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Ron Nargang: Critical Collaborator Award Recipient

April 4th, 2017

Ron Nargang is one of two recipients of the Critical Collaborator award, recognizing an individual over the age of 50 who has used partnership and collaboration to achieve positive and lasting environmental outcomes. At the time of his retirement, Ron Nargang was the State Director for the Minnesota Chapter of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), but he’s also held high level positions at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

He also has extensive experience in the formulation, passage, and implementation of public policy initiatives, playing a key role in the Reinvest In Minnesota Program, Wetlands Conservation Act, and Groundwater Protection Act. You can read more about his professional career on our awards page. We hope you join us in honoring Ron at the 25th Anniversary Environmental Initiative Awards ceremony on Thursday, May 25. Purchase your tables and/or seats today »

We have two Critical Collaborator recipients this year, and I got to sit down with them both and talk about their career, passions, and get their advice for those currently working on environmental issues.

SITTING DOWN WITH RON NARGANG

Where do you see the most opportunity for collaborative action on the environment in Minnesota?

This has got to be a difficult time for anyone in the trenches doing this work right now, particularly those trying to do things collaboratively.

I guess I would be inclined to say, in this environment, to look at things that are very provable by science so that you can get truth on the table. Focus on things that are compelling—like any issues related to public health or to water. I certainly think water continues to be an issue that people understand and have a pure concern about because it’s so inherently essential to all of us and everything we do. I’d be looking for something like that that doesn’t have as much gray area associated with it like some of the other environmental issues do.

You’ve been involved with Environmental Initiative for a long time, and your legacy has shaped the way we work and what we value. What made you invest so much of your time into this organization?

I’ve operated on a collaborative basis my whole career, and it was kind of refreshing to find an organization that really built their entire purpose around collaboration and cooperation between parties that are often adversarial. The business community and environmental community, and regulators. I think Environmental Initiative is unique in that respect. There may be a lot of other organizations that have warm fuzzy words built into their mission and philosophies, but I just think that Environmental Initiative distinguishes itself by being totally committed to collaboration. It’s refreshing and proved to be quite successful. It was easy.

What success are you most proud of in your career? Why? 

It would be really tough for me to answer anything but the Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge for a whole lot of reasons. It was a tremendous resource management opportunity but it happened to be set in the middle of a place that was hard for conservation—politically. It was intimidating from a cost standpoint because you just didn’t have an individual that was standing there with a deep enough pocket to say, “We’ll take this thing on.” It took some creative approaches to generate operating dollars and restoration money and while still recovering costs so that organizations could put money back into other projects.

During the Bush Administration, this was the only National Wildlife Refuge created administratively— I think Congress may have created a couple of small ones. Getting done with that and being able to sit down with county commissioners, local farmers, environmentalists, agency staff… having everybody feeling good about something like that… and using it as an economic development opportunity for the whole area… that one feels really good to me. Read more about Glacial Ridge here »

What advice would you give those currently working in the environmental sector? 

Train for endurance. I think it’s going to be a bumpy ride. This is not unusual—we’ve seen ebb and flow on environmental issues all through the last few decades. We’ve seen high points with the passage of the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, and we’ve seen low points. I think it’s going to be a rough patch for a while. I think the best advice is to keep the faith, cling to the science, and present it as the truth. Keep selling that— that we need to deal with truth on these issues and not let emotions and hearsay dictate what happens.

Your favorite Environmental Initiative memory…

As I thought about it, it’s not one specific event but it’s something that I always watched for and marveled at while doing stakeholder processes. It was to see the emergence of who the leaders were going to be in each one of those processes because every single time, when you’ve got a successful one, it’s because out of the group around that table, somebody steps up and moves the rest. It’s a powerful moment to watch that happen in a group, and I never could predict who might be the one, but it was always such a joy to watch it happen. You could literally see in a matter of moments a transformation in a process and suddenly you’re headed down a different road.

A good example would be the Mercury Reduction Project. It was rough, and the industries weren’t too anxious, particularly the mining industry. But, Xcel Energy stepped up and they laid out what they were going to commit— and then demanded that others do the same. You had to kind of wonder, have they got the gravitas to pull this off? But the way it was presented, the people presenting it, the tension in the room… it was successful. That was the turning point in that process.

There’s always that sort of profound moment that happens, and as I thought back on it, those were the things that tickled me! You knew you had a good one when it happened, and you were going to get a good outcome.


