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Celebrate Energy Innovation with Great Plains Institute

October 5th, 2017

Environmental Initiative has a long history of convening professionals in the energy and clean energy sectors, so we’re excited to tell you about an upcoming event in our community on renewables and energy innovation.

Great Plains Institute (GPI) is hosting their annual Energy Innovation Celebration on October 11 at the Landmark Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota. GPI has been a valued partner of ours in a lot of different ways—through the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition and helping us plan countless Policy Forums. We’re excited that they also embrace our shared values of Courageous Innovation and Better Together within the energy sector.

October 11, 2017
11:00 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Landmark Center, St. Paul, MN


The event will include a variety of activities, panelists, and topics surrounding city commitment to clean energy and private-sector roles. An agenda, speakers list, and other details about the event can be found on GPI’s website.

Environmental Initiative will be there, and we hope to see you there, too!

Mike Harley


Executive Director

From the Executive Director: Where do we go from here?

February 13th, 2017

On February 6, 1992, Environmental Initiative was born. If you do the math, you most likely know that we’re celebrating our 25th anniversary this year, but what does that mean? How do you capture what we’ve learned from a quarter-century’s worth of work, and then make it better?

Luckily, I’ve stuck around this organization for a while, so I know the whole story! Environmental Initiative began when Brett Johnson and Dan Carr were inspired to gather decision makers from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to solve environmental issues together. Others, including our first Executive Director, Ciaran Mannion, and our founding board made up of leaders from Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Northern States Power, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, amongst others, were essential to turn that idea into reality. At the time, it felt revolutionary.

Since then, we’ve had a significant impact on Minnesota’s environment. We’re removing the air pollution equivalent of 750,000 cars from the road every year through Project Green Fleet and we helped set the stage for the passage of the Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment, amongst many other accomplishments.

Of course, we want to celebrate all the great work we’ve done together so far. You don’t turn 25 everyday after all. The annual Environmental Initiative Awards will be held on May 25, 2017, and we hope you will join us to honor the people and organizations working collaboratively to improve our environment and celebrate 25 years of our shared success.

We’ve been fortunate that, over the years, we’ve been able to bring together thousands of people for hundreds of conversations that have concerned all of our lives. Now is the time to celebrate our 25 years. But, in many ways, it feels like we’re just getting started.


Our 25th anniversary year will be an exciting one. It’s powerful to look back at what we’ve done and allow it to shape where we’re going. I wrote a year ago about why I’m still here after 20 years. All of that still holds true, and I look forward to pushing us to build even better collaborations and partnerships in the years ahead. We have a proven track record of bringing different sectors together, but to create truly lasting solutions that work for everyone, we need to be responsive to everyone’s views and concerns.

If you’ve ever heard me speak about this organization, you know I reference being “better together”— this is my way of saying that I don’t have all the answers. It’s really all of you, and the variety of perspectives you bring, that make us successful. We gather your passions, knowledge, and ideas to talk through and solve issues that affect us all.

But what good is “better together” if historically marginalized voices aren’t included in environmental solutions? We know that environmental problems disproportionately affect people of color, lower income individuals, and the elderly. This year and for years to come, we’re dedicating resources to better incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion into our work and mission. This is not only something we want to do, but something we must do to ensure the long-term health and prosperity of Minnesota’s people, economy and environment.

I know that many of our friends, partners and members care deeply about addressing the disparities that affect Minnesotans. I would like to invite anyone interested in helping us find our way forward to reach out and call me. This is a journey we are excited to start this year and know it will carry us into our next 25 years.

Mike Harley


Executive Director

Your Support is Needed, Now More Than Ever

December 22nd, 2016

How many times have you heard that phrase during the waning weeks of 2016?

I’ve written and said it myself hundreds of times since election day. As true as it is, and for so many worthy causes, it becomes hard for any of us to remain open to all that is asked of us during this season of mass solicitation. The onslaught of sincere and compelling requests begins on Give to the Max Day and doesn’t let up until the new year arrives.

