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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

POSTED BY:

Development Director

The Fierce Allegiance of Clean Air Minnesota

February 27th, 2017

Once upon a time, a group of organizations faced daunting air quality challenges. In 2001, the Twin Cities area experienced its first smog alerts in more than 30 years and the region nearly exceeded federal air quality standards. Rather than seeing it as a conflict laden, zero-sum situation, these individuals and organizations seized the moment to engage in a constructive dialogue. In a single event, our partners came together, but not as adversaries. Instead, they engaged and brought their different perspectives, voices, and skills to the table to achieve a common goal.

The Beginning of Clean Air Minnesota

Recognizing and valuing the common good of voluntary, pro-active action, a number of new and long-time Environmental Initiative partners used this dialogue to create Clean Air Minnesota (CAM). Each organization had to overcome their own internal challenges to participate. Yet, each could see the greater value of collaborative engagement, so they pushed their comfort levels and stuck with it.

Together they identified cost-effective and environmentally-sound ways to reduce emissions, decrease exposure, protect public health, and avoid economic and societal costs of violating air quality standards. Everyone had a different reason for supporting the effort.

We talked a lot—especially in those early days. We had to reconcile and balance conflicts between various emission-reduction project options, the desired returns of health benefits, and the realities of economic costs. We had rural and metro disputes. We confronted differences over technologies, costs, and ease of implementation related to emission reductions derived.

All the while, everything had to be voluntary. Our region violated no federal requirements; no one had to do anything. Ultimately, our partners’ fierce allegiance to this public-private partnership delivered simultaneous health benefits, emissions reductions, and jobs.

Clean Air Champions—Then and Now

These first partners, Mike Robertson with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Lee Paddock from the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, David Thornton with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and Mike Hansel with Flint Hills Resources, each played their part and worked to their strengths for the good of the partnership. Each gave up some level of control, but gained more in their collective actions. This group was truly living our values of “courageous innovation” and working “better together.”

The fierce allegiance to collaboration by our partners led to Project Green Fleet and cleaning up every eligible school bus in Minnesota, dozens of heavy-duty diesel engines, and even a few trains and tow boats. More recently, we’ve launched Project Stove Swap, which is also a change-out project, only for wood-burning devices. We also have been able to run the Clean Air Assistance Project, which helps small and medium-sized businesses find economical ways to reduce emissions.

As with CAM’s founding, it’s time for some constructive collaboration and action. We need to face the challenges of this time, stand as a beacon, and get down to some old-fashioned Environmental Initiative-style project work. We need to step up our efforts and expand the impact of emission reduction activities.

We need a new set of champions with that same fierce commitment to our mutual, common cause. We need to recognize and accept the risks– and, equally value and reap the rewards of collaboration. In these uncertain times, we should all be doing everything we can to advance this still unique and valuable public-private partnership and realize our common goals of cleaner, healthier air, as well as the associated economic gains.

Who will model earlier CAM champions? Who will step forward to lead together today?


A note from Environmental Initiative:
In honor of Environmental Initiative’s 25th birthday, members of our staff will take turns throughout the year highlighting the organization’s most influential and effective collaborators. We want to say thank you to the amazing people who help us achieve all we do.

Bill Droessler

POSTED BY:

Senior Director of Strategic Project Planning

Three Minnesota Construction Companies Enroll in Project Green Fleet

September 13th, 2016

What do Anoka, Albertville, and Sleepy Eye all have in common? They’ll all be breathing easier for years to come, thanks to three construction companies and their commitment to clean air.

Erin Contracting, Mathiowetz Construction, and Northdale Construction all partnered with Project Green Fleet in order to ensure residents in their communities benefit from clean air. These three companies are now operating either upgraded or replaced diesel machines, meaning each is more fuel efficient and releasing less pollutants into the air.Frontloader

Project Green Fleet is a voluntary statewide effort run by Environmental Initiative to reduce diesel pollution. We raise money to help businesses, like construction companies, upgrade engines and equipment to reduce air emissions. Participating fleets also help share in the cost of each project.

Mathiowetz Construction is operating a newer, cleaner bulldozer as a result of the partnership. Replacing the engine in this one piece of equipment is the equivalent of removing 2,200 cars from the road every year. Similar results exist with Erin Contracting and Northdale Construction, both of which upgraded their diesel loaders. Repowering both loaders is the equivalent of removing nearly 800 cars each from the road annually.

