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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.


“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.


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


Communications Director

Environmental Initiative’s 2013 Year in Review

December 27th, 2013

Happy New Year from all of us here at Environmental Initiative! 2013 has been an exciting year for us and we can’t wait to continue to work with our current partners, and forge new collaborations, in 2014. Before we hit the ground running next year (next week!), join me in looking back at this top-ten list of Environmental Initiative’s 2013 highlights.

1. Our Clean Air Minnesota partners announced twenty-four recommendations to reduce emissions, protect public health, and keep Minnesota’s air clean. Now, this statewide partnership of leaders from businesses, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations is entering a new phase of work together – collectively reviewing, prioritizing, and discussing how to implement these recommendations.

2. Halfway through Governor Dayton’s first term in office, we brought state agency leaders together at our 2013 Commissioners Forum to discuss their environmental priorities and perspectives. Leaders from the Board of Water & Soil Resources, Metropolitan Council, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and Minnesota Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Health, Natural Resources, and Transportation offered ideas and heard from audience members on water quality, climate change, and more. We were pleased to hear lots of talk about the importance of collaboration – with so many agencies working on environmental issues, our speakers agreed that aligning goals and programs across agencies and departments was key to driving greater impact.


Georgia Rubenstein


Senior Manager, Sustainability Program

Your Groundwater Questions, Answered.

December 23rd, 2013

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

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

Here are their responses:

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

Dan Stoddard, Minnesota Department of Agriculture:

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

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

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

Andrea Robbins


Director, Engagement and Systems

Our Thoughts: 2013 Commissioners Forum

April 18th, 2013

Why would Environmental Initiative hold the first policy forum of the year the day after a spring snow storm?

Besides the fact that we’re all hardy Minnesotans who secretly enjoy the unusual weather, we find ourselves at a unique time. We’re halfway through Governor Mark Dayton’s first term and changes in legislature can sometimes shift priorities and possibilities for state agencies. Added to this, Minnesota has state agency leaders who have stepped into new roles to coalesce with the establisheAttendees at the 2013 Commissioners Forumd leaders.

With all this in mind, Environmental Initiative wanted to gather state agency leaders to provide the community with a unique opportunity to have a conversation about their priorities and opinions on the environmental issues that matter to Minnesotans.

Leaders from the Board of Water & Soil Resources, Metropolitan Council, Minnesota Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Health, Natural Resources, Transportation, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency discussed their priorities during two panel discussions last Friday. While there was a lot of good discussion, some common themes emerged throughout the morning including concerns about water quality and quantity, climate change, collaboration, and Minnesota’s Environmental Congress. (more…)

Eric David


Program Manager, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Building Partnerships, Building Success: Project for Pride in Living’s Hamline Station

April 2nd, 2013

Artist’s rendering of PPL’s Mixed-Use DevelopmentFor most brownfield projects, the act of building begins long before any foundations are laid or soils are prepared. A successful brownfield project begins with building relationships and partnerships.

Such was the case for a project my team at American Engineering Testing and I recently worked on: Project for Pride in Living’s (PPL’s) workforce housing development at the Hamline Station site in Saint Paul, which is located along University Avenue from Hamline Avenue to Syndicate Street.  PPL works with lower-income individuals and families to achieve greater self-sufficiency through housing, employment training, support services, and education. We worked with PPL and the developer, Excelsior Bay Partners, to help obtain funding for the project.

As a consulting firm, we often help clients prepare grant applications and develop funding strategies for brownfield sites. While preparing a compelling grant application is critical, over the years I’ve seen it time and time again: developing relationships—partnering with municipalities, funding agencies, and project stakeholders—is what helps projects obtain the funding they need. This project happens to be a prime example of how partnerships can lead to project success.

Gail Cederberg


Principal, Environmental Services – American Engineering Testing

Focus on the Loon

December 10th, 2012

This past summer I had the pleasure of facilitating the Parks and Trails Legacy Funding Project, which brought together leaders from the three major parks and trails providers (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Metropolitan Regional Parks and Trails, and Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails) to determine a consensus-based allocation of about $40 million per year in Legacy Amendment dollars.

In past bienniums, the money was allocated based on what some called “a food fight at the legislature,” that left most parties dissatisfied. Our project was set up to avoid a similar fate when it came time to the allocation for FY 2014 – FY 2015. The idea was that nine reasonable parks and trails professionals, three from each provider, could meet six times and come up with a more thoughtful, sensible and consensus-based approach. Common Loon in breeding plumage

I worried that the food fight had just been moved from the Capitol to my meeting room.

