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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


Development Director

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency 2017 Report: The Air We Breathe

January 12th, 2017

Last week, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) released its biennial air quality report, The air we breathe: The state of Minnesota’s air quality 2017. It’s a great place to learn about all things air quality in the state.

The good news is that our air is pretty clean—better than most of the rest of the country. Minnesota has seen huge improvements in air quality since the start of the Clean Air Act, all while our economy has continued to grow.

Despite these major improvements, poor air quality continues to affect people here in Minnesota. Sometimes that can be easy to forget when we compare our typically blue skies to images of Beijing and other big cities.  Scientists are constantly learning that air pollution is harmful at lower and lower levels, even at levels below national standards. Young children, the elderly, and people with lung conditions, such as asthma, are particularly susceptible to the effects of air pollution, but dirty air can affect us all. Lower-income communities and communities of color are also both disproportionately exposed to air pollution and more vulnerable to its adverse health effects.

Today, most of Minnesota’s air pollution comes from smaller, widespread sources in our neighborhoods. Only about a quarter of the air pollution in Minnesota comes from “smokestack” facilities such as power plants and factories. The remaining 75% comes from a wide variety of things we see in our daily lives: our vehicles, local businesses, heating and cooling technologies, and yard and recreational equipment.


Many of the successes we’ve achieved since the start of the Clean Air Act have come through regulating large facilities. Now, an important part of the MPCA’s work is with partners in the non-profit, business, and governmental sectors, including our work with Clean Air Minnesota. With our partners, we are able to develop innovative, often voluntary programs to help Minnesotans reduce their contributions to air pollution.

The MPCA strives to ensure our state’s air is healthy for all to breathe, even for the most vulnerable Minnesotans.  We’ve made important progress, but there is still much for us all to do. I highly encourage everyone to check out BeAirAwareMN.org to learn how you can both reduce your emissions and your exposure to air pollution. Our future success will depend on each and every one of us making choices to help limit emissions.

I hope you all will take a little time to explore some of the report highlights, or even dive into the report itself and learn all about the air we breathe!

Amanda Jarrett Smith


Air Policy Planner, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Your Support is Needed, Now More Than Ever

December 22nd, 2016

How many times have you heard that phrase during the waning weeks of 2016?

I’ve written and said it myself hundreds of times since election day. As true as it is, and for so many worthy causes, it becomes hard for any of us to remain open to all that is asked of us during this season of mass solicitation. The onslaught of sincere and compelling requests begins on Give to the Max Day and doesn’t let up until the new year arrives.

Nevertheless, we know Minnesotans are exceptionally generous and we dig deep to support good causes and essential services, even when we have given greatly already. We are fortunate the giving of meaningful gifts is so deeply embedded in our culture, and it makes a lot of great work possible here that can happen only here, or at least that must happen here first.

The radical generosity of Minnesotans is a norm in any year, but we also know this year is different for many of us. We know many Minnesotans feel discouraged by the state of politics in our country and are struggling with despair about our collective prospects for a cleaner environment, a stronger economy, and a more equitable society. It has become harder and harder for many of us to hold fast to the conviction that we can come together across differences to solve our shared problems.

“Better together” can be a tough sell these days, but that’s exactly what I have found myself having to do the past several weeks. I’ve talked to hundreds of individuals since election day, representing a wide range of political viewpoints and interests. So many of those conversations have gone to dark places, but only a few have stuck there.

The overwhelming response of our friends and partners has been one of resolve and renewed commitment to the values that are so Minnesotan and with which we describe Environmental Initiative’s work – better together, open exchange, stewardship, outcome-focused, and solutions driven. Many of you have told us the outcomes of this election cycle do not change the increasingly clear realities of what is required of responsible businesses, creative nonprofits, and dedicated government agencies, let alone the individuals who champion environmental solutions and the triple bottom line.



Starting on the morning of November 9, I heard over and over again that the shifting of political winds changes nothing about existing corporate sustainability commitments, nor the fundamental need for Minnesotans to find common ground and work collaboratively toward shared solutions through policy change. Many have spoken passionately to the fact that the only option for continued progress is in the engagement of diverse stakeholders, and especially in the partnership of sustainability leading businesses with the most creative and effective of our public servants.

I’ve been awestruck by how many of you have said yes to an additional contribution, often giving just what we ask, and sometimes even exceeding our request. Even when an additional financial contribution is not possible, I’ve had energizing conversations about opportunities for new projects and other important work to be done. Generally, I’ve interrupted your day to ask for your personal support in the form of individual membership, and I would understand if people were a little prickly or disinterested. On the contrary, the response is almost universally warm and understanding, and even appreciative. It reminds me that we are part of a community that is committed to working together and knows what is required to make that possible.

