Environmental Initiative - Home

Have you met the Community Action category winners?

April 13th, 2017

The Community Action category award is given to partnerships that solve environmental challenges on a community scale—which can mean a lot of things. From grassroots efforts and utilizing volunteers, to policy initiatives that contribute to improved quality of life, this award recognizes those who come together.

The Metropolitan Council, the Metro Clean Energy Resource Team (CERTs), a slew of local governments, and many more project partners came together to produce solid environmental and economic outcomes—making them this year’s Community Action winner.

An Award-Winning Effort

 

 

The Governmental Solar Garden Collaborative is a joint effort by and for 31 local governments in the greater Twin Cities metropolitan region to procure solar garden subscriptions from a single Request for Proposals (RFP) process. The goal in getting these subscriptions is to offset the energy usage at public facilities.

The results? Twenty-four of the 31 participants said that they were moving to sign subscription agreements for a cumulative 33 megawatts of solar capacity. If you’re like me, you have no idea what this means.

Basically, most participating local governments are working to offset public facility energy use by signing up for a clean energy alternative. By doing so, these local governments have added a surprising figure of solar capacity to the state. To give you an idea of how meaningful 33 megawatts is, Minnesota generated a total of 35 megawatts for community solar subscriptions during the entirety of 2015.

Perhaps more importantly, this project highlights the power of partnership—and its lasting benefit. Because of this effort, the group is continuing conversations concerning additional collaborative purchasing for public building solar and electric vehicles for local government fleets.

FROM THE PROJECT PARTNERS

“By working together and sharing resources, the partners could reduce costs, create opportunities for communities of all sizes, and make a larger impact than any organization could have had alone. The result will be the development of 33 megawatts of solar electricity– enough to power over 4,000 Minnesota homes for 25 years– and a significant reduction of government spending on energy in public facilities.” –Trevor Drake, Co-Director of the Metro Clean Energy Resource Team and Project Manager at Great Plains Institute.

“What will have long lasting impact is how public and private entities combined their knowledge, skills and expertise to generate subscriptions to 33 MW of solar development… This type of procurement for solar energy was a groundbreaking, innovative approach that has applied across the nation in only a few regions.” –Peter Lindstrom, Local Government Outreach Coordinator with the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs) at the University of Minnesota’s Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships and Extension.

“I’m most proud of the willingness and determination of everyone involved to try something new. It’s easy to look back at something that was successful and be glad to have done it. It’s much more difficult, however, to move forward with something that seems like a good idea but might not succeed. Everyone involved in this project took a risk in joining the process and seeing it through. I’m proud that our region is made up of local governments and partners that are willing and determined to be innovative in the face of great challenges.” –Trevor Drake, Co-Director of the Metro Clean Energy Resource Team and Project Manager at Great Plains Institute.

CELEBRATE THIS EFFORT

Join us on Thursday, May 25 to congratulate and celebrate these project partners, their positive environmental outcomes, and the lasting benefit of collaboration. To shake things up, we’re also honoring three individuals in honor of our 25th anniversary, so it’s sure to be a night of reflection and festivities for Minnesota’s environmental community. Purchase your tickets or tables here »

 

 

 


A note from Environmental Initiative:
In honor of Environmental Initiative’s 25th Anniversary, four organizational and two individual awards will be presented on May 25, 2017 at the Nicollet Island Pavilion. Get your tickets before they’re gone »

Damian Goebel

POSTED BY:

Communications Director

Mike Robertson: Critical Collaborator Award Recipient

April 4th, 2017

The Critical Collaborator award recognizes an individual over the age of 50 who has utilized partnership and collaboration to achieve positive and lasting environmental outcomes.

