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Meet Stephanie Weir, Project Manager

April 26th, 2017

Hi, there! I’m Stephanie Weir. I’m excited to join Environmental Initiative to support the Sustainability Program as Project Manager.

My work at Environmental Initiative will be focused on the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition where I will be assisting the group’s clean energy work. I’ll also provide project leadership and management on the Business and Environment Series, an upcoming business-to-business mentorship program, and other emerging Sustainability Program projects.

For the past three and a half years, I served as Program Manager at St. Paul Smart Trips. There, I led the organization’s bicycle advocacy, education, and community building work through St. Paul Women on Bikes (WOB)— a coalition of women, families, and organizations working to make it safer and easier to ride a bike in St. Paul. Similar to Environmental Initiative, this work utilized a positive, coalition-based approach.

With more than a decade of nonprofit and community organizing experience, as well as a Master of Nonprofit Management, I have learned that strong relationships and creative partnerships are key to systems-change work.

More personally, I grew up romping through the woods, climbing trees, and catching fireflies in a small town in rural Michigan. From early-morning fishing to afternoon swims to gazing up at the stars, my childhood was defined by the natural world. After graduating from Kalamazoo College in 2005, I moved to Minneapolis and immediately fell in love with the way the Twin Cities embraces nature in the midst of an urban environment. Whether it’s riding my bike to the Quaking Bog at Theodore Wirth Park, exploring the banks of the Mississippi with Ulu (the cutest dog in the whole world), or getting dirt under my fingernails planting cucamelons in my backyard, there is no shortage of time spent outdoors.

To me, Environmental Initiative’s mission is both personally and professionally important. In every position I’ve held, cross-sector partnerships have always been a centerpiece, so I know I’m going to fit in here. I look forward to getting to know the great people and organizations that make up the Environmental Initiative community!

Stephanie Weir

POSTED BY:

Project Manager

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.

Alexis Ludwig-Vogen

POSTED BY:

Director, Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability, Best Buy

A Year and 30+ dedicated organizations later…

February 23rd, 2017

The Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition is just over a year old, but already we’ve come a long way. More than 30 businesses and organizations now form a business led partnership that harnesses each member’s expertise to advance the next frontier of corporate sustainability – the circular economy.

Together, the Coalition has designated three strategic priorities for regional transformation and are actively educating on what a circular economy can do for Minnesota and the region.

NEW MEMBERS

The Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition is a business-led effort that also includes key public and nonprofit entities within its membership. This cross-sector representation is essential to advancing the circular economy. In June of 2016, the Coalition publicly announced itself as a 27 member strong collaboration. Since then, six additional organizations have joined the effort, including:

 

 

With these six additions, the Coalition expands to just over 30 members. Each new member brings a different perspective and a wealth of experience. This knowledge continues to better position the Coalition, allowing the group to more effectively work on advancing the aspects of a more circular economic system. With each new member, we get closer to realizing our vision.

CIRCULAR ECONOMY EDUCATION

Our members have been quick to explain and project circular economy concepts. Jessica Hellman, Director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IonE) and Coalition member, recently penned an op-ed in the Pioneer Press demonstrating the value of transformative, far-reaching sustainability efforts.

Ackerberg, a recent addition to the Coalition, is the first commercial real estate company to join. Shortly after entering the group, they shared more information on the value they see in collaboration through a piece by Finance & Commerce.

And finally, the Coalition as a whole was featured in the Harvard Business Review as part of the 9 Sustainable Business Stories that Shaped 2016. Number nine focuses on the circular economy, with special mention of the Coalition.

OUR THREE PRIORITIES

Soon after the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition launched, Environmental Initiative convened members to select priority areas for their work. Three areas of focus quickly emerged from these conversations including: 1) advancing clean energy, 2) transforming organic waste into resources, and 3) greening grey infrastructure.

Members selected clean energy as the initial priority for leadership and collaboration. Coalition members recognize a circular economy can only exist if is powered by 100% clean, renewable energy. It’s a big commitment, but we aren’t taking it lightly. Over the past six months, members have developed a clean energy work plan, have secured initial funding to support that work, and have begun taking actions that support increased access to renewable energy resources.

While a lot of progress has been made already, much more is ahead. You’ll be hearing a lot more from us as we continue to make progress on our clean energy work plan while also digging deeper in our greening grey infrastructure and organics focus areas.

Sam Hanson

POSTED BY:

Director, Sustainability Program

Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition Spotlight: Uponor

January 23rd, 2017

The Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition is a nationally unique collaboration of leading businesses and organizations working together to advance the circular economy. Over the course of the year, we’ll profile member businesses and organizations to learn more about how they are thinking and what they are doing to advance the circular economy and achieve their sustainability goals.

We sat down with Rusty Callier, the Director of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability for Uponor, an international provider of plumbing and indoor heating and cooling systems. Uponor North America is headquartered in Apple Valley, Minnesota. Here’s our interview:

 

Tell me a little bit about you and your role at Uponor.

This year will mark my fifteenth anniversary at Uponor. Over those fifteen years I’ve been predominately in operations with jobs ranging from Manufacturing Manager all the way up to Director of Operations. A little over a year ago I took on a new role as Director of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability. In a way this change was kind of like going back to my beginnings because prior to Uponor I was focusing on environmental management and trying to break into a career in that area. So, after spending a lot of time in operations, its all come full circle and now I’m able to focus on environmental management and sustainability full-time.

How is Uponor working to advance the circular economy? How are you thinking about it as a company?

