Alliance for Sustainability

More than 300 Bloomington residents participated in the Bloomington Sustainability Fair Sept. 28 at Bloomington Civic Plaza.

The event was organized by the Bloomington Sustainability Coalition, Alliance for Sustainability, Center for Energy and Environment and Metro CERTS, with support from the Alliance for Healthy Homes and Communities.

More than 20 organizations specializing in energy, environmental health, water, transportation, waste reduction and gardening participated in the fair, providing demonstrations and games to educate about their organization. 200 residents pledged actions to make their homes more healthy and energy efficient.  In conjunction with the fair there were community bike rides at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, across the street from civic plaza, as well as a bike safety rodeo.  Learn more at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bloomington-Sustainability-Coalition/113224145507502

 With support from the Alliance for Healthy Homes and Communities, the Alliance for Sustainability brought together volunteer teams from 10 metro communities together on November 12 the League of MN Cities to share ways to increase resident engagement in energy conservation and community health inititatives.

 Many approaches, one core belief: reduce our carbon footprint
Sustainability forum sparks ideas for engaging citizens

Citizens and communities across the metro region are stepping up to create a more environmentally sustainable future.

These 21st century activists talk easily of peak oil, source separated organics, permaculture, and descending the energy curve. Most use social media to keep their communities informed. Some gather just once a year to host a community environmental fair; others have ongoing plans and actions.

Several metro cities are among 57 in Minnesota engaged in the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s MN GreenStep City program. Other activists are proponents of the Transition Town movement. All depend on networking, support from other organizations and each other, and time and volunteers that are sometimes sparse.

And virtually all believe that their community – and its individual residents – must reduce their carbon footprints.

Thirteen sustainability advocates, representing environmental groups in a variety of metro communities, gathered on Nov. 14 to share successes and cautions in their pursuit of community engagement. They came away with some new tools, different ideas, and a shared challenge: how to increase the number of residents interested, educated, and active in environmental issues.

“Citizen environmental groups take several forms,” said Sean Gosiewski, executive director of the Alliance for Sustainability (AFORS), which hosted the event, titled Conversation on Community Engagement. “In the metro region, some groups are autonomous, like Lakeville Friends of the Environment. Others, like St. Louis Park or Falcon Heights, are official environmental commissions, sponsored by their city councils.”

Among those engaged in the Nov. 14 dialogue, three environmental groups, representing St. Louis Park, Minneapolis’ Longfellow neighborhood, and Bloomington, reflect varied communities engaging their residents in different ways. 

St. Louis Park joins GreenStep, forms commission

This first-ring suburb west of Minneapolis has an estimated 45,000 residents and is a GreenStep city. In 2013, sustainability efforts were made “official” with the establishment of a new Environment and Sustainability Commission, said Terry Gips, a commission member. He said the group is finalizing its work plan, which will be submitted to the City Council in January. Highlights include:

  • Conduct a future workshop on sustainability.
  • Use the Natural Step Framework for Sustainability, and include residents, congregations and businesses in the Framework’s community-wide ABCD process (awareness, baseline assessment, creating a sustainability vision, and developing an action plan).
  • Support city staff in elevating St. Louis Park’s GreenStep City beyond level 1.
  • Continue offering several events, including a remodeling fair and landscaping workshop.
  • Utilize St. Louis Park’s strong neighborhood network.

Transition Longfellow sprouts from grassroots

Leslie MacKenzie and Annette Rondano explained that their group was founded in Minneapolis’ Longfellow neighborhood three years ago after 25 neighbors attended an AFORS-sponsored appearance by Richard Heinberg. Heinberg, of the Post Carbon Institute, is one of the world’s foremost “peak oil” educators (the theory is that peak oil is the point at which the Earth’s oil supply will begin diminishing).