Mike Robertson has been part of nearly every major environmental policy decision in Minnesota for the last 30 years. Though he’s retired now from his time as an Environmental Lobbyist and Attorney for various public and private sector clients, he’s one of the founding members and minds behind Clean Air Minnesota and the Clean Water Legacy Act. You can read more about his professional career on our recipients page

Join us in honoring Mike at the 25th Anniversary Environmental Initiative Awards on May 25, 2017. Purchase your seats or tables here » 

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 MIKE ROBERTSON

What excites you about the environmental community, sector, or movement in Minnesota?

I think it’s the tradition that we started to build through Environmental Initiative of collaboration. It’s really the vehicle to make things happen, and that is what excited me about working with Environmental Initiative and being a leader in that group.

There are always going to be specific issues where there is conflict on the environment—an example would be the future of mining in Minnesota. For the most part, though, I think collaboration is possible and successful if the various groups are working together and the work that we’ve done at Environmental Initiative has given me confidence that, going forward, this tradition that we’ve built can work for the future.

You’re one of the founding members of Clean Air Minnesota—as well as one of the minds that shaped the effort. What made you go to bat for this group?

Clean Air Minnesota was really important because in the evaluation of the state’s air quality problems, the data showed that 75% of air pollution was coming from non-point sources. In other words, all the industries had permits for their point-source air issues, and followed those for the most part, and still we were concerned about meeting the ozone standard and other air quality standards.

Part of the federal law is that if the state is not in compliance, then it’s the point source permit holders (the industries) who may be penalized for that. Because pollution was coming from smaller non-smoke stack pollution, there’s no way that Minnesota could maintain or improve air quality without having a collaborative process. Local governments, business, and the environmental community needed to try to take some voluntary actions to maintain the status of our air quality.

Partnership and consensus isn’t always easy. What was your most difficult collaborative endeavor (or problem)?

One was very successful, and the other was much less so.

The most successful was the Clean Water Legacy Project where we formed a group which worked on creating a framework for addressing the state’s water quality issues, and then finding a source of funding. It took several years to figure this out, with all these interests, and they are still working together on it. It was a very successful process, and the legislature agreed with the legislation and eventually found a method to fund and provide resources to the state agencies and local governments. It’s an effort that will go on for many, many years and I think it’s a tremendous success.

The one that was more difficult was the Environmental Initiative stakeholder process on chemical regulation. The federal government, under the Toxic Substances Control Act, regulates hazardous substances. That law needed work for a long time, and Congress was not able to do it, and there were efforts for the state regulation of chemicals—so we brought the stakeholders together.

It was a very interesting process, but there was not significant consensus that came out of it. One thing that did occur after the fact was that Congress eventually did pass amendments to the Toxic Substance Control Act which are now being implemented and hopefully the situation will improve.

As you look at these issues over time, one factor of success is getting the timing right. At the time in which we were working on the chemical issue, the timing wasn’t exactly right. With air and water quality, everybody moved together.

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

My advice would be that environmental professionals and volunteers need to get to know each other. Everybody kind of works in a different environment, representing different interests. One of the things that I’ve discovered over the years is that people need to get together and get to know each other and get to know the issues that are of concern to them. Even though you may not be working at the top level of policymaking, even if you’re an engineer working on a permit, or you’re a volunteer working in your community—all the folks affecting the issue need to get together and talk. It doesn’t need to be done regarding a specific issue, and just the professional relationships that can develop and can be helpful later when folks are in a situation of conflict.

Your favorite Environmental Initiative memory… (serious, funny, impactful… your choice!)

The memory that I have is being a member of Environmental Initiative’s board of directors back in 2003. We brought this question of creating a collaborative process on water quality (The Clean Water Legacy Project) to the board, and there was a lot of concern about that at the time. Environmental Initiative had been focusing on a lot on dialogue and bringing people together to talk about the issues, and now we were talking about something very different, which was actually trying to find solutions in an elaborate process. It hadn’t been tried before at the organization.