That’s a great question. First and foremost, we’re always thinking about it. Uponor as a company believes heavily in innovation. We’re always thinking about how we can be thought leaders in our industry and bring solutions to market that meet the customers needs all while balancing the triple bottom line. It’s a work in progress. We’re still figuring this out.

If you imagine people, planet, and profit in those traditional sustainability circles, we want to achieve balance. We want to achieve all three. In the search for that balance, we’re putting processes in place to evaluate projects and ideas through a sustainability lens. We ask ourselves: How are we changing our practices to be better stewards of the earth’s resources? How are we taking into account the human element of our business? How are we looking at the communities in which we operate and the communities in which we extract, or others extract, raw materials? We want to be cognizant of all of these questions and smart about how we deliver our products and solutions to our customers.

Is there anything in your recent memory or recent experience that has been a victory for Uponor?

I would love to point to the single home run, but that’s very rare, especially when you’re trying to build something different than what was done before. So, we’ve had what I’d call a lot of base hits. Some examples are getting our executive leadership to agree to participate in efficiency programs with Xcel Energy, or allowing us to take some liberties to implement different technologies in our facility to cut our energy use. A big, big win years ago – which is still a big deal even today – was our conversion from oil heaters on our extruders to electric energy. This resulted in a 40% energy reduction across the plant, which is a huge savings.

More recently we’ve been converting our chiller systems for our extruders to be able to be reversed to use the natural cooling the Minnesota winters provide so we don’t have to run our chillers for five or six months out of the year. This has resulted in significant energy savings and carbon reductions from our operations – and its exciting to be able to tap into a homegrown resources to do so.

We’re also looking at alternative energy with a goal of 100% renewable energy by 2020 as a company. We’ve installed a solar array at our North American headquarters in Apple Valley and are exploring ways to purchase additional renewable energy – both wind and solar.

Is there anything you would like to do as a company on circular economy, but you’re not quite sure how?  

That list is long. There are plenty of companies to point to who are doing great work, many that are involved with Environmental Initiative, and we will steal shamelessly from others best practices. I have no trouble admitting that. Ultimately, that’s the true essence of sustainability – it’s how do you learn from others? How can you take messages, techniques, lessons learned from other companies and apply them to your own situation? Being able to see and adopt opportunities from other facilities is vital. It helps from a sustainability standpoint, a continuous improvement standpoint, and from an operations standpoint. It’s part of how we’ll eventually get to a circular economy. Information sharing between companies can help advance that disruptive innovation that’s going to be needed to get to the next step.

What’s the biggest barrier or challenge that Uponor faces when it comes to achieving that balance of the triple bottom line or advancing towards more circular models?

Many will probably have a similar answer. There’s an inherent push-pull between the two concepts – a linear versus circular economic system. Putting a value on natural resources is really challenging – the whole idea of natural capital.

When you’re having a conversation with somebody its easy to get them to nod in agreement that natural capital makes sense, when you talk about how you’re valuing the natural resources used everyday to produce your product, run your plants, or move your people. But, when it comes right down to it finding the value of those resources and agreeing upon that value in terms of the true cost, it becomes difficult. So, to me that’s a challenge. Because when you’re putting your projects together to move them forward, you’re trying to set it up in terms of how to look at this for what the future brings. But in a lot of cases it still comes back to what the traditional accounting models demand in the short-term.

What do you hope the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition will achieve? What value do you see in being a member?

I think the biggest value we get out of membership is the exposure to other ideas. That’s huge. But, it’s also the ability to have strength in numbers and to be able to collaborate. We know as a coalition there are still things we need to learn about circular economy and what circular economy means for our region. What we’re really excited to be able to support the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment’s research project and the work Maddie Nordgaard is doing on behalf of the coalition to further our understanding on circular economy. We’re proud to have our name associated with something that is going to serve more than just Uponor, and to be alongside many other leading companies who are committed to advancing on these issues.

Is there a circular economy story or example that inspires you?  

Absolutely, there are so many examples both from within our industry and outside of it. I’ll stick with one that’s close because it’s from within our own company. We have a product in one of our European factories that we were able to improve by adding waste material from another product at another factory in our operations.

Essentially, location A could use the waste from location B to make a superior product. All of the work and materials are staying within Uponor. So, while it’s not a fully circular product, the principles of a circular economy are being applied – we’re transforming waste into resources, reducing emissions, and providing jobs within the company.

I wish I could say more about it, but we’re going to officially announce this project later on in the year. I’ll have more details to share then!

Sam Hanson

POSTED BY:

Director, Sustainability Program

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Rachel Dupree

POSTED BY:

Communications Associate

Circular Economy in the News

September 29th, 2016

The concept of a circular economy is gaining traction in sustainability circles and across the broader American business community. Earlier this summer, a contingent of leading Minnesota businesses and organization formed the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition – a regional partnership to demonstrate and accelerate a circular economy.

Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition Meeting 8-17-16

Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition Meeting at Uponor, 8-17-16. Photo credit: Uponor

The circular economy can be a difficult concept to unpack, but at its simplest a circular economy works like nature does, where everything is a resource and nothing is wasted. Energy is clean and renewable. Materials never become waste, but are used again and again. Communities are equitable and healthy. Ecosystems are supported, sustained, and provide ongoing services. Businesses protect people, the planet, and profit. Sounds good, right?

We’re keeping our eyes peeled and our ears open for circular economy news from across the globe to help advance the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition’s efforts to raise awareness about a concept that could completely transform the way we do business and more. Read on:

How is your business or organization thinking about the circular economy? What opportunities or challenges does the circular economy present? Share in the comments below.

For more information about the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition, contact me at 612-334-3388 ext. 8111.

Sam Hanson

POSTED BY:

Director, Sustainability Program
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