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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

A Year and 30+ dedicated organizations later…

February 23rd, 2017

The Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition is just over a year old, but already we’ve come a long way. More than 30 businesses and organizations now form a business led partnership that harnesses each member’s expertise to advance the next frontier of corporate sustainability – the circular economy.

Together, the Coalition has designated three strategic priorities for regional transformation and are actively educating on what a circular economy can do for Minnesota and the region.

NEW MEMBERS

The Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition is a business-led effort that also includes key public and nonprofit entities within its membership. This cross-sector representation is essential to advancing the circular economy. In June of 2016, the Coalition publicly announced itself as a 27 member strong collaboration. Since then, six additional organizations have joined the effort, including:

 

 

With these six additions, the Coalition expands to just over 30 members. Each new member brings a different perspective and a wealth of experience. This knowledge continues to better position the Coalition, allowing the group to more effectively work on advancing the aspects of a more circular economic system. With each new member, we get closer to realizing our vision.

CIRCULAR ECONOMY EDUCATION

Our members have been quick to explain and project circular economy concepts. Jessica Hellman, Director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IonE) and Coalition member, recently penned an op-ed in the Pioneer Press demonstrating the value of transformative, far-reaching sustainability efforts.

Ackerberg, a recent addition to the Coalition, is the first commercial real estate company to join. Shortly after entering the group, they shared more information on the value they see in collaboration through a piece by Finance & Commerce.

And finally, the Coalition as a whole was featured in the Harvard Business Review as part of the 9 Sustainable Business Stories that Shaped 2016. Number nine focuses on the circular economy, with special mention of the Coalition.

OUR THREE PRIORITIES

Soon after the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition launched, Environmental Initiative convened members to select priority areas for their work. Three areas of focus quickly emerged from these conversations including: 1) advancing clean energy, 2) transforming organic waste into resources, and 3) greening grey infrastructure.

Members selected clean energy as the initial priority for leadership and collaboration. Coalition members recognize a circular economy can only exist if is powered by 100% clean, renewable energy. It’s a big commitment, but we aren’t taking it lightly. Over the past six months, members have developed a clean energy work plan, have secured initial funding to support that work, and have begun taking actions that support increased access to renewable energy resources.

While a lot of progress has been made already, much more is ahead. You’ll be hearing a lot more from us as we continue to make progress on our clean energy work plan while also digging deeper in our greening grey infrastructure and organics focus areas.

Sam Hanson

POSTED BY:

Director, Sustainability Program

Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition Spotlight: Uponor

January 23rd, 2017

The Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition is a nationally unique collaboration of leading businesses and organizations working together to advance the circular economy. Over the course of the year, we’ll profile member businesses and organizations to learn more about how they are thinking and what they are doing to advance the circular economy and achieve their sustainability goals.

We sat down with Rusty Callier, the Director of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability for Uponor, an international provider of plumbing and indoor heating and cooling systems. Uponor North America is headquartered in Apple Valley, Minnesota. Here’s our interview:

 

Tell me a little bit about you and your role at Uponor.

This year will mark my fifteenth anniversary at Uponor. Over those fifteen years I’ve been predominately in operations with jobs ranging from Manufacturing Manager all the way up to Director of Operations. A little over a year ago I took on a new role as Director of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability. In a way this change was kind of like going back to my beginnings because prior to Uponor I was focusing on environmental management and trying to break into a career in that area. So, after spending a lot of time in operations, its all come full circle and now I’m able to focus on environmental management and sustainability full-time.

How is Uponor working to advance the circular economy? How are you thinking about it as a company?

That’s a great question. First and foremost, we’re always thinking about it. Uponor as a company believes heavily in innovation. We’re always thinking about how we can be thought leaders in our industry and bring solutions to market that meet the customers needs all while balancing the triple bottom line. It’s a work in progress. We’re still figuring this out.

If you imagine people, planet, and profit in those traditional sustainability circles, we want to achieve balance. We want to achieve all three. In the search for that balance, we’re putting processes in place to evaluate projects and ideas through a sustainability lens. We ask ourselves: How are we changing our practices to be better stewards of the earth’s resources? How are we taking into account the human element of our business? How are we looking at the communities in which we operate and the communities in which we extract, or others extract, raw materials? We want to be cognizant of all of these questions and smart about how we deliver our products and solutions to our customers.

Is there anything in your recent memory or recent experience that has been a victory for Uponor?