I remember the board meeting where that decision was made. The board eventually came around and made the decision that, ‘Yes, we need to go forward.’ I think that changed Environmental Initiative from that day forward. We worked on The Clean Water Legacy Project for three or four years, it was successful, and it developed the organization’s experience in how to collaborate. It was the genesis of the collaborative effort in Minnesota, and it worked. The air quality process (Clean Air Minnesota) went from there, the solid waste collaboration, the chemical dialogue—so there are huge successes that came out of that first collaborative endeavor in 2003.


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

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

Member of the Month: Best Buy

April 3rd, 2017

At Best Buy, we are thrilled to be Environmental Initiative’s member of the month. As Environmental Initiative celebrates 25 years, I want to reflect on the organization’s impact both on Best Buy as well as the greater Twin Cities community.

 

When Best Buy began our sustainability journey a decade ago, Environmental Initiative was one of the first organizations we sought out to help guide our strategy and have continued to be a trusted resource in the years since.

I see Environmental Initiative as the convener of environmental thought leaders in Minnesota. The team has built a solid network of organizations who seek to drive sustainability forward. We are part of a unique community, with 16 Fortune 500 companies in the metro area, yet a close-knit group of individuals. Perhaps it’s our Midwest values-driven organizations, but there is a small-town feeling within our sustainability community. I can pick up the phone and call my environmental counterparts at any organization in town, thanks in part to the network Environmental Initiative helped build.

Not only does Environmental Initiative connect large companies, but also brings together smaller companies, academics and government agencies, facilitating conversations on topics that affect all of us, like smart transportation, sustainable consumption and renewable energy. I appreciate the variety of programming, which engages members of my team at all levels. From the case studies presented at the Business and Environment Series, to the more specialized Sustainability Practitioners Roundtable to the advocacy-focused Policy Forums, I see a common thread of collaboration and problem-solving throughout.

 

I’m excited about the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition, an Environmental Initiative-led partnership of 30 businesses working together to advance the circular economy. One aspect of the work focuses on renewable energy, a topic Best Buy is deeply connected with, as 12 percent of our 45 percent carbon reduction goal is dedicated to renewables. By facilitating an open discussion with energy providers, Environmental Initiative has helped advance green tariff design that aligns with the energy and carbon reduction goals of our respective companies.

Congratulations Environmental Initiative, on 25 years of convening, educating, advocating for the environment. We are proud to be on this journey with you.


Each month, we feature information about one of our members on the Initiative blog and on our website. Contact Sacha Seymour-Anderson anytime at 612-334-3388 ext. 8108 to learn more about this membership benefit.

Alexis Ludwig-Vogen

POSTED BY:

Director, Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability, Best Buy

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

Introducing the High-Emitting Vehicles Pilot Project

March 22nd, 2017

Our work and reach is always expanding here at Environmental Initiative! We’re excited to announce a new project that will be addressing Minnesota’s air quality by fixing pollution controls on high-emitting passenger vehicles for folks with lower incomes.

What are High-Emitting Vehicles?

Photo credit: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

It can kind of be a mouthful to say, but high-emitting vehicles are passenger cars and light-duty trucks that emit high levels of pollution into the air. These cars typically have outdated or broken emission controls or exhaust equipment that would typically be identified in vehicle emissions testing programs run in areas that have violated federal air quality standards. This new pilot project aims to repair some of those broken technologies, improving fuel efficiency and reducing air pollution all at the same time.

How does the project work?

Environmental Initiative is partnering with two nonprofit garages that provide low-cost safety and reliability repairs to help improve their clients’ economic security. While funding is available, Cars for Neighbors and The Lift Garage will offer no-cost repairs to three priority emission control systems on the cars of clients that qualify for their services: catalytic converters, evaporative emission control (EVAP) systems, and oxygen sensors. You can read more about these technologies here »

 

 

This is a pilot project, so we’ll be working on a small scale for right now. In this phase, our goal is to repair roughly 40 vehicles identified by our partners. We have high hopes, though! If the pilot is successful, we’ll be raising funds and expand our reach.