A note from Environmental Initiative
In honor of our 25th Anniversary, we’re taking the time to acknowledge those who’ve been essential and influential in Minnesota’s environmental community. In addition to celebrating outstanding projects, we’re also recognizing the leaders that have helped us get to this point, and those that will continue to improve our community.

Damian Goebel

POSTED BY:

Communications Director

April is EarthMonth— Celebrate with Minnesota Environmental Fund

March 30th, 2017

You care about Minnesota’s environment – now you have easy ways to make a difference this April, with the Minnesota Environmental Fund.

The Minnesota Environmental Fund (MEF) gives you the opportunity to support many environmental causes with giving and volunteering. With one gift, you can help protect water, grow healthy food, support clean energy, preserve natural landscapes, and more. Environmental Initiative is just one of the Minnesotan organizations that MEF supports, and Environmental Initiative employees also have the choice to give to MEF.

Earth Day is this Saturday, April 22. This year, Minnesota Environmental Fund, along with our partners and members, is hosting a variety of celebrations, presentations, and volunteer opportunities throughout the month. I would love to see you at one (or more), of these events in honor of Earth Day.

 

MISSISSIPPI RIVER WALK

Friday, April 7, 2017
2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Nature, art and history come together at Sheridan Memorial Park, where we will explore the wild banks of the beloved Mississippi River together. Check out the flyer and register »

MISSISSIPPI RIVER CARE AND PRAIRIE PLANTING

Friday, April 21, 2017
1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.
Event co-leaders: Mississippi Park Connection, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, and the National Park Service

Care for our Mississippi River together, and get to know people who work or live downtown. To learn more, check out the flyer and be sure to RSVP here.

CELEBRATION AT SURLY BREWING CO.

Monday, April 24, 2017
6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.

You and leaders like you are making a difference by supporting clean water, clean air, clean energy, natural places, and healthy food in Minnesota. Share your stories and network with colleagues at this free event. 

CARING FOR THE LEXINGTON-HAMLINE AREA – “CIRCUS HILL”

Friday, April 28, 2017
One-hour shifts available
Event co-leaders: Gordon Parks High School, Community Action Partners (Ramsey & Washington), the City of St. Paul, and the Trust for Public Land

Minnesota Environmental Fund is teaming up community partners to offer a volunteer experience for people who work, learn or live nearby. You can help clean up the places we share and learn about the new park being created on Griggs Street near Gordon Parks High School and Skyline Towers. Register for this free event »

 


A note from Environmental Initiative
We’re one of nineteen member organizations receiving support from Minnesota Environmental Fund’s workplace giving program. In honor of Earth Day, we wanted to share these event opportunities as you make plans to celebrate. Interested in adding Minnesota Environmental Fund to your workplace giving campaign? Learn more »

Cordelia Pierson

POSTED BY:

Executive Director, Minnesota Environmental Fund

Growing Clean Water at the ACES Conference

December 14th, 2016

There’s been a lot happening in Environmental Initiative’s Agriculture and Environment program lately—I mean a lot. Field Stewards continues to build momentum and we’ve been hard at work bringing together agricultural interests to talk about and collaborate on creating new opportunities to improve water quality.

ACESBecause of Environmental Initiative’s work to promote market solutions for clean water through Field Stewards, I was asked to speak at the ACES: A Community on Ecosystem Services conference in Jacksonville, Florida, which was held last week. Besides having the opportunity to share our work with an exciting, growing community of practitioners, I got to learn from others around the country on how to link science, practice, and sustainable decision making in ecosystem services. (The term “ecosystem services” is meant to describe the ways humans benefit from functioning ecosystems. Pollination is an example of an ecosystem service).

ACES 2016 brought together leaders in government, NGOs, academia, Native American tribes, and the private sector to advance the use of ecosystem services science and practice in environmental decision making and practice.

MY THREE TAKEAWAYS

1. The science is there (mostly). Ecosystem services is a way of looking at how natural processes and landscapes contribute human health, economy, and quality of life. In recent years, the science and tools available for estimating ecosystem services have gotten much better and there is more confidence in how we are using them.

2. Agriculture has a huge role to play. If you want to have an impact, go work with farmers. But be ready to listen.download film Mother’s Day

3. Ecosystem services is a new way to make money. I heard from a speaker about how a custom made municipal bond that funded the creation of green landscapes in DC was bought by Goldman Sachs. Goldman didn’t invest because it looked good on their corporate sustainability report, they bought it because it made them money (sort of a big part of their business model).

