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The Triple Bottom Line in Action: Meet the Sustainable Business Winners

May 3rd, 2017

Private-sector leadership on environmental issues is a valuable, often over-looked complement to public policy. The Sustainable Business award recognizes such leaders for their sustainable practices and sector-based solutions as they benefit our environment and our economy.

The winners in this category contribute to environmental stewardship, economic benefit, and competitive advantage. However, Better Futures Minnesota, multiple cities and counties, and many more partners take it a step further to create a thriving community.




When a house is torn down or buildings are renovated, there’s a good chance those materials are in a landfill. In fact, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) estimates that more than 80% of construction and demolition waste was landfilled 2013. It’s a surprising figure, right?

Don’t worry— there’s good news. Better Futures Minnesota, ReUSE Minnesota, government agencies, local governments, and so many more partners came together to try and bring that percentage down. They do so by sustainably deconstructing buildings and promoting reuse of materials.

The results of this partnership are, in some ways, immeasurable. In 2016 alone, Better Futures and partners diverted over 1570 tons of waste that would have otherwise ended up in landfills. Additionally, not only has this project has a positive impact on the amount of waste in landfills, but it’s also decreased emissions from those landfills. Last year, Better Futures estimated that they avoided 750 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

But those are the hard numbers. What really makes this project unique is its dedication to the triple bottom line. Better Futures works to provide deconstruction jobs, training, and resources to men who have had a history of incarceration, homelessness, poverty, and untreated mental and physical health challenges.

Overall, this is a unique public-private partnership, where multiple organizations worked together to find an alternative way to remove structures and reduce the amount of construction and demolition waste in our landfills. The diversity of the partnerships is extremely innovative, bringing together stakeholders from the city, county, state, and more in a coordinated effort to grow deconstruction and reuse and increase public awareness of the sustainable alternative.


“In just two years of consistently gathering research, we’ve been able to quantify the environmental impact of deconstruction—reusing and recycling building materials—compared to the common practice of demolishing a building and sending the materials to a landfill. The results are phenomenal. Reduction of greenhouse gases, creation of jobs, and a boost to the local economy are all benefits from this new and innovative technique.” –Thomas Adams, Better Futures Minnesota President and CEO

“Better Futures Minnesota worked to address workplace shortage and the underrepresentation of people of color in the workforce by giving men, predominately African American, the skills and certification they need to work and be successful in a new, green economy. We are extremely proud of how this project benefits Minnesota’s environment, the men we serve, and our communities.” –Thomas Adams, Better Futures Minnesota President and CEO


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

Signs Simplify Recycling at Work

June 2nd, 2015

I am thrilled to share with you a project that Rethink Recycling has been working on for several months. The idea for this project came about at a Waste Reduction Collaborative meeting last year. My colleague, Trudy Richter, attended the meeting and heard from businesses their frustration with the inconsistent and varied trash and recycling signage they see across the Twin Cities. Businesses were often confused as to what goes in each bin at different locations. Businesses also wondered what existing signage they should use at their own business, especially if they had sites across the metro. Thus, the idea for consistent, regional waste signage was born.

I’m happy to announce that we can take the mystery out of what goes in the bin with the new sign resources at RethinkRecycling.com. This recycling signagenew, regional waste signage is simple, easy and free! The signs make it easy to see where each item goes. They’re color-coded and include common images making it easier to recognize what’s recyclable, organics (food for animals or commercial composting), or trash.

Signage is more important than ever, as businesses across the metro will need to comply with a new law starting January 1, 2016. Commercial building owners who contract for four cubic yards or more per week of solid waste (ie. trash) collection must recycle at least three types of materials, such as paper, glass, plastic, metal and organics. As businesses work to comply with the new law, signage resources will make it easier than ever for employees and customer to sort recyclables.

To get signs for use in your workplace or business, go to RethinkRecycling.com/signs. Select pre-designed, full-color signs or customize your own. Download. Print. Post. Done!

