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Taking pride in Minnesota’s environmental collaborations

Mike Harley

Environmental Initiative hosted its 20th annual awards ceremony in Minneapolis on May 23. It was our best event yet, both in attendance and in the quality of our award recipients.  With the ceremony behind us, we at Environmental Initiative are taking a moment to reflect on the last 20 years, and one sentiment keeps rising to the top: pride in our community.

Since 1994 the Environmental Initiative Awards have honored those working in partnership to solve environmental problems in Minnesota. This overall mission has never changed. But what has grown immensely over the years is the caliber of innovations and spirit of collaboration to produce tangible, positive environmental outcomes in our state.

It’s fun to look back at our award winners over the last 20 years and use it as a measuring stick on how we’re doing with environmental achievement. Let me assure you – we’re doing very well.  At our first awards ceremony in 1994, we handed out four awards that were extraordinary at the time, but ordinary when measured against Minnesota’s current standards.  This year’s six innovative award winners are some of the very best.

Community Action & Partnership of the Year

Project Sweetie Pie is a grassroots movement seeding North Minneapolis with community gardens to create training opportunities for urban agriculture, food production, and the culinary arts. 

Energy and Climate 

Twin Cities Habitat Northside Net Zero Energy Home. Together with their partners, Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity completed the first net zero home, which is designed to produce as much energy as it uses through solar electric and thermal systems.

Environmental Education

State of the River Report, a partnership between government and nonprofits, demonstrates a new and successful model of environmental education. By distilling complex information about the Mississippi River into simple terms that non-scientists can understand, the report arms citizens with information needed to make informed decisions about shared water resources.

Food Stewardship

The Fruits of the City program addresses the lack of access to fresh, healthy fruit for the economically disenfranchised by coordinating teams of volunteers and fruit tree owners to deliver thousands of pounds of fresh fruit to local food shelves. This program has harvested and delivered more than 230,000 pounds of fruit to more than 30 area food shelves since 2009.

Natural Resources

The Clearwater River Watershed Targeted Fertilizer Application seeks to lessen the amount of agricultural runoff by assisting farmers with changing their fertilizer application rates for their fields. The project has been successful in motivating farmers to test soil for nutrient requirements to optimize their use of fertilizer, which simultaneously protects water quality.

Sustainable Business

The Saint Paul Hotel Organics Recycling Project serves as a model for how counties throughout the state can partner with businesses to overcome barriers to recycling and composting. This partnership successfully implemented an organics collection program resulting in a 90 percent recycling rate – twice the average recycling rate in Minnesota.

Minnesota has long been known for its spirit of collaboration, and the Environmental Initiative Awards is living proof. We at Environmental Initiative are proud to live in a community that works together across platforms to do what’s best for the environment.  Twenty years from now, at our 40th annual awards ceremony, I am hopeful that we will look back at the progress of collaborative environmental problem solving in Minnesota with the same pride we’re feeling today.

Mike Harley is the executive director of Environmental Initiative.

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