Along with Paul Helgeson from GNP Company, I shared information about our Field Stewards program, particularly how the idea of a whole-farm, holistic approach to water quality protection is good for farmers, good for food companies, and good for the environment. We are doing things a little different with Field Stewards, and there is a lot of interest in how our approach can crack the nut of untraceable commodity crop supply chains. You can learn more about the ACES conference here »

Greg Bohrer

POSTED BY:

Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program

Partnership to Watch: Ceres, WWF, and the AgWater Challenge

October 28th, 2016

Food companies face a range of social and environmental challenges. Global freshwater supplies are increasingly at risk for scarcity and pollution. Consumers are also demanding more information, transparency, and sustainability from companies who produce our food.

Environmental Initiative is working to address these challenges and trends through Field Stewards – an innovative program that provides financial incentives to farmers who implement best practices to protect water quality. But, we aren’t the only ones who are using the power of partnership to achieve better environmental and business results.

The AgWater Challenge

Ceres and WWF launched the AgWater Challenge, a collaborative initiative to advance water stewardship and sustainable food sourcing solutions in the food and beverage sector. This sector alone uses more than 70 percent of the world’s freshwater supply, largely for growing the food we eat. The AgWater Challenge aims to inspire the world’s most influential food and beverage companies to:

  • Reduce the water impacts associated with key agricultural commodities (like corn and soy)
  • Implement locally-relevant strategies to mitigate water quality concerns and water scarcity risks in agricultural sourcing areas
  • Support and incentivize farmers and other agricultural producers to strengthen water stewardship

Minnesota Companies Recognized

Minnesota-based General Mills and Hormel, along with five other companies representing $123 billion in net annual revenue, are currently being recognized for their participation in the challenge.

AgWater Challenge

Hormel is a multi-national manufacturer and marketer of consumer-branded food and meat products, specializing in processing and marketing pork and turkey. The Austin, MN-based company has committed to develop a sustainable agriculture policy, assess water quality and water quantity challenges in priority sourcing areas, and establish time-bound goals aimed at improving water quality in high water risk regions. Learn more about Hormel’s commitment here.

General Mills was recognized for their ongoing efforts across all five stewardship activities.

Congratulations to Ceres, WWF, Hormel, General Mills and all of the AgWater Challenge partners. It’s inspiring to see collaboration in action for our shared water resources.

Greg Bohrer

POSTED BY:

Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program

MAWQCP: Protecting Agricultural Water Quality Through Certification and Collaboration

July 6th, 2016

All Minnesotans want access to clean water and all Minnesota farmers want clean water to be part of their legacy.

The Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP) is a new, voluntary, state-federal program that offers Minnesota’s farmers the chance to certify their legacy of stewardship and protect the Land of 10,000 Lakes’ greatest natural resource. After a brief pilot phase, MAWQCP went statewide in July 2015. Since then, the program has certified 198 farms and we just recently celebrated a 100,000-acre milestone for the program.

The program’s unique structure is crucial to its success. MAWQCP is delivered in partnership with Minnesota’s 89 Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) and it’s easy for farmers and landowners to navigate. Minnesota’s SWCDs are trusted partners and frequent collaborators among the state’s farmers. The process for getting certified is straightforward and personalized – all a farmer needs to do to get started is contact their local SWCD.family next to farmstead sign

There are four steps to the water quality certification process:

  • Assessment – a certification specialist conducts an assessment of a farm’s current risk to water quality on a field-by-field basis using an online tool;
  • Collaboration – the certification specialist meets with the farmer to go over the results of the baseline assessment and collaborates on a plan for mitigating any risks to water identified in the assessment;
  • Verification – the certification specialist conducts a field verification to ensure all risks to water quality have been treated, or that a plan is in place to address the risk;
  • Ongoing Support – the certification specialist and farmer stay in touch as the farmer continues to make improvements and changes.

The process is not one-size fits all. When risks to water quality are identified, farmers are eligible to receive priority technical and financial assistance to make the improvements that make the most sense, economically and environmentally, for their operation. Once they are certified, farmers and landowners receive regulatory certainty and are deemed to be in compliance with any new water quality laws or rules for 10 years.

Traditionally, conservation has been delivered in a piecemeal fashion with a farmer implementing one conservation practice at a time. While individual practices can provide real environmental benefits, they often don’t treat all the risks to water quality on a farm all at once. MAWQCP’s model of conservation delivery overcomes this shortfall. The program works in collaboration with farmers and addresses risks to water quality for every field and every crop on their operations. This field-by-field, crop-by-crop methodology allows small acts of conservation to aggregate quickly, creating meaningful water quality benefits for all Minnesotans.