The high-emitting vehicles pilot project is one of several efforts underway to help achieve Clean Air Minnesota’s goal of reducing man-made sources of fine particulate matter (soot) and ground level ozone precursor emissions (smog) by 10%.

Clean Air Minnesota is a diverse coalition of air quality leaders convened by Environmental Initiative who are working voluntarily and proactively to reduce air pollution.

Why is this project important?

Minnesota is fortunate enough to have pretty good air quality. However, as the science around air quality advances, health impacts from air pollution are being found at ever lower concentrations. One recent study from the University of Toronto found that 25% of the worst-polluting passenger vehicles may emit up to 90% of vehicle-related air pollution (The Air We Breathe Report 2017). Focusing on vehicles that produce higher levels of pollution is one efficient and cost effective method of addressing air quality concerns in our state.

The great part about this project is that its impacts go far beyond the environmental factors. According to a report published by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Health, lower-income residents of color, children with asthma, and the elderly are often most affected by dirty air. Disadvantaged communities feel the health effects of pollution more acutely, often in the form of respiratory and cardiovascular conditions. The Lift Garage and Cars for Neighbors serve these communities that often cannot afford repairs to emission control systems. Every repair that this project makes reduces pollution in close proximity to those most vulnerable to it while furthering our partners’ missions of promoting economic stability through reliable transport.

Overall, the high-emitting vehicles pilot project is a big opportunity to reduce air pollution where it is most felt. At the same time, we can also address sources that produce large amounts of dirty air. It’s a win-win!

We’re really excited to be launching a pilot version of this project and are looking forward to expanding. If you have questions, want to learn more, or are interested in contributing, you can contact me at mweitekamp@en-in.org.

Mikey Weitekamp

POSTED BY:

Senior Project Manager, Environmental Initiative

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

Putting a CAAP on Air Pollution (Now in St. Paul)

March 7th, 2017

The Clean Air Assistance Project (CAAP) has officially completed its first emissions reduction project!

As part of Clean Air Minnesota’s efforts to improve the state’s air quality, Environmental Initiative is working with our partners and local businesses to make proactive and voluntary improvements that benefit the environment, human health, and help our local economy transition toward a clean and efficient future. CAAP is part of the Area Source Team within Clean Air Minnesota that helps smaller, more localized sources of pollution reduce their emissions. Our first project was with Raymond Auto Body Shop in St. Paul.

Smog, smells, and solvents

Raymond Auto Body has been painting cars in St. Paul for over 60 years. Historically, paints used in auto body shops are usually made from solvents. What are solvents? They usually come with names like “n-butyl acetate,” “xylene,” or “2-methoxy-1-methylethyl acetate.” Rolls right off the tongue, right? Basically, it’s the stuff that makes that spray paint smell.

Solvents evaporate faster than water, shortening the drying time needed to finish painting cars. Unfortunately, they’re also harmful to the environment and human health. These solvents are also called VOCs: Volatile Organic Compounds. When these VOCs are released into the air, they mix with other pollutants and cause ground-level ozone, also known as smog. Smog is bad. How bad? Breathing in smog has been described as the equivalent of “sunburn on your lungs.” So basically, solvent VOCs mix with other compounds in the air to make smog, which isn’t great.

But good news! The project with Raymond Auto Body switched their solvent-based paint to a water-based paint. This is a relatively new technology, but one that many states in violation of federal air quality standards are required to make. It does take a little more effort to make sure the paint booth has enough clean and dry air moving fast enough to make that water evaporate quickly (especially on a hot and humid summer day). This means that switching to waterborne paint usually requires upgrading the air blowers in the booth.

Raymond Auto Body—Exciting for 3 Reasons

This particular project is a real humdinger.

For starters, it’s exciting to get the first CAAP project under the belt! We’ve worked to promote and utilize other programs before (like the Minneapolis Green Business Cost Share Program and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s (MPCA) Small Business Environmental Assistance Program), but this was the first one Environmental Initiative took from start to finish using our own funding.