Nevertheless, we know Minnesotans are exceptionally generous and we dig deep to support good causes and essential services, even when we have given greatly already. We are fortunate the giving of meaningful gifts is so deeply embedded in our culture, and it makes a lot of great work possible here that can happen only here, or at least that must happen here first.

The radical generosity of Minnesotans is a norm in any year, but we also know this year is different for many of us. We know many Minnesotans feel discouraged by the state of politics in our country and are struggling with despair about our collective prospects for a cleaner environment, a stronger economy, and a more equitable society. It has become harder and harder for many of us to hold fast to the conviction that we can come together across differences to solve our shared problems.

“Better together” can be a tough sell these days, but that’s exactly what I have found myself having to do the past several weeks. I’ve talked to hundreds of individuals since election day, representing a wide range of political viewpoints and interests. So many of those conversations have gone to dark places, but only a few have stuck there.

The overwhelming response of our friends and partners has been one of resolve and renewed commitment to the values that are so Minnesotan and with which we describe Environmental Initiative’s work – better together, open exchange, stewardship, outcome-focused, and solutions driven. Many of you have told us the outcomes of this election cycle do not change the increasingly clear realities of what is required of responsible businesses, creative nonprofits, and dedicated government agencies, let alone the individuals who champion environmental solutions and the triple bottom line.



Starting on the morning of November 9, I heard over and over again that the shifting of political winds changes nothing about existing corporate sustainability commitments, nor the fundamental need for Minnesotans to find common ground and work collaboratively toward shared solutions through policy change. Many have spoken passionately to the fact that the only option for continued progress is in the engagement of diverse stakeholders, and especially in the partnership of sustainability leading businesses with the most creative and effective of our public servants.

I’ve been awestruck by how many of you have said yes to an additional contribution, often giving just what we ask, and sometimes even exceeding our request. Even when an additional financial contribution is not possible, I’ve had energizing conversations about opportunities for new projects and other important work to be done. Generally, I’ve interrupted your day to ask for your personal support in the form of individual membership, and I would understand if people were a little prickly or disinterested. On the contrary, the response is almost universally warm and understanding, and even appreciative. It reminds me that we are part of a community that is committed to working together and knows what is required to make that possible.

Mike.EOY1I’m grateful for all of your support, including your financial contributions at this important moment in Environmental Initiative’s work. As many of you know, any contribution between now and year-end will be matched dollar for dollar, so that the impact of your gift will be doubled. We still have $15,000 left to raise by year-end (that’s halfway!), so that we will have the resources required to rise to the challenge of this moment when our work is more critical than ever before.

I hope that you will be able to help us meet our goal and make it possible for Environmental Initiative to step up to the challenge of helping Minnesotans be better together when so much of our politics and culture would have us moving in the opposite direction.

The answer to what I mean when I say “now more than ever” is simple – now more than ever we need to remember that we are better together, and now more than ever we need to invest in the partnerships and relationships to put better together to work for a stronger Minnesota.

Mike Harley


Executive Director

16 Reasons to Give this Season

November 16th, 2016


Toward the end of every year, Environmental Initiative takes time to reflect and be thankful for our collaborative efforts. We’ve launched new projects, gathered business leaders, and informed serious policy decisions— but we cannot do what we do without you.

November 17 and 29, Give to the Max Day and Giving Tuesday, are two days of the year when individuals across the state make donations to the causes they care about. In 2016, our staff grew to 16 employees, so to celebrate we discussed 16 reasons to give to Environmental Initiative.

