implement collaborative waste projects that alone may not feasible but together solve the problem. A few of our current action projects include: working with businesses in Golden Valley to create an organics collection route, developing a plan to bring compostable take-out ware to businesses in Saint Paul, and researching landfill-alternatives to Styrofoam and polyester.

We look forward to continuing helping Minnesota businesses work together on creative solutions to manage their waste.

If you are interested in learning more about this project, want to join the collaborative, or have a great idea for a waste project, please contact me.

Dani Schurter

POSTED BY:

Project Manager

Introducing Dani Schurter, Senior Environmental Project Associate

January 30th, 2014

My name is Dani Schurter and I’m thrilled to be the newest member of Environmental Initiative as the Senior Environmental Project Associate.

I first became intrigued with work in the environmental field in college, when I took a course about the human impact on land and wildlife. My desire to work towards a better future was cemented upon completing a paper on the conservation of the loggerhead sea turtle. I was hooked – they are just too cute!

As a Minnesota native, it was great to start my career creating healthy homes for Minnesotans.  Working as a program developer for Minnesota’s premier residential green building program, I worked with contractors, remodelers, architects and homeowners to create beautiful, sustainable houses that will be enjoyed for generations to come.

For the past two years, I enjoyed all the windy city had to offer while working at the Lincoln Park Zoo. As a planning manager, I worked to bring in new species, renovate exhibits and develop new programs to enhance the guest experience as we connected visitors to nature. I will miss my zoo friends – the playful polar bear, the beautiful giraffes and of course the king of the jungle, the lions – but I am grateful to return to the Twin Cities.

I am incredibly excited to join the Environmental Initiative team and work with businesses on sustainability.

Dani Schurter

POSTED BY:

Project Manager
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