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The past, present and future of environmental leaders

May 16th, 2017

So you may have heard… but Environmental Initiative turns 25 this year. What you may not have heard is that we’re using our anniversary to bring together leaders in our community not only at the Awards, but also in a series of gatherings.

We’re calling these get-togethers “Champions Gatherings,” and we’re having several of them this year to hear from folks like you about our work, your work and the environmental community.

The topics for these Champions Gatherings include:

  • The history of Environmental Initiative
  • A cross-generational conversation with Critical Collaborators and Emerging Leaders
  • Keeping Minnesota’s air clean: where we’ve been and where we’re going
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • Environmental Initiative’s future work

CRITICAL COLLABORATORS AND EMERGING LEADERS

We had our second of five champions gatherings last week that focused on celebrating the nominees from the Emerging Leader and Critical Collaborator categories for the 25th Anniversary Environmental Initiative Awards.

If you have been involved with Environmental Initiative for a while or have ever been to the Awards, you know we have never honored individual leaders at this event. We always focus on the collaboration of the projects. But what all those nominated projects have in common is people! So, we thought our 25th anniversary should celebrate some of the great people in our community that are making this work happen.

We had more than 30 nominees for the two categories, but we knew that not all the nominees knew each other. We certainly didn’t know all of them! We thought: what better way to get them all to come together ad learn from each other than by having a happy hour in our office?

At the celebration, nominees and staff got to know each other and congratulate one another on their amazing work. It was amazing to see the inter-generational connections that were made in the room between environmental veterans and those maybe just starting out.

We hope everyone who attended had a great time, made new connections, and felt celebrated. We want to thank all the nominees for the work they have done and will continue to do. Minnesota’s environmental would not be where it is today if it were not for all the work you have done.


A note from Environmental Initiative:
We still have three more gatherings this year. If you are interested in attending or learning more about these events, please contact me at sseymour@en-in.org.

Sacha Seymour-Anderson

POSTED BY:

Development 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

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