Here are our thoughts on the most important reasons to donate today:

The 16 Most Important Reasons to Give:

1. “No one can solve environmental problems alone, and we all have to help! We’re better together.” – Greg Bohrer, Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program

2. “I think our most exciting project right now is the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition. It’s an unprecedented venture, seeking a sustainable and renewable supply chain.” – Brian Columbus, Business Manager

3. “For those who believe in collaborative, inclusive, partnership-driven change, now is the time to support Minnesota’s best example of this behavior on environmental issues.” – Bill Droessler, Director, Air Program

4. “We’re an organization that truly works with people in mind. Our efforts have far-reaching health benefits for individuals living across the state.” – Rachel Dupree, Communications Associate

5. “We’re not a single issue nonprofit—we work to improve Minnesota’s air, land, water, public health, and energy practices. Your donation can mean a lot of different things.” – Emily Franklin, Communications Director

6. “Invest in innovation! We’re not afraid to try things that have never been done before.” – Ellen Gibson, Senior Director, Project and Programs

7. “Environmental Initiative is truly courageous in its approach. We are an organization of big thinkers and we deliver real results.” – Sam Hanson, Director, Sustainability

8. “Help us celebrate our 25 years of established and results-driven work with your support and partnership!” – Mike Harley, Executive Director

9. “Our policy programs are always changing, and your gift allows us to scope new projects and respond to community needs.” – Meleah Houseknecht, Director, Environmental Policy

10. “Now, more than ever, we need to work to find common ground to solve our state’s environmental problems.” – Erin Niehoff, Project and Administrative Assistant

11. “We’ll use your gift in the most responsible way possible for the greatest impact.” – Judd Larson, Chief Financial Officer

12. “We don’t say it because we’re “Minnesota nice,” but we’re the best at what we do. From consensus to execution, we are efficient, effective, and always striving to get better. I’m proud of the work we do and you should be too.” – Bjorn Olson, Senior Environmental Project Associate

13. “We don’t just pioneer projects, we also lift up the work of others. We seek out local environmental champions and honor them every year at the Environmental Initiative Awards.” – Andrea Robbins, Director, Designer and Engagement

14. “When you give to Environmental Initiative, it demonstrates that your values align with ours.” – Dani Schurter, Project Manager

15. “We bring people together that normally may not sit at the same table and work to build consensus, which is something the world needs more of these days.” – Sacha Seymour-Anderson, Director, Development

16. “In a time of division, Environmental Initiative cuts through disagreement, partisanship, and rhetoric to build lasting partnerships that lead to real, measurable environmental results.” – Mikey Weitekamp, Senior Project Manager

Mike Harley


Executive Director

Well Being and a Sustainable Future

October 10th, 2016

In the vast world of sustainability, the role of industry to change our future is becoming increasingly important. Though there are many ways to chart this course, designing and procuring sustainable buildings is a viable path toward corporate sustainability.

Additionally, better building designs can have major co-benefits in terms of staff retention, job performance, productivity, creativity, and the general health and well-being of individuals.

To shed light on the connection of buildings, health, and the environment, Interface and partners are hosting Well Being and a Sustainable Future, an evening event focused on these topics. Bill Browning and Paul Hawken will be speaking about the impacts of human health, the carbon equation, and environmental restoration.

This event is free, but registration is required. Learn more and register »


Thursday, November 3, 2016
6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

Pantages Theater
710 Hennepin Avenue
Minneapolis, MN

Directions and Registration »

We hope you will join us for this session and learn the connections between our environment and human health with Interface, Pulse Products, Fluid Interiors, MSR, and CBRE.

Mike Harley


Executive Director

From the Executive Director: Why Environmental Initiative?

November 10th, 2015

“Why are you still there?”

I’ll admit that I find this question jarring every time someone asks me. It’s not that it offends me, but it does take me off guard. I will also admit once I get past my surprise, the question reliably prompts some of the best conversations I get to have about why Environmental Initiative is important to me and important to the world.

MEI-MikeHarley.pho.jpgI’ve been doing this job for 19 years, and I can say without hesitation that I enjoy it even more today than when I first came back from India in 1996 to become Executive Director. I love this job and this organization. I love the commitment we make to human potential and power of community. I love our unfailing hopefulness that we will be better together than on our own, and I love being associated with the remarkable outcomes that we achieve. I pour my heart and soul into this organization, and I feel grateful for the opportunity to do it.

For me, this job is a labor of love, and the work of Environmental Initiative is exactly what this world needs as we strive for a healthier environment, a more equitable society and a more sustainable economy. Who would walk away from that? Not me, and I know that’s also true for the growing list of individuals who invest in this organization with their time, their talent and their money.