To date, the program has generated more than 300 new conservation practices, from cover crops to improved nutrient management that are annually:

  • Stopping 7.7 million pounds of sediment from entering our waters,
  • Preventing more than 4,700 pounds of phosphorus from entering our lakes and streams, and
  • Keeping more than 10 million pounds of soil where it belongs, in Minnesota fields.

As more farmers learn about the program and become certified, its positive impact on Minnesota will continue to grow. MAWQCP will help ensure Minnesota’s farms and waters can prosper together, which is a legacy all Minnesotans can be proud of.

—————–
A note from Environmental Initiative:

We’ve partnered with MAWQCP through our Field Stewards program. Farmers who are certified through MAWQCP (currently only in Stearns County) are eligible to receive a per acre payment for their conservation practices by enrolling in Field Stewards. This partnership with MAWQCP avoids duplicate certification standards and ensures farmers are recognized and rewarded for their conservation efforts. Learn more about Field Stewards »

MAWQCP is a partnership between the United States Department of Agriculture, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Learn more about MAWQCP »

POSTED BY:

Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program Manager, Minnesota Department of Agriculture

An Interview With Paul Helgeson: Sustainability Manager, GNP Company

April 19th, 2016

Environmental Initiative has a network of environmental leaders across all sectors of the economy – from businesses, all levels of government, nonprofits, academia, and more. In a new series, we’ll be interviewing environmental and sustainability leaders from our diverse community to share their passions and how they lead.

I’m kicking off the series with sustainability leader and Environmental Initiative board member, Paul Helgeson. Paul is currently the Sustainability Manager with GNP Company and is the founder and visionary behind the Field Stewards program.Greg interviewing Paul

To start us off, can you tell us a little bit about how you became sustainability manager at GNP Company?

I grew up in central Minnesota surrounded by the agricultural industry. My great-grandfather started what became Gold n’ Plump as one of hundreds of small hatcheries in Minnesota in the 1920’s.  For most of my life my dad was CEO and he, along with our team members, worked very hard to grow the company into the largest chicken company in the Upper Midwest.

This inspired me to pursue a business education and during my undergrad days I studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. There I visited Carlsberg, the big beer company. This was my first exposure to a large company advocating for sustainability. Beverage companies had worked with the Danish government to put a high deposit on bottles. So those bottles were getting turned back in and Carlsberg was reusing them to bottle beer. This reduced litter, saving the government money, and saved Carlsberg from having to buy expensive new bottles. Seeing this win-win for business, government, and the people of Denmark sparked my interest in harnessing the profit motive of business to achieve social and environmental goals.

I remained interested in sustainability while earning my MBA from the Carlson School of Business at the University of Minnesota and working outside the company. When I joined GNP Company in 2010 I helped my family’s business to consider sustainability and together we developed the 4 P Framework: people, poultry, progress, and planet. We set aggressive planet goals for improving the resource efficiency of our operations and made a commitment to working with our supply chain.  During this time, I also helped develop the Field Stewards idea and I’m the liaison from GNP Company on the project.

For folks who haven’t heard about it before, how would you describe the Field Stewards project?

At the core, it’s a way to connect consumers and farmers who care about water quality.fieldstewards

Functionally, it is a certification and market system that recognizes and rewards farmers for their environmental protection efforts.  Food companies can buy certificates to offset some of the environmental impacts of their commodity crop inputs. The market system allows us to support farmers in our local area who have gone above and beyond the norm to protect water quality on their farms.

Consumers increasingly care about their food and how it was produced. The underlying sentiment is “Do the people creating my food share my values?” However, the commodity crop system isn’t set up for food companies to track sustainability at the farm level. Like a lot of food companies, we buy the grain used in our feed off of what is essentially an international commodity market.  The grain markets and the commodity crop systems are not designed for food companies or consumers to track on-farm sustainability practices.  So, we have no way to know what practices were used in the fields that our grain came from.

This is the opportunity for Field Stewards. It is a program that gives food-marketing companies like GNP Company the ability to create a more sustainable supply chain for their most critical inputs. (more…)

Greg Bohrer

POSTED BY:

Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program

Global Water Issues and Minnesota Business: Values, Risks, and Opportunities

March 31st, 2015

The Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul region has been described by one CEO as the “Silicon Valley of Water” with a unique network of businesses, talent, and thought leadership well positioned to contribute solutions to regional and global water challenges.

