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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

A walk down memory lane with Environmental Initiative

May 4th, 2017

We here at Environmental Initiative like to gather people—it’s what we do! And what better way to celebrate our 25th Anniversary then to host a series of gatherings bringing together some of our strongest advocates, past and present project partners, and maybe those just getting to know us?

We’re calling these get-togethers “Champions Gatherings,” and we’re having a series 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

We had our first gathering last Wednesday, bringing some of the Environmental Initiative founders back together to chat history and reconnect with one another.

The group shared why and how we were formed, which was very interesting because we learned not much has changed in 25 years. Well, we’ve changed, but maybe the art of collaboration hasn’t. Partnership and working together is hard, after all. Our community still butts heads all the time, so for us, we’re just as needed now as we were back then. Collaboration and bringing people together is why we were formed and what we still do today. We have not varied much from our founding values!

We also learned that our work is a slow process. Yes, we do get some immediate results, but the biggest impact we have had over the years is from people taking the ideas that we started in work groups or at events and continuing to expand them on their own. Some examples of this are having a sister organization in Wisconsin, other non-profits coming into existence because of our work, and cleaning up school buses and other diesel engines. The list goes on and on!

It was so great to hear about our founding and to see how proud our founders looked as they talked about the organization. I am so happy we could bring this group of people back together and I cannot wait to celebrate with them at the Environmental Initiative Awards celebration on May 25.

A big thank you to all the people that have made Environmental Initiative what it is today. We wouldn’t be here if it were not for all of you.

If you are interested in joining an upcoming gathering, shoot me a note at sseymour@en-in.org, and I would love to send you an invitation.

Sacha Seymour-Anderson

POSTED BY:

Development Director

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

February 13th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE—TOGETHER

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

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

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

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

Mike Harley

POSTED BY:

Executive Director

Congratulate the Sustainable Business Finalists

May 16th, 2016

It’s been fun introducing you to the 2016 Environmental Initiative Awards finalists but alas, our series is coming to an end. This week, we are featuring the last finalists in the Sustainable Business category. This category acknowledges collaborative efforts to pursue sustainable business practices or offer private sector-based solutions to environmental challenges. Projects should contribute to environmental stewardship, economic benefit, and competitive advantage.

Go Twins, Go Green

With a goal of becoming the greenest ballpark in America, together with its partners the Minnesota Twins converted Go Twins Go Green - Blogall concession serviceware to compostable products in an effort to reduce waste. The first regional effort for a large scale sports venue of it’s kind, this initiative increases waste diversion, educates the public on waste reduction and recycling efforts, and pushes Target Field towards a zero waste facility with every ball game played.

Read more about the Minnesota Twin’s voluntary effort to reduce waste and educate fans on the importance of reducing our impact on the environment »

MAC’s Sustainable STAR Solar PV and LED Lighting Project

The first project of its kind in the county, the Metropolitan Airports Commission’s (MAC) comprehensive solar MAC - Blogenergy program combines LED lighting upgrades and 3-megawatts of solar PV and is completely self-funded using the energy savings. This highly visible showcase of energy innovations aims to increase public awareness on energy conservation and promote the expansion of other renewable energy projects in Minnesota.

“35 million people who use the airport each year can see the solar PV system,” said John Neville with Ameresco. He is proud to be part of a project with this magnitude of impact.

Read more about how MAC’s Sustainable STAR Solar PV and LED Lighting Project saves the equivalent emissions of removing 1,424 cars from the road each year »

Recycling Agricultural/Marine Plastics

With the use of plastic films on the rise, a diverse group of stakeholders identified and established environmentally Recycling Ag Marine Plasticsand economically sustainable methods for properly managing agricultural and boat plastic wrap waste. Recycling these plastic films conserves resources, reduces pollution and soil contamination by creating a viable alternative to current management practices such as burning or burying the plastic material on site.

“Farmers were calling because they knew what they were doing with the plastic films wasn’t right,” said Brita Sailer of the Recycling Association of Minnesota. She is proud the partnership solved this problem not only for farmers but also for the marine sector and the environment.