Second, it’s a big project! What we’ve historically seen from similar conversion projects are VOC reductions ranging from 45 – 65%! We’ll know more when the numbers come in for 2017, but for a shop like Raymond, we’re conservatively looking at tons of emissions reductions.

Third, this project is emblematic of what we’re trying to do with our air work. According to the MPCA’s Life and Breath Report, negative health impacts of air pollution fall disproportionately on lower-income residents and people of color, as well as the elderly, children, and those predisposed to respiratory illness. Raymond Auto Body is right off Lexington and W. Pierce Butler Route, a location the Metropolitan Council identified as an area of concentrated poverty. It’s also located in a corridor that has historically been affected by heavy industrial use. In short, these emission are being eliminated where Minnesotans feel the effects of air pollution more acutely.

Get Involved

While we’re celebrating this project and CAAP’s successful rollout, the last thing we want to do is rest on our heels. In fact, we’re already chasing down our next auto body project in St. Paul and looking for additional opportunities in the Metro. Know of any? Give us a call or e-mail and see if we can bring a similar success to your neck of the woods.

The Clean Air Assistance Program is made possible through generous contributions and support from our partners, 3M and Western Refining.

Bjorn Olson

POSTED BY:

Senior Environmental Project Associate

Member of the Month: Barr Engineering

March 1st, 2017

Barr Engineering Co. (Barr) is honored to be featured as Environmental Initiative’s member of the month for March. We’re excited to have this opportunity to reflect on our work with Environmental Initiative and what it means to us—and has meant to us— since the organization’s inception.

To start off with a little background on Barr, we are an employee-owned engineering and environmental consulting firm with nine offices across North America and over 700 employees. Our company was incorporated over 50 years ago in Minnesota, which is the location our headquarters as well. Some of Barr’s most active members, including Mike Hansel and Andy Polzin, have worked with Environmental Initiative since its earliest days, and they continue to help Barr maintain its commitment to Environmental Initiative’s goals.

Talking with Mike and Andy, you get a sense of how important Environmental Initiative has been to them, to Barr, and to our community of members. Andy recently reminisced about his involvement with Environmental Initiative when he was just starting out:

Interview: Andy Polzin—Vice President, Senior Environmental Consultant

“In the early days, Environmental Initiative had a reoccurring program called the Environmental Management Excellence Series. Representatives of industry, government, academia and young, impressionable consultants like me met three or four times a year and talked about the big regulatory topics. The Clean Air Act of 1990 (the Title V permit program) and implementation of the NPDES stormwater permitting program at the federal and state levels in 1992 were two of those big topics. We all learned together about these programs.

“In subsequent years, Environmental Initiative started getting out in front of new programs and set up forums to discuss issues like NESHAP attainment in the Twin Cities metro area and climate change. Nobody does partnerships and creates space for discussion around current issues quite like Environmental Initiative.”

Duluth Coffee Creek repairs project, winner of the 2016 Natural Resources Award

Andy also pointed out how Environmental Initiative membership has helped him maintain connections with others dedicated to addressing complex environmental problems.

“The annual Environmental Initiative Awards ceremony is the one event I make sure to attend every year. I see people there that I don’t get to see at any other time. It’s great to see the slate of award nominees and wonder at the partnerships that produce such impressive environmental results. Barr has been involved in many nominated partnerships over the years, and we feel fortunate to have been on a winning team in 2016 (in the Natural Resources category).”

Interview: Mike Hansel — Senior Chemical Engineer

Looking back over his decades of involvement, Mike Hansel focused on Environmental Initiative’s ability to bring together stakeholders and serve as a catalyst for action.