Yet in a year that saw so many issues obstructed by divisive rhetoric, I was impressed by the calm, amenable discussion during our six meetings. Although at one point I did have to encourage them to quit being Minnesota nice and state their positions or we’d never reach our goal! (To which one group member memorably replied, “You’ve got a room full of alpha dogs here, just circling and taking each other’s measure.” So true!)

It was interesting to see the different approaches each team member took to the task at hand. Some were focused on data, trying to discover a clean mathematical answer to the allocation of funds. Others took a more philosophical approach, keying in on ideals and goals all the groups shared.

But all the members agreed on one thing: that Parks and Trails dollars from the Legacy Fund should be used to improve the recreation experience for all Minnesotans. “The people using Minnesota’s parks don’t care which group built them or maintain them – they just want to have a good experience,” summarized one group member.

I used a small plush loon as a visual totem of this idea, and it sat in front of me at every meeting. I was very gratified that many group members referred to the loon throughout the process to remind them to think of the whole state before their own professional positions.

I’m immensely proud of this project’s success and all the players involved: Environmental Initiative, which doggedly believes that civilized discussion can solve contentious challenges; the State of Minnesota for investing time and funds to host the discussion, and especially the nine parks professionals from diverse background who worked so hard to come to an informed agreement.


A note from Environmental Initiative:

Marian Bender facilitated Work Group meetings for the Parks and Trails Legacy Funding project from April – October 2012. Consensus was reached on an agreement to allocate parks and trails funding for FY 2014 – FY 2019. The final report and process recommendations are available on the Parks and Trails Legacy Funding Project page.

Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Headquarters via Flickr.

Marian Bender


Facilitator, Parks and Trails Legacy Funding Project

Halfway Down the Trail

July 20th, 2012

As the great conservationist Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” With the most recent meeting of the Parks and Trails Legacy Funding Work Group complete, there are just three meetings left for the group to develop consensus recommendations that can serve as a model for Parks and Trails Legacy Fund allocations for the FY 2014-2015 biennium and beyond. So, we’re halfway there.

The Work Group made progress, discussing both criteria that could support the recommendation and various concepts that could make up the recommendation for allocating parks and trails funds. During the June meeting, we spent some time brainstorming possible recommendations and criteria, which resulted in this list. Small groups had time to answer these questions:

  1. Are there any criteria missing from this list? What are they?
  2. As a group, identify 3-5 criteria that you collectively believe are critical to include as a basis for the Work Group recommendation and why. If not everyone agrees on the criteria, note that.
  3. As a group, identify if there are any criteria below that should not be considered as part of the recommendation and why it should not be considered.


Emily Franklin


Director of Communications

If You Build It, Will They Come? – Transit Oriented Development in the Twin Cities

July 3rd, 2012

Just because you build it does not mean they will come. That was perhaps the primary insight echoed this past Monday at the Wilder Center by a stellar set of speakers at the first event in our 2012 Policy Forum Series. The speakers represented a range of both public and private stakeholder groups, all of whom play a role in development along our region’s transit lines.

The key question the speakers addressed was, “What do we need to do – as a region and as individual organizations – to ensure a strong return on investment (ROI) in transit?” Their answers ranged from more support for stable, long-term funding; to cultivating greater acceptance of dense development; to finding entirely new language to talk about the benefits of communities that are walkable and accessible to job centers (i.e. dropping the wonky term “transit oriented development,” or “TOD”).

It is clear that in the last decade our region has made incredible progress in developing a robust transit network and catching up with other, similar-sized urban areas. But, we also have a long way to go to engage all communities, explore the relationship between transportation options and economic development, and develop a strong, cohesive vision for the kind of region that we all want to live in. (more…)

Meleah Houseknecht


Director, Environmental Policy

Next time you are passing by I-494 and Highway 169…

February 29th, 2012

Be sure and check out the crane on the southwest corner that’s now running cleaner and greener thanks to Project Green Fleet! The crane pictured below, owned by Edward Kraemer & Sons, is currently being repowered.

That means we are removing the existing 1979 engine, which wasn’t subject to any federal emissions regulations when it was built, and replacing it with a new Tier 3 engine. This new engine will reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by approximately 82% and uses substantially less fuel than the original engine. Visit the Initiative blog again in a few weeks to see before and after pictures! (more…)

Eric David


Program Manager, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

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