Read more on the ways the Recycling Agricultural/Marine Plastics project is increasing recycling rates and reducing improper disposal of agricultural and marine plastics »

We hope you join us in celebrating all eighteen finalists at the ceremony on Thursday, May 26!

Andrea Robbins

POSTED BY:

Director, Engagement and Systems

Hooray for the Natural Resources Finalists

May 12th, 2016

If you’ve been following along, you know that each week we are featuring finalists for the 2016 Environmental Initiative Awards. Coming at you this week are the finalists in the Natural Resources category. The Natural Resources category recognizes collaborations designed to implement sustainable solutions to preserve, protect, or restore Minnesota’s land, water, biological diversity, and other natural resources.

Coffee Creek Daylighting and Restoration

Flooding in 2012 severely damaged sections of Coffee Creek in Duluth, creating the opportunity to restore and Coffee Creek Daylight and Restoration - Blogdaylight the section of stream located on a golf course back to a natural stream. The new stream channel provides valuable habitat for trout, ensures the passage of aquatic species, provides a natural oasis for golfers, is more resilient for future flood events, and promotes sustainable redevelopment of urban land.

“The project partners successfully created a more resilient stream that is less likely to sustain damage in the future,” said Chris Kleist with the City of Duluth. He is proud the partners were able to balance interests and find common ground to restore this highly visible section of Coffee Creek.

Read more about how Coffee Creek Daylighting and Restoration protects and promotes environmental, social, and economic considerations of stream restoration »

Faces of Tomorrow

Focused on addressing the underrepresentation of people of color and females in natural resources careers, Faces of Faces of TomorrowTomorrow uses an innovative approach to reduce barriers to participation and increase overall diversity in the natural resources field. To prepare young adults to be competitive for federal natural resources jobs, selected program participants receive intensive training and hands-on experience in conservation management.

Read more on the ways Faces of Tomorrow is ensuring the future natural resources workforce more accurately reflects the community it serves »

Grand Marais Creek Outlet Restoration

After 100 years of environmental damage, this cooperative effort between the watershed, landowners, and state and Grand Marais Creek Outlet Restoration-Bloglocal governments restored six miles of the Grand Marais Creek Outlet back to pre-1905 conditions. Physical and hydrological restoration of the creek included improving runoff and water quality, restoring aquatic and prairie habitat, and creating channel connectivity.

Myron Jesme is proud to work on a project that restored “agricultural land that was flood prone and turned it back into native prairie, restoring the aquatic habitat of the Grand Marais Creek.”

Read more about Grand Marais Creek Outlet Restoration’s cooperative effort to improve agricultural and natural resources land use »

Don’t miss the opportunity to mingle with the project partners who worked on these great projects. This is the last week to purchase tables and/or seats for the ceremony on Thursday, May 26. Next week we are featuring the last three finalists – stay tuned!

Andrea Robbins

POSTED BY:

Director, Engagement and Systems

Have you met the Food Stewardship finalists?

May 5th, 2016

Up next in our series featuring the 2016 Environmental Initiative Awards finalists, we’ve got the Food Stewardship finalists. The Food Stewardship category recognizes partners working together to promote more ecologically sustainable, healthy, and socially equitable ways of growing, producing, distributing, consuming, or disposing of food.

Feast! Local Foods Network

Feast! Local Foods Network is committed to growing a sustainable, local and regional food system that Feast Local Foods Network - Blogencourages food stewardship, entrepreneurship, and innovation. The network was created to support local food producers and foodmakers by boosting access to financing, expanding resources and peer-to-peer learning opportunities amongst local food businesses, and increasing community awareness of the local food system.

“This collaborative approach to local food is really focused on the entrepreneur,” said Jan Joannides of Renewing the Countryside. “It’s about helping create small, sustainable food businesses to adopt practices that are better for all of us.”

Read more on how Feast! Local Foods Network is working to expand markets for local food businesses »

From the Ground Up North

From the Ground Up North is a digital resource for sustainable agriculture education that highlights the From the Ground Up North - Blogpeople and places dedicated to healthy food, environments, and communities throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin. This one-stop shop for resources and local sustainable agriculture stories aims to inspire and empower the community to become stewards of the land and one another.