“Back in 2002 (or thereabouts) Environmental Initiative convened a Policy Forum on air quality. During a presentation by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, it was pretty clear that the Twin Cities were in danger of becoming a non-attainment area for ozone and fine particulate matter. During a break, the Chamber [of Commerce], the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, and Barr got together and concluded ‘this is a big deal!’ Out of that conversation grew Clean Air Minnesota, an Environmental Initiative-led coalition working to reduce air pollution that Barr has been involved with since inception.”

At Barr, we recognize that we’ve benefited greatly from our work with Environmental Initiative over the years. The people we’ve met and the conversations we’ve had have enabled us to develop lasting relationships. Through our membership and the opportunities for collaboration Environmental Initiative provides, we’re able to engage with the essential environmental issues of the day. We look forward to continuing our involvement and service.


Each month, we feature information about one of our members on the Initiative blog and on our website. Contact Sacha Seymour-Anderson anytime at 612-334-3388 ext. 8108 to learn more about this membership benefit.

Michelle Stockness

POSTED BY:

Senior Environmental Engineer, Barr Engineering

The Fierce Allegiance of Clean Air Minnesota

February 27th, 2017

Once upon a time, a group of organizations faced daunting air quality challenges. In 2001, the Twin Cities area experienced its first smog alerts in more than 30 years and the region nearly exceeded federal air quality standards. Rather than seeing it as a conflict laden, zero-sum situation, these individuals and organizations seized the moment to engage in a constructive dialogue. In a single event, our partners came together, but not as adversaries. Instead, they engaged and brought their different perspectives, voices, and skills to the table to achieve a common goal.

The Beginning of Clean Air Minnesota

Recognizing and valuing the common good of voluntary, pro-active action, a number of new and long-time Environmental Initiative partners used this dialogue to create Clean Air Minnesota (CAM). Each organization had to overcome their own internal challenges to participate. Yet, each could see the greater value of collaborative engagement, so they pushed their comfort levels and stuck with it.

Together they identified cost-effective and environmentally-sound ways to reduce emissions, decrease exposure, protect public health, and avoid economic and societal costs of violating air quality standards. Everyone had a different reason for supporting the effort.

We talked a lot—especially in those early days. We had to reconcile and balance conflicts between various emission-reduction project options, the desired returns of health benefits, and the realities of economic costs. We had rural and metro disputes. We confronted differences over technologies, costs, and ease of implementation related to emission reductions derived.

All the while, everything had to be voluntary. Our region violated no federal requirements; no one had to do anything. Ultimately, our partners’ fierce allegiance to this public-private partnership delivered simultaneous health benefits, emissions reductions, and jobs.

Clean Air Champions—Then and Now

These first partners, Mike Robertson with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Lee Paddock from the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, David Thornton with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and Mike Hansel with Flint Hills Resources, each played their part and worked to their strengths for the good of the partnership. Each gave up some level of control, but gained more in their collective actions. This group was truly living our values of “courageous innovation” and working “better together.”

The fierce allegiance to collaboration by our partners led to Project Green Fleet and cleaning up every eligible school bus in Minnesota, dozens of heavy-duty diesel engines, and even a few trains and tow boats. More recently, we’ve launched Project Stove Swap, which is also a change-out project, only for wood-burning devices. We also have been able to run the Clean Air Assistance Project, which helps small and medium-sized businesses find economical ways to reduce emissions.

As with CAM’s founding, it’s time for some constructive collaboration and action. We need to face the challenges of this time, stand as a beacon, and get down to some old-fashioned Environmental Initiative-style project work. We need to step up our efforts and expand the impact of emission reduction activities.

We need a new set of champions with that same fierce commitment to our mutual, common cause. We need to recognize and accept the risks– and, equally value and reap the rewards of collaboration. In these uncertain times, we should all be doing everything we can to advance this still unique and valuable public-private partnership and realize our common goals of cleaner, healthier air, as well as the associated economic gains.

Who will model earlier CAM champions? Who will step forward to lead together today?


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.

Bill Droessler

POSTED BY:

Senior Director of Strategic Project Planning
Environmental Initiative - Home