Once you’ve downloaded signage or customized your own, here are a few tips to help you get started:

  • Create sorting areas by placing recycling, organics and trash containers side by side in areas where waste is generated and there is heavy traffic
  • Post your signs at eye level to help ensure they will be seen
  • Place labels on the front, sides and lid of the containers
  • Hang posters on the wall above a container, on an easel at eye level behind the container, or from the ceiling over the container

For more tips on how to start or grow a business recycling program to maximize those neatly labeled bins, see the Business Recycling Guide at RethinkRecycling.com.

Amy Ulbricht


Commercial Waste Management Specialist, Anoka County; Business Communications Staff, RethinkRecycling.com

Environmental Initiative Staff Tour the ‘HERC’

December 10th, 2014

When Pete Swenson at Tennant Company invited us to join members of their operations team on a tour of the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center, I could barely type “YES!” fast enough. After working on the Waste Reduction Collaborative project for the past 10 months, an opportunity to see first hand where our community’s waste goes was definitely on the top of my list.

The HERC – Hennepin Energy Recovery Center – is a refuse-fired electric generating facility. Meaning, this is Group photo of staff in hard hatswhere 35% percent of Hennepin County’s waste – both residential and commercial – is burned as fuel to generate electricity. You’ve probably seen it without realizing as it’s located adjacent to Target Field.

As Pete mentioned in his initial email, the experience was definitely “eye-opening.” As I stood above the pit, the location where trash haulers dump their day’s collection, I tried to grasp the magnitude of waste that our society generates. But after watching truck after truck unload, and scoop after scoop of waste being added to the boilers, it wasn’t hard to understand.

Besides being saddened and overwhelmed by the extreme volume of waste, I stood there and reflected on what I could do to help the problem. I decided to pledge to think more critically, and encourage others to as well, about what we are throwing away. Instead of mindlessly tossing our trash into the bin (I’m guilty too), let’s actually pay attention.

For example, did you know that the HERC still receives tires, appliances, electronics, and aluminum cans on a daily basis? All of these items cause tremendous problems at HERC. At the same time, they all have reputable, mainstream recycling options available. Let’s be mindful and use them!

We also learned that wet, organic material doesn’t mix well with the boiler. What if we helped out the HERC and got our organics out of the waste stream? I encourage you to talk with your local county to explore options for organics collection in your area.

And finally, if you have a group that could use an “eye-opener” sign-up to take a tour of HERC. I promise it will be worth your time.

Dani Schurter


Project Manager

Auditing Waste at the Minnesota State Fair

August 27th, 2014

A few of our staff (myself included) participated in a recent waste audit at the Minnesota State Fair with Megan Dobratz of Native Sustainability and Mark Apfelbacher of Made. After the sort, I sat down with Megan to learn more about the process and the goals of the effort. My interview with her is below.

What is a waste audit?WasteSort1.JPG
A waste audit, or a waste sort, is pretty much what it sounds like. We are taking a look at what is being thrown away at the fair and recording what we find. More specifically, we are working with the Minnesota State Fair to determine what percentage of compostable materials is contained in the white garbage barrels on the grounds of the fair.

Prior to the waste audit, we gathered data from the fairs waste haulers, to get a general idea of what their current diversion rates are (how much waste is recycling, compost, or trash).

How does the process work?
Audits can be different, depending on what your goal is. We are focusing on the possibility of changing the white barrels from trash containers to compost containers – recycling of organic waste. For this process, we are inspecting individual bags of garbage. We start by weighing and recording each bag to establish a baseline. Then, the fun begins. Bags of waste are dumped onto a large tarp and sorted into three piles: recyclable materials, compostable materials, and items that have to be landfilled. The materials are then re-bagged by pile (compost is put into compostable bags), weighed, and recorded. Special sorting of Minnesota State Fair branded cups is also part of this sort (this is the one product the fair requires vendors to purchase through them).