“From the Ground Up North really tells the story of the people and places behind local, sustainable agriculture,” said Matt Frank of From the Ground Up North. Matt said before the project partnership was formed there wasn’t an outlet that provided free, accessible information highlighting not just sustainable agriculture but the people behind it.

Read more about ways From the Ground Up North is using storytelling, advocacy, and resources to promote environmental stewardship »

Wadena School Food Project

The Wadena School Food Project grows fresh, local food and delivers nutrition and plant biology education to Wadena County Food Project - Blogevery school-age child in Wadena, an area consistently ranked among the lowest for public health indicators in the state. Greenhouses and gardens on school property provide a hands-on learning opportunity for students to understand, care for, and enjoy locally grown, healthy food, which is served in their cafeterias.

“We had a big problem to solve – a county that ranked at the bottom for health indicators. Now not only do the kids get to eat better food, they are able to grow a garden, learn about the value of food, and teach their parents about healthy food,” said Del Moen, a project partner.

Read more on the ways Wadena School Food Project is exposing students to hands-on education and curriculum on food quality and nutrition »

Want to meet with the partners who worked on these projects over a delicious meal? Purchase your tables and/or seats for the ceremony on Thursday, May 26. Stay tuned for next week’s post featuring three more finalists!review smartphone android

 

Andrea Robbins

POSTED BY:

Director, Engagement and Systems

Celebrate the Environmental Education Finalists

April 28th, 2016

This week we are featuring the Environmental Education category finalists as part of our series highlighting the 2016 Environmental Initiative Awards finalists. The Environmental Education category recognizes cooperative efforts to educate youth or adult audiences on environmental issues, improve environmental literacy, and/or inspire behavior change. Environmental education projects may be conducted in either formal or non-formal settings.

Race 2 Reduce

A community-wide partnership, Race 2 Reduce is engaging the public and educating youth in the surrounding communities Race 2 Reduce - Blogof White Bear Lake on the importance of local water conservation. By engaging the future generation of leaders, students are empowered to change community water use behaviors and influence the management and protection of our most precious resource.

“By collaborating with public school districts, the cities, and other local organizations we are bringing real world issues into the classroom,” said Sarah Alexander of H20 for Life. She is proud of the way students have taken what they learned in the classroom to become powerful advocates for change in their own communities.

Read more about how Race 2 Reduce is addressing local water resource issues through community collaboration and education »

Saint Paul EcoDistrict

Located within a four block area, the Saint Paul EcoDistrict is a sustainability education platform demonstrating Saint Paul EcoDistrict - Blogenvironmental innovations in action. Teaching students, families, and leaders alike, this free learning experience showcases real-life applications of sustainable technologies including photovoltaics, bioenergy, energy efficiency, electric vehicles, recycling, composting, and more.

“The Saint Paul EcoDistrict has developed into a place for field trips, sustainability discussions, best practices learning, and seeing renewable energy and waste reduction projects first hand,” said Nina Axelson of District Energy St. Paul. “It’s the only place in the country you can find this density of publicly accessible sustainable solutions.”

Read more about how the Saint Paul EcoDistrict is increasing environmental literacy, engagement, and implementation of sustainable technology »

Sauk River Watershed District WaterFests

The Sauk River Watershed District WaterFests invites all fourth grade students in the watershed to annually participate in a Sauk River Watershed District WaterFestswater and natural resource protection outdoor learning experience. Collaboration with teachers, school districts, and state and local governments allow students to establish environmental ethics, grow community involvement, and create the foundation for a future of natural resources protection.

“It’s great to help teachers learn how to bring this type of education into the classroom and get kids outside,” said Adam Hjelm of the Sauk River Watershed District.

Read more on the ways Sauk River Watershed District WaterFests annually educates 2,500 students on environmental issues »

Want to celebrate with the partners who worked on these projects? Purchase your tables and/or seats for the ceremony on Thursday, May 26. Stay tuned for next week’s post featuring three more finalists!