“We’ve worked hard to establish company protocols to minimize impacts on the environment,” said Brian Mathiowetz, CEO of Mathiowetz Construction. “Participating in Project Green Fleet helps us save money, upgrade equipment earlier than we otherwise would, and do our part to keep Minnesota’s air clean. We’re proud to be a part of this effort.”

WHY?

Diesel engines are very important to our economy—they move our goods and provide valuable services. However, many diesel engines can have striking health costs associated with air pollution. Vulnerable populations, like children, the elderly, and those with heart and lung conditions are especially susceptible to health hazards. Air pollution is associated with asthma and a number of cardiovascular problems.

Upgrading diesel fleets helps reduce these effects. Combined with the high costs of replacing them, the longevity of diesel engines mean that many older and less efficient models are still in operation today. Upgrades still require a significant investment by the fleet, but Project Green Fleet helps make it easier for companies to decrease their impact.

Minnesota’s air quality is generally good, but we can always be doing more. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is always releasing more stringent emission requirements as we learn more about the health effects of poor air quality.

In partnership with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Environmental Initiative has retrofitted 3,200 buses and 1,400 heavy-duty diesel engines in Minnesota through Project Green Fleet. To learn more about being part of Project Green Fleet or how it works, visit our information page. »

We’re always excited to partner with local companies to improve air quality across the state. Their commitment to clean air means we all have a little more room to breathe.

Bjorn Olson

POSTED BY:

Senior Environmental Project Associate

Project Green Fleet Removes 17,000 Cars from the Road

June 7th, 2016

A little less than two years ago, Environmental Initiative announced completing all eligible school bus retrofits in Minnesota; an effort that in partnership with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency reduced emissions equivalent to removing 750,000 cars from the road each year. At that time, we daringly declared our intention to match school bus emission reductions by retrofitting 100 heavy-duty, off-road pieces of diesel equipment. As we approach the 2-year anniversary of this new phase of Project Green Fleet, I thought it would be an appropriate time to report and reflect on our efforts.

For those unfamiliar, retrofitting a school bus means installing a DOC and/or a FOH. Say, what? DOC stands for Diesel Oxidation Catalyst. Essentially, it’s like the catalytic converter on your car, but bigger. FOH stands for Fuel Operated Heater. When buses need to warm up in winter or during school trips, they idle the engine to provide heat. An FOH is a small heater that heats the engine and the bus while reducing fuel use by 90%. As retrofits go, DOCs and FOHs are easy: quick to install, cheap, and compatible with most buses. Plus, Environmental Initiative and our partners paid for 100% of the retrofit costs. Tough to turn down, amirite?

From Buses to Big (Really Big) Diesel Vehicles

Heavy-duty, off-road retrofits are a “horsepower” of a different color. Basically, there are three options: you can upgrade an engine, replace an engine, or replace the whole piece of equipment. These retrofits result in massive emission reductions, but they also cost much more. While Project Green Fleet offers a match incentive, fleets often invest tens of thousands of dollars of their own resources for a heavy-duty retrofit. These bigger jobs also require more “down-time” to install along with specialized and technical expertise, which can complicate work schedules.frontloader, construction vehicle

However, despite these challenges and an audacious goal before us, the response has been incredible. Since completing the school buses in 2014, Environmental Initiative has eliminated diesel emissions equivalent to removing 17,000 cars from the road each year through heavy-duty reduction projects. We’ve also got potential projects in the works that would amount to an additional 28,000 car-equivalent removal by the end of 2016. New projects range from Sleepy Eye to Duluth, with a heavy concentration of work slated to happen in the 7-county metro area. In fact, demand for diesel emission reduction projects has been so great we’ve already committed all of our available resources for 2016. (We’re currently busy raising more funds).

Our partners at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) have received similar response to funding for clean diesel projects through their Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) program. The MPCA program covers 40% of diesel upgrade costs and funding is expected to increase to $400,000 for next year. Learn more »

So, where do we go from here?

In the words of Big Tom Callahan, “…you’re either growing or you’re dying.” Three things will determine the future success of Project Green Fleet: fleet participation, increased awareness of air pollution and the need for emission reductions, and funding.