Mike.EOY1I’m grateful for all of your support, including your financial contributions at this important moment in Environmental Initiative’s work. As many of you know, any contribution between now and year-end will be matched dollar for dollar, so that the impact of your gift will be doubled. We still have $15,000 left to raise by year-end (that’s halfway!), so that we will have the resources required to rise to the challenge of this moment when our work is more critical than ever before.

I hope that you will be able to help us meet our goal and make it possible for Environmental Initiative to step up to the challenge of helping Minnesotans be better together when so much of our politics and culture would have us moving in the opposite direction.

The answer to what I mean when I say “now more than ever” is simple – now more than ever we need to remember that we are better together, and now more than ever we need to invest in the partnerships and relationships to put better together to work for a stronger Minnesota.

Mike Harley


Executive Director

Introducing Project Stove Swap

November 3rd, 2016

Since Clean Air Minnesota’s inception, members of the partnership have been thinking about and working on many strategies to improve Minnesota’s air quality. While wood smoke had been identified as a major source of pollutants, a significant funding source has not been available to start a project until this year with Minnesota Power. After consulting with air experts, securing funding, setting concrete goals, and hiring staff (me!), we’re excited to introduce Project Stove Swap.

PSS-HEADER-shortIn short, Project Stove Swap is a voluntary wood stove change-out program. The project provides financial incentives to residents and organizations to replace old appliances with new, more efficient, less-polluting technologies. Currently, Project Stove Swap is working in 17 Northeastern Minnesota counties. We’re excited to be expanding the scope of our clean air work (And I’m excited to be visiting 17 Northeastern Minnesota counties on a regular basis!) 

How Project Stove Swap Works

Residents and organizations that use older, non-EPA certified wood heaters as a primary or major heat source are eligible for a financial incentive to change out their appliance.

To start, participants can contact one of our pre-qualified vendors, to verify their eligibility, select a new appliance, and fill out an application. If approved, vendors will provide the Project Stove Swap incentive as a straight discount off of the total cost at the time of payment. Learn more about the application and change-out process »

Why Wood Smoke?

While the smell of wood smoke on a crisp November day may seem cozy and nostalgic, wood smoke is composed of gases, chemicals, and fine particles that can lead to a variety of serious health issues. The finest particles are so small that they can be absorbed by your lungs and enter your bloodstream, causing cardiac and respiratory complications. Learn more about your health and wood smoke »

While Minnesota is fortunate to have generally good air quality, negative health effects of air pollution are being observed at ever lower concentrations. Because of this, federal air quality standards are predicted to become stricter over time, putting Minnesota at risk of violating these standards.

Swapping out just one older wood stove for a new, more efficient model is the pollution reduction equivalent of removing over 700 cars from the road per year. In other words, it’s a cost effective way to proactively and voluntarily reduce air pollution, improve health outcomes, and avoid costly federal regulations. In addition, many of the heating appliances are made in Minnesota and all of the vendors are Minnesota-based so every dollar Project Stove Swap spends is pumped into the local economy.

We’re just getting Started

Project Stove Swap is just 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%.

Though we’re thrilled our clean air work is growing, we’re never really satisfied. While our efforts in Northeastern Minnesota will continue for at least the next year, we’re keeping our eyes peeled for ways to improve and expand the project.

Getting Involved

Want to get involved? Contact me at 612-334-3388 ext. 8109 to learn more about replacing your wood burning appliance, becoming a participating a vendor, or educating your community about wood smoke. Visit our frequently asked questions page for additional information.

Mikey Weitekamp


Senior Project Manager, Environmental Initiative

Meet Maddie Norgaard

October 11th, 2016

Environmental Initiative has always been an organization deeply rooted in partnerships that work collaboratively to strategize around complex environmental problems. It’s one reason why we convened the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition (MNSGC), a business led effort focusing on the advancement of the circular economy.

To better shape MNSGC actions, the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IonE) and other member organizations are working with a graduate student to research practical, circular economy applications. Her research will influence the direction and project goals and how MNSGC will function within the Midwest.

So, without further delay… Meet Maddie Norgaard! Maddie

Maddie is a first-year student pursing a Master of science, technology, and environmental policy at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Maddie currently holds a B.A. in environmental studies from the College of Saint Benedict.

In summer 2016, Maddie participated in Summer Institute on Sustainability and Energy in Chicago where she was inspired by lessons in circular economy, industrial ecology and systems thinking. She is eager to explore these concepts further and help MNSGC discover opportunities for collective action.

Her work will help coalition partners advance the next frontier of corporate sustainability through the circular economy. Maddie will be working closely with Environmental Initiative as well as member organizations to conduct her research. We’re excited to have her, and we’re eager to get started! Learn more about Maddie »

Rachel Dupree


Communications Associate

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


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


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


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


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


Director, Engagement and Systems
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