Andrea Robbins

POSTED BY:

Director, Engagement and Systems

Meet the Energy and Climate Finalists

April 21st, 2016

Wow! Here’s another batch of environmental partnerships in our series featuring the 2016 Environmental Initiative Awards finalists.

Highlighted this week are the three Energy and Climate category finalists. This category recognizes partnerships that work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cut energy consumption, advance energy efficiency, or improve air quality. Projects may also include collaborative efforts to prepare Minnesota to adapt to a changing global climate.

Minneapolis Energy Benchmarking Program

The Minneapolis Energy Benchmarking Program requires the largest commercial buildings in the city to track and publicly report annual energy and water performance. Transparently aggregating whole building energy data is driving the largest Mpls Energy Benchmarking - Blogenergy users to re-think building energy, leading to a reduction in energy consumption, energy costs, and greenhouse gas emissions.

Katie Jones Schmitt of the Center for Energy and Environment said about the program, “I’m happy we’ve gotten the conversation started about whole building energy use. It’s now on the radar for decision makers.” She is excited that the partnership between the City, Xcel Energy, and CenterPoint Energy is creating awareness and enabling building managers to take action on energy efficiency.

Read more about how the Minneapolis Energy Benchmarking Program is spurring the adoption of energy efficiency projects and strategies »

Safer Products That Work

The Safer Products that Work project is expanding opportunities for businesses to improve air quality. Project partners help industrial and automotive businesses reduce volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions by identifying alternative Safer Products that Work - Blogdegreasing aids. (Decreasing aids are solvents that help remove grease). By switching to a safer degreaser, businesses are reducing odors, eliminating waste, and improving indoor air quality for employees and the neighborhood.

Laura Babcock of the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program observes, “When businesses are presented with an alternative that is better in many ways, they are willing to make a change.” She is proud to successfully assist businesses with changes that reduce worker exposure to air pollution and help the environment.

Read more about how Safer Products That Work is reducing VOC emissions to improve indoor and outdoor air quality »

The Rose

A model of the next generation of multifamily housing, The Rose successfully incorporated ultra-sustainable design, energyThe Rose - Blog efficiency, and healthy building materials into a Minneapolis apartment complex accessible to low-income families. This community-built partnership has changed the way people live by creating an environmentally conscious, net zero ready, healthy, and affordable place for residents to call home.

James Lehnhoff with Aeon said, “What we’ve done is built a partnership with the community.” He is proud to work on project that will impact the community today and into the future.

Read more about The Rose’s practical, cost-effective energy-saving features »

Don’t miss the opportunity to honor these projects at the ceremony on Thursday, May 26. Purchase your tables and/or seats today. Tune in to next week’s post featuring three more outstanding finalists!

Andrea Robbins

POSTED BY:

Director, Engagement and Systems

Get to Know the Community Action Finalists

April 15th, 2016

To celebrate the successes of eighteen incredible environmental partnerships, I’ll be featuring the 2016 Environmental Initiative Awards finalists in a series of posts leading up to the event on Thursday, May 26.

Kicking it off this week are three innovative projects in the Community Action category. This category recognizes collaborations that utilize residents or volunteers to solve sustainability challenges on a community scale. This could include grassroots efforts in neighborhood revitalization or beautification efforts, alternative land use strategies, or policy initiatives that contribute to economic prosperity, environmental stewardship, and improved quality of life.

Frogtown Park and Farm

Frogtown Park and Farm started with a dream by four Frogtown residents interested in engaging the community on growing local food. A public-private partnership was formed to bring the dream to life, creating a 13-acre public park and farm in one of the most park-poor neighborhoods A bundled-up boy and girl stand in snow checking out frozen leaves under a tree at Wilder Park in St. Paul, MN. Formerly Wilder Foundation's campus, not yet a TPL project, Minnehaha Ave. W and N Victoria St.in the City of Saint Paul. The park now serves as hub for community gathering, recreation, and a connection to nourishing, healthy food grown right in the neighborhood.