Join the Center for Ethical Business Cultures (CEBC) at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business on April 29 to hear from global water expert Dr. Peter H. Gleick, co-founder and president of the Pacific Institute. Gleick integrates technical expertise on water and the environment with a profound commitment to social justice, human rights, and sustainability.

Two Minnesota executives will also share their insights on water risks and opportunities: Emilio Tenuta, Vice President of Sustainability at Ecolab, and Jerry Lynch, Chief Sustainability Officer at General Mills.

This event is free and open to the public but registration is required.

EVENT DETAILS

Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Registration:  4:00 p.m.
Program: 4:30 p.m.
Networking Reception: 6:15 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Register »

Thornton Auditorium, Terrence Murphy Hall
University of St. Thomas – Minneapolis Campus
1000 LaSalle Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55403
Map & Directions »

I hope you will join CEBC for this important conversation to explore global water perspectives and implications for Minnesota businesses. For more information about the event, speakers, or to register visit CEBC’s website.

David Rodbourne

POSTED BY:

Vice President, Center for Ethical Business Cultures - University of St. Thomas, Opus College of Business

Your Groundwater Questions, Answered.

December 23rd, 2013

Thank you to everyone who attended our December 17th policy forum Seizing Opportunities for Integration in Groundwater Management. Attendees learned about and discussed emerging strategies and plans for integrating groundwater management across state and local agencies and how these strategies may inform future planning and permitting decisions.

The audience had a lot of great questions – so many in fact, that we did not have time during the event to answer them all.  I asked our speakers to respond to some of we were unable to answer at the event.

Here are their responses:

What link is there between strategies in the Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan (NFMP) and the Minnesota Agriculture Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP)?

Dan Stoddard, Minnesota Department of Agriculture:

The Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan was developed independently of, and without consideration for, the Minnesota Agriculture Water Quality Certification Program.

The concept of certainty, protection from future regulations, for MAWQCP certified growers would apply to any new rules developed under the NFMP during the period of certification.  This means that if the Minnesota Department of Agriculture was to develop new rules under the NFMP we would assume that certified growers are meeting all required water quality goals and would write into the new rule that certified growers are exempt or considered to be in compliance with the rule during the period of certification.  This is reasonable since the requirements to adopt best management practices to become certified should meet or exceed the requirements in the new rule.

One of the goals of the revised NFMP is to work with local growers to consider changing land management practices in targeted areas to address local concerns with elevated nitrate in the groundwater.  Therefore we would still want to work with MAWQCP certified growers and involve them on the local advisory team and any other local activities.  Since these growers have demonstrated leadership by participating in the MAWQC program, we would seek them out as potential leaders in local response efforts. (more…)

Andrea Robbins

POSTED BY:

Director, Engagement and Systems

Weekly Wrap-Up – 10/11/13

October 11th, 2013

This week’s wrap-up is all about water – from scarcity, to treatment, to invasive species. What water issues should we be thinking about as we plan our events and projects? What water news caught your attention this week? Share with us here or connect with us on social media.

  1. Water from PolyMet mine site would require 500 years of treatment. (Duluth News Tribune)
  2. Microplastic waste is a problem for lakes as well as oceans. (Nature World News)
  3. Asian carp: Can we solve this invasive species problem? (MinnPost)
  4. United Nations chief warns of water scarcity worldwide. (Inter Press Service News Agency)
  5. Is White Bear Lake a symptom of larger water supply problems in the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area? (MinnPost)
Emily Franklin

POSTED BY:

Director of Communications

Weekly Wrap-Up – 6/7/13

June 7th, 2013

With all the rain, this week’s wrap-up is all about water. What water stories have I missed? Drop me a note and let me know or leave a comment here.

  1. Did you know that 45 trillion gallons of water is used for the 1.3 billion tons of food wasted every year worldwide? (Minnesota Public Radio).
  2. U.S. water systems and infrastructure need $384 billion in improvements according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Bloomberg BNA).
  3. Great Lakes Governors discuss ways to better manage the economy and ecology of some of the world’s most important freshwater resources. (Editorial, The Detroit News).
  4. Rushing waters and rainbows at Grand Portage State Park. Check out this amazing video. (MinnPost)
  5. Dreaming of a family trip to the Boundary Waters? Here’s 10 ways to get your kids canoeing. (Sanborn Canoe Company)
Emily Franklin

POSTED BY:

Director of Communications
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