The group – which follows the Transition Town model – works to engage the 5,300 people living in Longfellow, in southeast Minneapolis. The group has two core activities or groups:

  • The First Saturday group currently is focusing on Permaculture and Charge Your Yard, or “more growing, less mowing,” said MacKenzie.
  • The Third Friday group is a free movie night and potluck, held gratis at a local church. The group picks a topic or mini-challenge, researches it during the month, and discusses it as a group. Attendance can range from 6 to 25.
  • Members number 204 on their Facebook page, which includes a master gardener and a neighborhood solar installer.
  • Social gatherings with sustainability education, plans and activities have worked well for Transition Longfellow, said MacKenzie. Her own website and blog, http://thinkofitasanadventure.com/, is an informative and fun sustainability mix of discussion, resources, and  writing.

Bloomington Sustainability Coalition conducts fairs, surveys, solar festival

The Bloomington Sustainability Coalition is autonomous, “although it has created good relationships with the city’s elected officials,” said Terry Houle who, along with John Crampton, represented the group. The Coalition reaches out to the city’s estimated 85,000 residents. Recent activities have included:

  • Hosting a sustainability fair at City Hall with 400-500 attendees.
  • Conducting a non-partisan Bloomington Sustainability candidate survey this fall, asking those running for office to express their views regarding bike trails, their general approach to sustainability, and the prospect of organized garbage collection. “Right now we have dueling garbage trucks, which make a lot of noise, burn a lot of fuel, and are prematurely aging our streets,” said Crampton.
  • Leading with community solar to engage residents, churches, and businesses, including a community solar festival in January 2014.
  • Measuring to establish baseline carbon footprint data for the city.
  • Continuing the success of Bloomington’s Green Congregation Coalition, established a year ago with 12-15 congregations participating. “One congregation has installed LED lighting as well as solar panels that produce twice as much energy as needed,” said Crampton. “It’s visionary, what they’ve done.”

Other community sustainability groups who participated in the Nov. 12 event included:

  • Transition All St. Anthony Park
  • Environment Commission, Falcon Heights
  • Minneapolis Community Environmental Advisory Committee
  • Edina Energy and Environment Commission
  • White Bear Lake Environmental Advisory Commission
  • Citizens for Sustainability, City of St. Anthony
  • Lakeville Friends of the Environment
  • Brooklyn Center Earth Fest

Resource organizations and experts were also available, offering information and updates. Mae Davenport, associate professor, Department of Forest Resources, University of Minnesota, introduced a tool for assessing community capacity. Others participating in the forum, including AFORS, were:

Gosiewski said that in supporting local leaders working to make their communities more sustainable, one of AFORS’ goals “is to get every metro community to become an official GreenStep city, supported to do environmental work within their own city governments.”

Cycles for Change (C4C)

Creating healthy homes and communities requires us to think about healthy, active ways to get from home to work or school and back. With a mini grant in July, the Alliance for Healthy Homes and Communities supported Cycles for Change’s effort to promote youth bicycle riding to and from school, work, and after-school activities through our Youth Riding Club. c4c

Cycles for Change (C4C) launched its Youth Riding Club this summer; C4C facilitated weekly group rides that took youth on trips to schools, parks, and museums, providing youth with education on safe, responsible, confident cycling techniques. A summer highlight was C4C’s ride from St. Paul Central High School to the University Avenue Open Streets event, where University was closed to cars and fully opened to bikes and pedestrians for an afternoon in September. C4C wrapped up the riding club for the season with a Halloween ride to the Barebones Theatre production, held annually at Hidden Falls park.

Part of C4C’s focus is to support youth leadership to grow the bicycling movement. One unique success story has C4C beginning to partner with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota to empower two C4C youth leaders to speak publicly about the importance of expanding funding for Safe Routes to School to support more youth biking to and from school.

Headwaters Regional Development Commission

The goal of this project is to educate homeowners on safe and healthy homes and provide resources for improvements. A toolkit will be created and shared with home buyers to make informed decisions.

Staff from HRDC report that the Commission has been busy making some final changes to the “tool kit.” They have met with some local housing service providers to get their input on important things for homeowners to know. The toolkit is 70% finished and staff is working on gathering some final pieces of information before it goes to print.