“Not everyday you create a new neighborhood park in the City of Saint Paul,” says project partner Susan Schmidt with The Trust for Public Land. What inspires her is the community-based approach to creating an urban treasure that people truly love.

Read more about Frogtown Park and Farm’s goal to nourish, connect, and empower the community »

Sun Ray Nature-Smart Library

The newly renovated Sun Ray Library is changing the way the community thinks about literacy, environmental stewardship, and youth leadership by becoming a hub for nature learning and recreation. Quickly becoming a national model of success, the library transformed both its physical environment and programming to serve as a place for families and children to Sun Ray Nature-Smart Library - Blog
gather, learn, explore, and engage with nature. The library and surrounding Conway Park now boast family resources for nature engagement, a youth environmental leadership program, increased tree canopy, and a thriving pollinator garden.

Rebecca Ryan, library manager at Sun Ray Library says you often forgot the library was in a park before project renovations created a renewed connection to nature. “We are used to thinking of reading and learning as something we do inside. For people to start thinking about how we support working outside, and what that means, is an idea I’d like to see spread.”

Read more about the nature-based education and engagement activities of Sun Ray Nature-Smart Library »

Washburn Center for Children

What was once a vacant, distressed, and environmentally-challenged plot of land, was transformed into a new facility for the Washburn Center for Children, one of the state’s leading children’s mental health centers. Significant environmental Washburn Center for Children - Blogcleanup of the site, in combination with incorporating natural and therapeutic environmental elements into the building’s design, has created a safe, healing space for families in the community. The Washburn Center for Children has been designed, inside and out, to foster a child’s healing, quickly becoming an asset for the community.

One of the most impactful projects he’s worked on, project partner Imants Pone of Braun Intertec says, “The Washburn Center for Children has a significant impact on the future of our community, the City, and children in need.”

Read more about the healing natural design elements of Washburn Center for Children »

We hope you join us in honoring these projects at the 2016 Environmental Initiative Awards ceremony on Thursday, May 26. Purchase your tables and/or seats today. Tune in to next week’s post featuring three more outstanding finalists!

Andrea Robbins

POSTED BY:

Director, Engagement and Systems

And the 2016 Environmental Initiative Awards Finalists Are…

March 21st, 2016

FB-ProfileEarlier this week a panel of independent judges from business, government, and nonprofit organizations met to discuss project nominations from all over the state. After some great conversation and tough deliberations, they selected three finalist projects in each category (and one winner). Congratulations to this year’s outstanding projects and partnerships selected as finalists:

COMMUNITY ACTION

Judges: Pakou Hang, Hmong American Farmers Association; Eric Oines, Project for Pride in Living

 

ENERGY AND CLIMATE

Judges: Mark Lundgren, MSA Professional Services; Bill Poppert, Technology North; Katie Swor, Wenck Associates

 

ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION

Judges: Melissa Chelminiak, Aveda; Mary Oldham, University of Minnesota; Quinn Swanson, Happy Dancing Turtle

 

FOOD STEWARDSHIP

Judges: Yolanda Cotterall, Latino Economic Development Center; Hedi Moussavi, General Mills

 

NATURAL RESOURCES

Judges: Megan Dobratz, Native Sustainability; Brett Emmons, Emmons & Olivier Resources, Inc.; Brian Ross, Great Plains Institute

 

SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS

Judges: Angie Bourdaghs, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency; Samantha McKeough, HealthPartners; Leo Raudys, Call2Recycle

 

Thanks to the judges who shared their time with us and for Medtronic for hosting our judging event. We are grateful for Medtronic’s long-standing support of the judging event and as a sponsor of the Environmental Initiative Awards.

Don’t miss the opportunity to join more than 450 environmental leaders for networking, dinner, and a celebration of Minnesota’s most innovative and collaborative success stories of the year. The celebration is on Thursday, May 26. Register now for full tables (seating 10) and individual seats. Don’t miss the early bird pricing through Friday, April 15!

Andrea Robbins

POSTED BY:

Director, Engagement and Systems
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