We’re reviewing the waste over the course of three days at the fair.

Are there any interesting things you observed following your first day of sorting?
You always go into to a sort with some assumption of what you’ll find. There were certainly a few interesting items – like a sad torn teddy bear. The surprise is part of the fun! We saw a few particular vendor’s food service containers that continued to show up – but that’s what we wanted – to be able to identify the back-of-house opportunities for change that would bring us closer to our goal of zero-waste.

What do you hope to achieve as a result of the audit?
The data we’re collecting will be used to determine the percentage and types of non-compostable waste in the stream. The audit also helps informs bin size, type and location placement, and how those can be tweaked to reach the highest diversion rate possible.

The fair is doing a great job already. They have extensive systems in place to recycle a variety of materials (plastic, glass, cardboard, metals scraps, etc), as well as compost corncobs. However, the main goal is to get the State Fair to zero waste, which is diverting at least 90% of the waste produced from the landfill. We’re hoping to be able to prove the potential to compost the entire waste barrel, which could save the Minnesota State Fair more than $50,000 a year, and keep tons of organics out of the landfill. In addition to the cost savings and environmental benefit, converting to zero waste at such a large event creates a huge opportunity to educate Minnesotans about ways to reduce waste.

What are the first steps for a company if they’re looking into organics recycling?

Start with the information available – contact your waste hauler or property manager and start paying attention to what you are contributing to the waste stream. The best first step is source reduction and conservation. From there, find a professional to help you through the process!
We need to get waste out from behind the building; to pay more attention to what we’re producing and where it’s going.

Emily Franklin


Director of Communications

Nominations Open: Recycling Association of Minnesota Awards

July 23rd, 2014

The Recycling Association of Minnesota (RAM) is committed to promoting resource conservation through waste prevention, reuse, recycling, composting, and purchasing practices using the most cost effective and environmentally sound methods available in Minnesota. We’re a nonprofit organization that provides educational forums and networking opportunities, creates unique recycling programs, and initiates dialogue among our diverse members.

I’m excited to announce that nominations are now open for the 2014 Recycling Association of Minnesota Awards. Our Board of Directors wants to recognize the environmental stewardship efforts of community groups, businesses, public entities, and individuals that benefit the communities in Minnesota through this awards program.

Individuals or recent programs contributing to the betterment of recycling or other resource conservation efforts in the state of Minnesota are eligible for RAM awards. Nominees do not need to be a member of RAM, but a RAM member must submit nominations using the award application. Nominations close on Friday, September 5, 2014 and awards will be given in the following categories: (more…)

Maggie Mattacola


Executive Director of Operations, Recycling Association of Minnesota

What’s New With the Waste Reduction Collaborative

June 13th, 2014

As we look ahead to a summer filled with continued outreach, education, and developing solutions to businesses’ most challenging waste problems, I’d like to reflect on the great work we’ve done so far with members of the Waste Reduction Collaborative.

At our first meeting of the year we welcomed Trudy Richter, with the Solid Waste Management Coordinating Board (SWMCB), to help decode waste hauler contracts and invoices. A commercial recycling study commissioned by SWMCB found that many businesses are not familiar with hauler contract terms, invoice components, or even the price difference between trash and recycling services. Trudy offered tangible takeaways to help businesses understand their contracts and work with their hauler to truly get services tailored to their particular business needs.

Taking a more innovative waste management approach, our May meeting focused on by-product synergy – a model in which one company’s waste can be used in a novel way as a resource or input for another company. The collaborative was led through a “Meet Your Match” exercise (think speed dating) to look for synergies between companies waste materials and inputs. Members left the meeting not only feeling energized to look at waste in a new light but also understanding the true power of collaborative solutions.