We’ve got a lot of work to do. Here are three ways you can help:

  • Know a company or fleet manager who may be interested in upgrading their older diesel equipment? Contact me for program information to pass along.
  • Raise awareness about air quality. We’re looking for guest bloggers, story ideas, social media sharing, and more to support a coordinated campaign to raise awareness about air quality in Minnesota. If you’re interested in communicating about air quality, contact Emily Franklin in our office to plug in.
  • Donate. Between June 8 and July 1, any contribution made to Environmental Initiative will be matched dollar for dollar. Donations from individuals like you help make work like Project Green Fleet, and our other collaborative projects, possible. Donate here »

 

Bjorn Olson

POSTED BY:

Senior Environmental Project Associate

Flint Hills Resources: Member of the Month

June 3rd, 2016

The Flint Hills Resources Pine Bend refinery, located in Rosemount, produces transportation fuels used throughout the Midwest, including most of Minnesota’s gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel, as well as other products such as propane and asphalt. Pine Bend is among the cleanest, most efficient oil refineries in the country. It has reduced total onsite emissions in 11 of the last 15 years, and its emissions per barrel are approximately 19% lower than other U.S. refineries.

Flint Hills Resources and its employees partner with a variety of local organizations where they contribute their expertise, time and resources to benefit the community. Environmental Initiative one of those organizations.

Flint Hills Resources is a founding sponsor and ongoing supporter of Project Green Fleet, a collaborative effort with Environmental Initiative to install pollution control equipment in thousands of Minnesota school buses, heavy-duty trucks, and other diesel vehicles. In 2014, Flint Hills provided a $1 million donation which allowed us to complete Project Green Fleet’s school bus retrofit program (3,000+ buses) and expand the program to other diesel-powered equipment.

Now we are retrofitting construction equipment and even tugboats! Becky Sue, a riverboat used on the Mississippi River, received upgrades to its 600-horsepower engines which push barges in Saint Paul’s harbor. This effort reduced emissions equivalent to removing 12,000 cars from the road each year. Exciting milestones have happened and continue to happen with this award-winning voluntary program.

Flint Hills is also an Environmental Initiative award winner for its work to restore 1,650 acres of natural prairie and oak savanna known as the Pine Bend Bluffs Natural Area along the Mississippi River. This area provides critical habitat for both resident and migratory animals and is a migration corridor for millions of songbirds and 40% of North America’s waterfowl and shorebirds. In addition, Flint Hills’ 30-year collaboration with Ducks Unlimited has resulted in 36,000 acres of restored wild rice lake habitat, 144,235 acres of wetland protection and restoration, 54,097 acres of grasslands protection, and five miles of sensitive shoreline protection.

Together, Environmental Initiative and Flint Hills have made meaningful contributions in Minnesota. To learn more about the Flint Hills Resources Pine Bend refinery, visit PineBendRefinery.com.

Sacha Seymour-Anderson

POSTED BY:

Development Director

Project Green Fleet’s Video Debut

December 3rd, 2015

Project Green Fleet is a great story. A pilot scale effort to clean up a handful of school buses grows into a statewide campaign – with more than 4,600 cleaner diesel vehicles as a result. None of it would have happened without the hundreds of fleet owners, equipment manufacturers, installers, project funders – and of course a little creative risk-taking. But, don’t take my word for it…

Thanks to the generosity of Flint Hills Resources and the creativity of our friends at Goff Public, we’re thrilled to share this short video, which wonderfully captures the Project Green Fleet story – from where we’ve been to the new roads (and rivers) ahead.

I’m also excited to announce we’ll be working with Mathiowetz Construction over the next several weeks to replace a bulldozer. The replacement equipment is certified to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s highest emission standard – reducing fine particulate matter by 86% – or the equivalent of removing almost 500 cars from the road.

In addition to Environmental Initiative’s efforts, our partners at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) are now offering about $270,000 in federal grant funds to help diesel fleet owners retrofit or replace their old engines. Grant funds will pay for 25% – 50% of the total cost to retrofit or replace diesel equipment. The deadline to apply is January 7, 2016. Learn more & apply »

Project Green Fleet is just one of several voluntary emission reduction projects that have been designed and conceived by members of the Clean Air Minnesota partnership. This diverse coalition of public and private sector air quality leaders has committed to a 10% reduction in man-made sources of fine particulate matter and ground level ozone precursor emissions. This is a BIG goal that will require significant financial investment from both the public and private sectors. If you’re interested in supporting Project Green Fleet financially – through a corporate sponsorship or a grant, please contact me to learn more.