Each year at this time, I have the great fun of reconnecting with past board members, to both catch up and to ask for their renewed financial support of the organization. Some of these individuals “graduated” from the board as long as 15 years ago, and yet, they enthusiastically say yes when I ask them to contribute once again to the matching fund that our current and past board members create for our year-end individual giving campaign. (Our goal is to raise $15,000 from individuals between now and the end of the year – which will be matched dollar for dollar by our current and past board).

Past board members mostly talk to me about their appreciation for the work of the organization. They marvel at the impact we’ve had, while bemoaning the divided discourse that too often prevents society from making progress on our toughest problems, and then tell us to keep at it no matter how hard it gets. This is real vision and real commitment and it is no wonder that they continue to support us so generously.

And every so often when I get asked that pesky question, “Why are you still here?” It takes me a moment to recover from my surprise, and then I have a great conversation that almost always ends in an increased financial commitment to Environmental Initiative. I hope that you will do the same, and step up your support as we launch our 2015 year-end individual member campaign today.

Our current and past board of directors have contributed $15,000 to help us raise another $15,000 from individuals like you. There are three ways to give:

  • $5,000 – Dollar for dollar match for any gift scheduled or made on Give to the Max Day
  • $5,000 – Dollar for dollar match for annual membership contributions
  • $5,000 – Dollar for dollar match for monthly membership contributions

So, whether you join in the Give to the Max day donating fun, make an annual membership contribution, or give to Environmental Initiative monthly – your gift will be matched.

We’re only as strong as the individuals who invest in us and we cannot do our work without you. Thanks for all you do to make our work possible.

Mike Harley


Executive Director

Our Values: Helping Us Make the Tough Calls for our Environment

February 9th, 2015

If you’ve spent any time around Environmental Initiative over the past twenty-four years, I bet you have a pretty clear sense of our mission. Even if you couldn’t repeat the official mission statement word-for-word (who could?), I would be surprised if you didn’t know that we bring together business, government, and nonprofits to solve environmental problems through dialogue and partnership.

It’s true – that’s the essence of our mission and we have been a consistently mission-driven organization for nearly a quarter century. Our core valuesmission is the foundation of our identity and it enables us to do things that no other group can do for our environment and our community.
Without taking anything away from that mission-based identity, though, I would suggest that we are also a values-driven organization.

I began to say this more explicitly about a year ago, mostly in response to our being invited into more and more challenging work. At the same time, we realized it had been a good many years since our board and staff took the time to talk with each other about our values, let alone articulate them to our members, our partners, and the wider community.

Be careful what you ask for. As part of our regular strategic planning process in 2014, we opened a conversation about what core values guide our work and help us make the hard calls about projects, relationships, money, and impact. It was a little shocking how quickly our board and staff coalesced around a set of core values. The process and resulting set of values, which took place over a series of conversations, was a confirmation of our solid foundation, and it was the single most energizing experience of 2014 for me!


Mike Harley


Executive Director

Welcome New (Old) Staff

September 9th, 2014

We have been fortunate at Environmental Initiative to welcome two long-time friends back to our staff, each to take on a brand new role that has never before existed in our organization.  The result is a big boost to our capabilities to build innovative partnerships and to deliver on their potential to achieve superior environmental outcomes.

In my last blog post, I re-introduced Bill Droessler, who has returned as our Senior Director of Strategic Project Planning. Bill has a special talent for bringing partners together around common cause, building the will to act collaboratively and helping them organize to reach toward shared solutions. I think of him as our chief architect for environmental partnerships.

I am now happy to announce the return of Ellen Gibson as our Senior Director of Projects and Programs. Just as important as building the EllenBlogcommitment to collaboration and action is the capacity of our organization to deliver positive results. The will to act is crucial, but the success of that action in achieving environmental outcomes is Environmental Initiative’s fundamental reason for being. We are all about the outcomes.

