Minneapolis Sustainable Design: Where Is It?

As I consciously and slowly build the smart content on MPLS Green to network and build awareness of Minneapolis sustainable design in its interlocking parts, I’m having interesting conversations with many architects, designers and entrepreneurs. I’m also learning of the eco-village communities that are growing in other parts of the world, like Malaysia. More to come…

The Good News

Minneapolis has many excellent minds focused on creating a more sustainable community.

The sustainable design going up at Edison High School in Northeast Minneapolis Summer 2015 (photo: AWH Architect Alex Haecker)

The sustainable design going up at Edison High School in Northeast Minneapolis Summer 2015 (photo: AWH Architect Alex Haecker)

  • Northeast Minneapolis’ Edison High School this summer will enhance its solar array and include a stormwater management system. (Minnetonka school district is considering solar as a cost-saving measure for the entire district.)
  • Restauranteers Tracy Singleton (Birchwood Cafe) and Kim Bartmann (Tiny Diner, etc.) are using solar power and local organic food. Ruhel Islam (Gandhi Mahal) has aquaponics in the basement, produce from the neighborhood, and is nearly zero-waste. Dan Swenson-Klatt (Butter Cafe) has not only been composting and recycling for years, but also serves as a work site for youth struggling with homelessness.
  • Business owners like Lonnie McQuirter, 36th & Lyndale gas station, are taking advantage of rebates and assistance from Clean Energy Resource Partners (CERTS) to reduce its energy bill $700/month and was the first “gas” station to offer a fast charger for electric vehicles.
  • Local community gardeners and urban farmers are producing healthy produce. Gardening Matters estimates that in 2014 Twin Cities gardeners planted on almost 20 acres, producing nearly 450,000 pounds of food valued at $500K-$1million. Neighbors like Jeff Gillman and Meleah Maynard are offering expertise on sustainable landscaping with Decoding Gardening Advice: The Science Behind the 100 Most Common Recommendations (coincidentally including a nod to the tips of Beautifully Sustainable, a book I edited and designed for local landscaper and geothermal home owner Douglas Owens-Pike). Organizations like Metro Blooms are providing much-needed landscape design education for the city and its residents, especially about raingardens.

And this is just a narrow list of the sustainable leaders in our community. This will be a focal point of this website: who is doing the right thing, now?

The Frustrations

Although renewable energy options are growing in Minneapolis, many of the giant development projects and new residential work in the city are not taking advantage of sustainable practices that would have long-term savings — not only of energy costs, but health costs. The new Vikings stadium, for example, will have passive solar (allowing sun in to heat) — but despite its giant roof and glass-paneled design will not generate solar energy from respected Made in Minnesota manufacturers Silicon Energy or TenK Solar.

As The Guardian pointed out, San Francisco has recently built a stadium with forward-thinking design elements in place: “The crowning feature is a solar panel-ladened ‘green roof’ atop the suite tower. That roof, along with power generated from solar panels on three pedestrian walkways, will offset the power the team uses during home games. The owners’ suite is crafted from reclaimed wood from a nearby airfield. The stadium recycles 85% of its water.”

One of the biggest frustrations I’m hearing from green designers is that in our capitalistic-driven society, developers tend to look for short-term gain. Municipal and federal governments don’t tend to have the policies in place — despite strong LEED enhancements — to require anything different.

In other parts of the world, changes are happening more quickly on a country-wide scale. The United Kingdom and Germany, for example, are generating record-setting solar energy; at this time last year, Germany had generated 75% of its overall electricity demand with solar. China, with its less expensive manufacturing, is quickly growing in solar power — the coastal city of Rizhao (3 million population) is almost entirely solar powered — although the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot program is making headway.

In the U.S., it is smart business owners with long-term vision who are making the investments in sustainability despite the lack of regulatory requirements — such as carbon fees. Microsoft, for example, estimates it has saved more than $10 million since implementing an internal carbon fee in 2012.

I’d like to share more about Minneapolis businesses and entrepreneurs. Who do you recommend as making a positive impact?

— Mikki Morrissette, MPLSGreen founder

Related Resources

See Q&A and Op-Ed sections for ongoing additions.

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