Stay tuned for more good air quality news to come – our work to reduce diesel emissions is far from over.

Bill Droessler

POSTED BY:

Senior Director of Strategic Project Planning

Grateful on #GivingTuesday

November 30th, 2015

I’ve been with this organization for nine years. Seriously. How did that happen? Ultimately, I came (and stayed) because I believe in the work Environmental Initiative is trying to do. The world can be a crazy complicated place and the environmental problems we face, and are trying to address, are just as thorny.

Like it or not we’ve all had a hand in creating the environmental problems affecting the world. You can’t remove the link be2015-11-12 12.22.01tween our natural resources and the economy. You can’t remove the connection between our environment and our communities and our health. So isn’t it up to all of us to work together with all of these connections and complexities in mind – to come up with feasible solutions? This is what Environmental Initiative is all about.

I’m extremely grateful for the individuals and organizations that support Environmental Initiative financially. Over the past year, you’ve made work like this possible. You’ve also supported and helped make possible a few of the things I’m most proud of during my time with the organization:

Funding for Parks & Trails
I don’t think I’ve ever sweat bullets as seriously as I did during the final meeting of our Parks & Trails Legacy Funding work group. Leaders reached an agreement on how to fairly divide constitutionally dedicated funds for Minnesota parks and trails across the state in the final moments of our final meeting together. Whew! I’m so proud of managing that project and for having the privilege to work with such a dedicated, smart group of people.

Project Green Fleet
Did you know I was once a school bus retrofit sales-lady? One of my first jobs at this organization was to hop on the phone and convince school districts across the state they should give us access to their school buses so certified equipment manufacturers could install pollution control equipment to reduce emissions. Nearly 5,000 engines later we’re still at it. And, now I have the extremely fun job of helping to tell those stories. Did you know our latest project was a 38 year-old tugboat? Insane!

Environmental Initiative Awards

The very first project I managed at Environmental Initiative was the Environmental Initiative Awards. Honestly? What could be more fun than this? We get to hear about environmental success stories from across the state and recognize them at a HUGE party each May. One of the best parts of being attached to Environmental Initiative is this event. (Mark your calendars, the 2016 party is on May 26th).

Not only am I (still) on staff, I’m also an individual member. I support Environmental Initiative financially because our way of bringing people together to find common ground and solutions that can work for everyone – it’s the way we should be trying to solve more of our problems. If you agree, we could use your support!

Between now & December 31, 2015 we’re trying to raise $15,000 from individuals like you. We’ve got about $9,000 to raise to meet our goal. There are two easy ways to donate and either way your contribution will be matched by our current and past board of directors:

I hope you will join me and invest in this work by becoming an individual member. To those of you who already are? THANK YOU for supporting Environmental Initiative’s efforts to work together to solve problems.

Emily Franklin

POSTED BY:

Director of Communications

Project Green Fleet Makes Waves

September 30th, 2015

For those who are unaware, one year ago we announced the completion of our mission to retrofit every eligible school bus in Minnesota thatProject Green Fleet Media Event it makes sense to retrofit with pollution reduction equipment. Through Project Green Fleet (our diesel emission reduction partnership with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency) we retrofitted over 3,200 buses and, combined with other engines, eliminated air emissions quivalent to removing 750,000 cars from the road every year. Naturally, we celebrated for a whole five minutes before announcing our next initiative to match those reductions pound for pound for a total emissions reduction equivalent of 1.5 million cars. Considering there are less than 6 million motor vehicles registered in the state, that’s no small fleet (rimshot).

In this second phase of Project Green Fleet, we’re setting our sights on bigger, older, and dirtier heavy-duty engines. These engines are at work across the construction sector, at airports and railyards, and at our ports. So, on a soggy Thursday morning with the help of our funders from Flint Hills Resources and our friends at the City of Saint Paul, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Saint Paul Port Authority, Upper River Services, and Caterpillar Ziegler, we announced the first retrofit in this new phase and our biggest to date. We also got a little media coverage, which was great:

The Becky Sue is a 38 year-old towboat operated by Upper River Services. Lee Nelson, Owner of Upper River Services, heard of Project Green Fleet and thought it was a good opportunity to give ol’ Becky Sue a new lease on life. She’ll get two new 600-horsepower engines that will ensure she hauls Minnesota’s goods and materials for years to come. Equally impressive is that she’ll be doing more with less (pollution, that is).