Ellen’s new role will be to serve as superintendent of all of our projects, including those that fall within our clean air, sustainability, and agriculture programs. All project and program staff now report directly or indirectly to Ellen, and she will be responsible for ensuring that we do our best work consistently and that we maximize the potential for positive change through each of our projects. Ellen brings leadership in project design and execution, capacity building, program evaluation and organizational learning.


Mike Harley


Executive Director

Staffing Changes at Environmental Initiative

July 16th, 2014

I have some big news to share with you about our program staffing. This post is a little lengthy, but I hope you will read all the way through for news about new staff, returning staff, and a staff departure.


Greg Bohrer has joined our staff as the Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program. Greg previously served as the Outreach Director for Senator Amy Klobuchar. We are happy to have him on board to lead the Responsible Crop Certificate project. Check out Greg’s recent blog post to learn a little bit more about him and be sure to say hello!

Clean Air
Our collaborative work on air quality over the past two years is paying off, as new project opportunities to reduce emissions have continued to emerge and the Clean Air Minnesota partnership evolves. Given all of these developments, I’m excited to announce that Bill Droessler has returned to Environmental Initiative this week as Senior Director, Strategic Project Planning. Bill will be entirely focused on fundraising for new projects and developing new projects with an emphasis on air quality initiatives as a start. The addition of Bill to our staff will provide additional capacity for us to get projects funded and off the ground to reduce emissions. Gena Gerard will continue to lead our air program and manage the Clean Air Minnesota partnership. Both Bill and Gena are excited about working together to make the largest impact on Minnesota’s air quality possible.

I am not so excited to let you know that Georgia Rubenstein has accepted a position in New York City as Senior Sustainability Advisor at Forum for the Future and her last day with us will be July 15.  Forum for the Future is a UK-based nonprofit organization working globally with business and government to create a sustainable future. Their New York office opened in 2010.

I am grateful to Georgia for the six years that she has spent with Environmental Initiative. She will be sorely missed by our staff and partners. It was under her leadership that business sustainability came into its own as a new program area, and Georgia has embodied our mission and our values as much as anyone who has ever worked on our staff.

Georgia leaves our sustainability program in a strong position, and I look forward to building on her success working with Dani Schurter, Sacha Casillas, Judd Larson and the rest of our team.

If you have any questions about any of these changes, please feel free to contact me directly. We are sad to say farewell to Georgia, but are looking forward to pursuing many exciting opportunities with our new and current staff!

Mike Harley


Executive Director

Minnesota Environmental Fund Announces Cordelia Pierson as New Executive Director

July 10th, 2014

As many of you know, Environmental Initiative is one of more than twenty local environmental nonprofit organizations that belong to the Minnesota Environmental Fund. We’ve been a member since 2004 and have directly benefited from Minnesota Environmental Fund’s efforts to provide education and a vital payroll giving choice to employees who wish to support environmental causes through workplace giving campaigns. It’s amazing what a few dollars per paycheck can do to help Environmental Initiative realize our mission.

I’m proud to announce  Cordelia Pierson has recently been named Minnesota Environmental Fund’s new executive director. She succeedsExecutive Director, Cordelia Pierson Ed Marek who led the organization for more than a decade. I had the opportunity to be directly involved in the hiring process for this extremely important position. I worked with a handful of other leaders from Minnesota Environmental Fund’s member organizations to support the search over the past several months. This experience was a strong reminder for me about the importance of Environmental Initiative’s involvement in the Minnesota Environmental Fund and with our fellow environmental organizations more broadly.

Cordelia brings more than twenty years of nonprofit and financial management experience to the organization as a former nonprofit executive director, board president, and program director. Most recently, Cordelia served as the executive director for the newly established, Minneapolis Riverfront Partnership, where she led fundraising, organizational development, and riverfront land protection and revitalization efforts. I’m so impressed with Cordelia’s passion and dedication to Minnesota, to our special places, and our natural resources. She understands and greatly appreciates the importance of place and the need to build relationships with companies, organizations, and employees who are willing to invest financially to make our communities healthy and beautiful places to live.

I hope you will join me in welcoming Cordelia to the Minnesota Environmental Fund!


Mike Harley


Executive Director
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