I would love to point to the single home run, but that’s very rare, especially when you’re trying to build something different than what was done before. So, we’ve had what I’d call a lot of base hits. Some examples are getting our executive leadership to agree to participate in efficiency programs with Xcel Energy, or allowing us to take some liberties to implement different technologies in our facility to cut our energy use. A big, big win years ago – which is still a big deal even today – was our conversion from oil heaters on our extruders to electric energy. This resulted in a 40% energy reduction across the plant, which is a huge savings.

More recently we’ve been converting our chiller systems for our extruders to be able to be reversed to use the natural cooling the Minnesota winters provide so we don’t have to run our chillers for five or six months out of the year. This has resulted in significant energy savings and carbon reductions from our operations – and its exciting to be able to tap into a homegrown resources to do so.

We’re also looking at alternative energy with a goal of 100% renewable energy by 2020 as a company. We’ve installed a solar array at our North American headquarters in Apple Valley and are exploring ways to purchase additional renewable energy – both wind and solar.

Is there anything you would like to do as a company on circular economy, but you’re not quite sure how?  

That list is long. There are plenty of companies to point to who are doing great work, many that are involved with Environmental Initiative, and we will steal shamelessly from others best practices. I have no trouble admitting that. Ultimately, that’s the true essence of sustainability – it’s how do you learn from others? How can you take messages, techniques, lessons learned from other companies and apply them to your own situation? Being able to see and adopt opportunities from other facilities is vital. It helps from a sustainability standpoint, a continuous improvement standpoint, and from an operations standpoint. It’s part of how we’ll eventually get to a circular economy. Information sharing between companies can help advance that disruptive innovation that’s going to be needed to get to the next step.

What’s the biggest barrier or challenge that Uponor faces when it comes to achieving that balance of the triple bottom line or advancing towards more circular models?

Many will probably have a similar answer. There’s an inherent push-pull between the two concepts – a linear versus circular economic system. Putting a value on natural resources is really challenging – the whole idea of natural capital.

When you’re having a conversation with somebody its easy to get them to nod in agreement that natural capital makes sense, when you talk about how you’re valuing the natural resources used everyday to produce your product, run your plants, or move your people. But, when it comes right down to it finding the value of those resources and agreeing upon that value in terms of the true cost, it becomes difficult. So, to me that’s a challenge. Because when you’re putting your projects together to move them forward, you’re trying to set it up in terms of how to look at this for what the future brings. But in a lot of cases it still comes back to what the traditional accounting models demand in the short-term.

What do you hope the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition will achieve? What value do you see in being a member?

I think the biggest value we get out of membership is the exposure to other ideas. That’s huge. But, it’s also the ability to have strength in numbers and to be able to collaborate. We know as a coalition there are still things we need to learn about circular economy and what circular economy means for our region. What we’re really excited to be able to support the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment’s research project and the work Maddie Nordgaard is doing on behalf of the coalition to further our understanding on circular economy. We’re proud to have our name associated with something that is going to serve more than just Uponor, and to be alongside many other leading companies who are committed to advancing on these issues.

Is there a circular economy story or example that inspires you?  

Absolutely, there are so many examples both from within our industry and outside of it. I’ll stick with one that’s close because it’s from within our own company. We have a product in one of our European factories that we were able to improve by adding waste material from another product at another factory in our operations.

Essentially, location A could use the waste from location B to make a superior product. All of the work and materials are staying within Uponor. So, while it’s not a fully circular product, the principles of a circular economy are being applied – we’re transforming waste into resources, reducing emissions, and providing jobs within the company.

I wish I could say more about it, but we’re going to officially announce this project later on in the year. I’ll have more details to share then!

Sam Hanson

POSTED BY:

Director, Sustainability Program

Circular Economy in the News

September 29th, 2016

The concept of a circular economy is gaining traction in sustainability circles and across the broader American business community. Earlier this summer, a contingent of leading Minnesota businesses and organization formed the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition – a regional partnership to demonstrate and accelerate a circular economy.

Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition Meeting 8-17-16

Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition Meeting at Uponor, 8-17-16. Photo credit: Uponor

The circular economy can be a difficult concept to unpack, but at its simplest a circular economy works like nature does, where everything is a resource and nothing is wasted. Energy is clean and renewable. Materials never become waste, but are used again and again. Communities are equitable and healthy. Ecosystems are supported, sustained, and provide ongoing services. Businesses protect people, the planet, and profit. Sounds good, right?