Upgrading the Becky Sue from her unregulated engines to EPA-certified Tier III equipment will eliminate over 20 tons of air emissions each year, the equivalent to removing 12,000 cars from the road.

If you drive to work, try this some time. Lets assume (heaven forbid) you work five days a week for all 52 weeks in the year. As you sit in traffic, count 46 cars in front or around you each day. Now imagine they disappear. Day after day after day. For a year. Every year. That’s the kind of impact this project has. And those are just two engines.

Make no mistake, achieving another 750,000 car-equivalent reduction is going to be a challenge. It’s also going to be another incredible milestone in Project Green Fleet and our ongoing mission to reduce emissions and exposure through voluntary collaborative efforts.

And the 5 minutes we take to celebrate before announcing our next initiative will be twice as sweet.

Bjorn Olson

POSTED BY:

Senior Environmental Project Associate

Environmental Initiative Named Local Public Health Hero

April 10th, 2015

The City of Minneapolis recently named Environmental Initiative a “Local Public Health Hero.” How cool is that? This award was presented by the Minneapolis Health Department as part of their National Public Health Week “Healthy Where You Are” effort. The ceremony waspublic health award ceremony held on Thursday, April 9th in the City Hall Rotunda and recognized “Heroes” who are helping the Health Department achieve their goals for a healthier and more livable city. Environmental Initiative won for our contribution to “a Healthy Environment” in Minneapolis.

Gretchen Musicant, Minneapolis Commissioner of Health, presented the award and highlighted our programs creating partnership opportunities for the City, specifically Clean Air Minnesota, Project Green Fleet, and our work with the Minneapolis Green Business Matching Grant Program. Patrick Hanlon, Environmental Initiatives Manager with the City of Minneapolis, nominated us for the award and gave a special nod to our own Bjorn Olson for “tirelessly meeting with business owners . . . to help the business to ease the burden of making changes that clean the air.”

This is an especially rewarding recognition because while our efforts were largely driven to maximize emission reductions, underlying it all we value the associated health benefits. And, it is nice to get a pat on the back. Executive Director Mike Harley pointed out in accepting the award, that we can only do our work successfully when there are willing partners like the City of Minneapolis seeking common ground and solutions to complex, difficult environmental challenges. (more…)

Bill Droessler

POSTED BY:

Senior Director of Strategic Project Planning

Member of the Month: Flint Hills Resources

March 4th, 2015

The Flint Hills Resources Pine Bend refinery collaborates with a variety of Minnesota organizations that focus on environmental stewardship, safety, and education. Environmental Initiative is fortunate to be one of those organizations, as our strong partnership goes back to the early 2000s. Located in Rosemount, the Flint Hills Resources Pine Bend refinery is a leading producer of transportation fuels used in the Upper Midwest.BusBanner1

Flint Hills Resources is a founding sponsor of Project Green Fleet, and played a critical role in helping us advance the program in 2014. Flint Hills provided $1 million which allowed us to complete Project Green Fleet’s school bus retrofit program and build the foundation for phase two of the program, which focuses on reducing emissions from diesel construction vehicles. Since Project Green Fleet began in 2005, more than 4,600 diesel vehicles have been voluntarily retrofitted, which is comparable to taking 750,000 cars off of Minnesota roads.

Flint Hills Resources is also a primary sponsor of Environmental Initiative’s
Clean Air Minnesota project, which focuses on bringing businesses, nonprofits, and governments together to explore new opportunities for collaboration to improve air quality in Minnesota.

We look forward to continuing our longstanding partnership with Flint Hills, and we thank the organization for all it does to support outstanding air quality in Minnesota! To learn more about the Flint Hills Resources Pine Bend refinery, visit its new website, PineBendRefinery.com.
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A note from Environmental Initiative:
Each month, we feature information about one of our members on the Initiative blog and on our website. Contact Sacha Seymour-Anderson anytime at 612-334-3388 ext. 101 to learn more about this membership benefit.

Sacha Seymour-Anderson

POSTED BY:

Development Director
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