Although our large meetings focus mostly on dialogue, we are also working to bring real action to the Waste Reduction Collaborative. Drawing on the knowledge of our members, local county and state staff, and waste experts with the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program and Minnesota Waste Wise, we are working to develop and implement collaborative waste projects that alone may not feasible but together solve the problem. A few of our current action projects include: working with businesses in Golden Valley to create an organics collection route, developing a plan to bring compostable take-out ware to businesses in Saint Paul, and researching landfill-alternatives to Styrofoam and polyester.

We look forward to continuing helping Minnesota businesses work together on creative solutions to manage their waste.

If you are interested in learning more about this project, want to join the collaborative, or have a great idea for a waste project, please contact me.

Dani Schurter


Project Manager

To Zero and Beyond: Business & Environment Session Preview

April 24th, 2014

Have YOU gone zero-waste yet?

Last year, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company became the first company to receive a platinum certification from the US Zero Waste Business Council. Closer to home, Mayor Betsy Hodges has announced plans for a zero-waste Minneapolis. You’ve probably been to a zero-waste event where all leftover materials are recycled, reused, or composted; maybe your company has donated used office furniture or supplies rather than tossing them; or you’ve thought twice about purchasing the trendy new single-use coffee pods or individual water bottles. The movement toward reducing what we toss is definitely growing, and more and more businesses, organizations, communities, and individuals are taking on this ambitious zero-waste goal. (more…)

Georgia Rubenstein


Senior Manager, Sustainability Program

The Secret Life of Used Electronics: Facts You Should Know

April 2nd, 2014

I recently wrote an article for Greenbiz.com titled The 3 rules of recycling electronics waste. The level of response I received and the questions it generated reinforced the notion that there’s a hunger for information on this issue. That’s the good news. The bad news is there continues to be considerable confusion on what to do and why things need to change.

If I were to write a FAQ for the article, the first, middle, and last question would be something along the lines of: “I’ve used company X for years to handle my e-waste. They pay me to take this stuff off of my hands. They’re obviously making money, so things must be ok, right?”

Well, no, not necessarily. The unfortunate reality is there are many perfectly legal and profitable ways to dispose of your IT assets and electronics, in ways that would turn your stomach. And, unless you ask the right questions, you’ll never know, and you could be incurring risks that you’re not even aware of.

Unless you’re working with recyclers that, at minimum, have either R2 or e-Stewards certifications, here’s what happens all too often: (more…)

Leo Raudys


Founder and CEO, Riduvit.com

Doing Better, Together: The Waste Reduction Collaborative

November 1st, 2013

“We all do better when we all do better.” That’s a quote we like around here at Environmental Initiative – it sums up our partnership-based mission pretty well, and it’s also one that’s been on my mind lately as I’ve been working on the Waste Reduction Collaborative, one of the newer projects that’s part of our work with the Twin Cities sustainable business community.

The idea for the project was born from discussions with a group of our business partners, who recognized that they’re all working on reducing what they’re sending to a landfill – whether through purchasing less, reusing, or recycling more – and that many of them face common barriers to minimizing waste the way they’d like to. Smaller companies, especially, may have trouble aggregating enough of a certain material to get much value from recycling it, or difficulties starting up a new contract with a waste hauler if they’re not located on an existing route, or just not have the resources or know-how to invest in innovative solutions to help throw out less.


Georgia Rubenstein


Senior Manager, Sustainability Program

Taking Action to Prevent Waste: Lessons from Hennepin County Volunteers (and the Lorax)

November 26th, 2012

Research has shown that no matter how compelling, information alone doesn’t lead to behavior change. Sure, sometimes the information lands in front of someone at just the right moment and a new behavior is adopted, but more often than not, it takes much more.

Hennepin County’s Master Recycler/Composter program attempts to bridge the gap between awareness and action by providing training to residents who then share the information (and their passion for waste reduction and recycling) with neighbors, friends, family and co-workers. The personal connection is key to motivating behavior change.



Hennepin County Environmental Services
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