We’re keeping our eyes peeled and our ears open for circular economy news from across the globe to help advance the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition’s efforts to raise awareness about a concept that could completely transform the way we do business and more. Read on:

How is your business or organization thinking about the circular economy? What opportunities or challenges does the circular economy present? Share in the comments below.

For more information about the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition, contact me at 612-334-3388 ext. 8111.

Sam Hanson

POSTED BY:

Director, Sustainability Program

Trending Green: Understanding Corporate Renewable Procurement in the Midwest

September 12th, 2016

More and more, the need for corporate renewable energy continues to grow. As more businesses navigate purchasing clean energy, it’s important to understand policy, strategy and best practices associated with “going green.”

To assist in the process, Midwest Renewable Energy Tracking System (M-RETS), in partnership with the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IonE), is hosting speakers and panel discussions covering these topics. The event will be focused on:

  • Business, legal and regulatory issues from organizations that have gone through the process,
  • Utility green purchasing programs,
  • Successful policies and practices in the region and how they can be adopted elsewhere.

The event is intended for both large and small businesses within the Midwest. Policy makers, business leaders, and utility professionals are also welcome to attend. This is a free event and will include a keynote speaker and two panels.

EVENT DETAILS

Wednesday, October 5, 2016  
9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.  

University of Minnesota
200 Oak Street S.E. McNamara Alumni Center, Heritage Gallery
Minneapolis, MN
Directions and Registration » 

We hope you will join us for this session and learn to navigate corporate renewable energy procurement. For more information, contact ben@mrets.org, dan@mrets.org or visit the M-RETS website at www.mrets.org.

 

Sam Hanson

POSTED BY:

Director, Sustainability Program

Recycling Opportunities Made Simple for Regional Businesses

February 11th, 2016

Chances are you’ve recently read or heard something about recycling in the metro area. A lot of attention has been placed on recycling efforts, especially for businesses, within the past year. To meet a 75% waste diversion goal set for the Metro area, a new recycling mandate for businesses went into effect on January 1st of this year. Now that most businesses are required to recycle at least 3 different materials, several programs and resources have come online to help.

Depending on the business location, there may be free technical assistance, grant funds, and educational resources available Sam Hanson Wasteto help reduce waste and recycle more. For businesses with multiple sites, it can be difficult to navigate the resources available and initiate new practices across sites. To help businesses determine the best ways to implement change across all their locations, Environmental Initiative is engaging regional decision-makers with influence on waste and recycling practices at national/regional chains, companies with multiple sites or locations, and commercial property management companies. We’re connecting businesses with the best resources available to help create large-scale change across all their locations in Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey and Washington Counties.

With the recycling mandate in effect, the opportunity to save money, and the positive environmental benefits of enhanced resource management, it’s never been a better time to improve recycling for businesses. Know a decision-maker who can influence waste and recycling changes across the metro region? Contact me at 612-334-3388 ext. 8111.

Sam Hanson

POSTED BY:

Director, Sustainability Program

Support Ongoing Sustainability Leadership

November 24th, 2015

Environmental Initiative is an incredible organization that provides so much for our state and the region. Now, I might be a little biased being an employee of the organization, but that bias doesn’t alter the real impact Environmental Initiative has in our community. While I’ve only been on staff for a few months, my recognition of Environmental Initiative as a leader, especially in the space of business sustainability, has been present for years. With all the avenues for businesses to engage – through events, collaborative projects, and so much more – Environmental Initiative truly is a major convener of Minnesota’s business community around environmental sustainability.

In a state that is so fortunate to have a wide range of private businesses, public entities, nonprofits, institutions, and Sam Hanson Minnesota lakeindividuals that are all interested in addressing our shared environmental challenges, it is crucial for Environmental Initiative to convene these interests and help catalyze the changes that we collectively know are important. We’re so proud to be a part of the sustainability community in Minnesota.

Environmental Initiative’s leadership, and the corresponding impact that it makes in our community, is what has drawn my interest to the organization for many years. It’s also the reason that I am so excited to be a part of the team. I am thrilled to be able to work with such a wide variety of stakeholders on improving the environmental sustainability of our region.

If you share my enthusiasm, join me in supporting the work of Environmental Initiative. Our current and past board of directors have contributed $15,000 to help us raise another $15,000 from individuals between now and December 31st. Annual or recurring monthly membership contributions will be matched dollar for dollar. We still have about $9,000 to raise to meet our goals.

I’m an individual member and I hope you will be too!

Sam Hanson

POSTED BY:

Director, Sustainability Program
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