It’s easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged about the state of our environment. From MinnPost articles on the Paris Climate Agreement withdrawal to President Trump’s executive orders on environmental issues, doing collaborative, partnership-based work seems like a thing of the past.
Amidst federal conditions, it’s time to look toward the great work happening locally — and time to lift up and support collaborative models. Sometimes it seems as though polarized discourse clouds out the progress we are making and the ways we can work together to achieve common goals.
Climate change, dirty air, water pollution – these are not just environmental problems; they’re also health problems, economic problems, and business problems. At Environmental Initiative, we believe by working together – across sectors and interests – we can achieve more effective and longer lasting solutions.
Working in this way isn’t easy. It isn’t a silver bullet. It’s not the solution to every environmental challenge. It’s not always fast. But it’s needed. And it’s why the annual Environmental Initiative Awards is so important. Each spring, we gather to recognize those who’ve joined forces to create a better environment for all Minnesotans. I hope you’ll take a few moments to read about these inspiring projects, winners of the 25th Anniversary Environmental Initiative Awards:
Community Action — Governmental Solar Garden Collaborative: The collaborative is a joint effort by and for 31 local governments in the greater Twin Cities metropolitan region to procure solar garden subscriptions from a single Request for Proposals (RFP) process to offset the energy usage at public facilities. Twenty-four participants said that they were moving to sign subscription agreements for a cumulative 33 megawatts of solar capacity. In 2015, Minnesota generated 35 megawatts for community solar subscriptions total.
Critical Collaborator — Ron Nargang: Nargang held high-level positions at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. He also has extensive experience in the formulation, passage, and implementation of public policy initiatives through open exchange and partnership.
Critical Collaborator — Mike Robertson: Robertson has been a key player in environmental policy development in Minnesota for more than 30 years. He’s held positions at several state agencies, been a founding member of Clean Air Minnesota, and had great influence on nearly every piece of Minnesotan environmental policy since the 1980s.
Emerging Leader – Eliza Clark: Clark is the director of sustainability and environmental at Andersen Corporation, a founding member of the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition, and the Vice Chair of Super Bowl LII’s Sustainability Committee. She’s a standout in corporate sustainability, and known for unifying others.
Energy and Climate – City of Hutchinson Landfill Solar PV: The City of Hutchinson is home to the largest landfill solar project in Minnesota, made possible by public-private partnership. The 400-kilowatt array is tied directly to the wastewater treatment plant nearby, helping offset energy use for the city’s largest municipal energy consumer. This project is the first of its kind in the state.
Natural Resources – Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (Rice Creek Commons): In 2013, Ramsey County purchased a World War II army ammunition plant with the goal of restoring the site to a vibrant residential and commercial area— Rice Creek Commons. The project and its partners removed tons of hazardous waste, created nearly 2,000 feet of stream, and restored a floodplain. In total, 93 percent of the materials removed from the site were recycled or reused in new roadways on the site and in other parts of the Twin Cities.
Sustainable Business – Promoting Deconstruction and Reuse: According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, more than 80 percent of the 1.6 million tons of construction and demolition waste was landfilled in 2013. In 2016, Better Futures Minnesota and their partners helped recycle or reuse more than 1,571 tons of building materials that would have otherwise been landfilled. In addition to solid waste reduction, 750.5 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions were avoided. Better Futures trains men with a history of incarceration, homelessness, poverty, untreated mental and physical health conditions and other traumas to conduct deconstruction and reuse efforts and achieve self-sufficiency.
Mike Harley is the executive director of Environmental Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to building partnerships to solve environmental problems collaboratively.
WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?
If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, see our Submission Guidelines.)