Minnesota companies moving forward on climate change

You might be surprised at just how much your favorite Minnesota company is doing about climate change. And I’m talking about some big corporate names. Best Buy. General Mills. 3M.

Reporting live for MPR’s Climate Cast today at Minnesota’s 3rd Climate Adaptation Conference, I was struck by just how much some of Minnesota’s premiere Fortune 500 companies are doing about climate change. The kicker? Minnesota corporations turning a brighter shade of ‘climate change green’ is not some kind of philanthropic, customer inciting PR line. It’s actually producing profitably green benefits on the bottom line.

Today we also heard how Minnesota cities are increasingly on the front lines of climate change. Increased extreme rainfall events and flooding. Dramatically warmer winter temperatures and changing snowfall patterns. In many cases, cities are coming up with climate adaptation and mitigation plans on their own. It’s a sort of grass roots municipal climate change movement. Cities are also saving money while reducing their carbon footprint. Acting locally to deal with the growing symptoms of a global problem.

Sessions on rethinking Minnesota’s energy future covered new ground. Sessions on architecturally designing for climate changes 50 years down the road envision  more climate resilient buildings.

Here are some brief notes from today’s 3rd Minnesota Climate Adaptation Conference.

Business Panel Panelists: Jerry Lynch Chief Sustainability Officer, General Mills, Laura Bishop, Best Buy VP for Public Affairs and Sustainability, Chris Nelson, 3M Environmental Permitting Engineer

Laura Bishop, Best Buy

  • Best Buy has already surpassed goal of reducing corporate GHG emissions of 20% by 2020.
  • 45% carbon reduction goal by 2020.
  • Increased efficiency saves Best Buy about $42-million per year.
  • Extreme weather disruptions leading to product delays.
  • 2011 Thailand floods closed hard drive plant delaying hard drive production by up to 6 months.
  • Best Buy now into solar as a profit center.
  • There is increasing customer-driven demand for ‘climate friendly’ products.

Chris Nelson, 3M

  • 3M lost $35-million in revenue from supply chain disruptions during Thailand floods.
  • Plant was shut down 30 days.
  • Seeing increased unpredictability in supply chain, power grids etc.
  • 3M has cut GHG emissions 50% in past 12 years.
  • Shareholders want financial performance, and increasingly expect carbon responsibility.

Jerry Lynch, General Mills

  • Climate change is evident in supply chain disruptions/changes.
  • Cocoa plantations in West Africa under stress from increased drought as climate shifts.
  • Demand for food will skyrocket as additional 4 billion people inhabit earth by 2100.
  • Increased hypoxia zones from warmer water putting stress on water and food supplies.
  • 1 pound of beef requires 32 pound of grain to produce.
  • Agriculture accounts for 42% of General Mills product carbon footprint.
  • Transportation is 16%. Production 14%.
  • Climate change is impacting/changing business model.
  • General Mills is a 150 year old company. Climate change critical to the next 150 years.
  • Dealing with climate change is an innovation challenge.
  • The Paris COP 21 agreement is a very positive development.

My observations:

  • Climate change increasingly presents both risk and opportunities to companies.
  • We’ve come from “why is my supply chain being disrupted?” to widespread recognition that corporate climate change sustainability will impact and improve bottom line.
  • Acting on climate change is increasingly becoming a cost reduction point and potential profit center.
  • As corporations increasingly change business models to reduce carbon footprints, more widespread and effective reductions in global GHG emissions will result.
  • There are growing opportunities for companies to improve bottom line by reducing carbon footprint.

Energy session Speakers: Jodi Slick, CEO of Ecolibrium3 Peter Dahl, Associate Principal at HGA Architects and Engineers Ken Smith, CEO of St. Paul District Energy and Evergreen Energy

My Observations:

  • Energy systems innovation is leading to tremendous efficiency increases.
  • We only use about 55% of overall energy capacity.
  • The City of Duluth takes 34 degree water from Lake Superior, heats it to 300+ degrees, runs steam through pipes for heating, dumps 195 degree water into sewers then treats and returns it to the lake. Very inefficient. A much better way going forward.
  • Those kind of updates takes long term planning.
  • Architects are now designing for climate change.
  • What will the climate be and how will a building perform 50 years from now?
  • Design process includes forecasting future climate, assessing risks, and designing for that.
  • Waste heat and energy increasingly being used as a source of energy.
  • Science Museum of Minnesota (SMM) energy retrofit is now producing close to 100% of buildings heat needs.
  • SMM is saving tens of thousands each month in heating costs. (via Pat Hamilton at SMM)
  • Is there a coming “Netflix Effect” for energy similar to how extra broadband capacity is being used? In other words, will we begin to capture excess capacity and waste heat from some buildings and network that into central energy delivers systems to maximize efficiencies  for entire cities…rather than approach energy as individual buildings that need to be heated and cooled?

Mayors Panel Mayor Chris Coleman, City of Saint Paul, Mayor , Mayor Peter Lindstrom, City of Falcon Heights, Mayor Jake Spano, City of St. Louis Park

Mayors Panel. Paul Huttner/MPR News.

Chris Coleman – St. Paul

  • Incredible positive mind-shift of local mayors on climate change in past 20-30 years.
  • Action at the city level much more than nationally.
  • Climate change producing dramatic impact in City of St. Paul.
  • River cities seeing impacts of climate change as extreme precip variability amplifies.
  • Green Line light rail, River Center solar array positive developments.

Rita Albrecht, City of Bemidji

  • Local efforts still possible with no budget
  • Green Step program saving city 100k+ per year on energy costs.
  • Tiny house subdivision in Bemidji.
  • All city vehicles run on E85.
  • Bemidji is a Tree City.
  • Bemidji has upgraded outdoor siren warning system due to increased severe weather.
  • Warmer winters mean shorter winter frost season, and higher pest invasions impacting lumber industry in northern Minnesota.

Mayor Peter Lindstrom, Falcon Heights

  • Cited city of Frazee’s 11 million solar/wind project underway.
  • Popularity of community gardens overwhelming. Doubled size of gardens and waiting lists.
  • 2/3 of city power needs (city buildings) now comes from solar arrays.
  • Buying local from 10K Solar in Bloomington.
  • 10K Solar getting a $25-million infusion from Goldman Sachs.
  • City/residents purchasing bulk solar power.
  • Solar gardens program very popular.

Jake Spano, St. Louis Park

  • Cities on the front lines of climate change.
  • Increased flooding costs and effects.
  • Meadowbrook Golf Course shut down for 2+ years after severe flood damage.
  • SLP spends $40k per snow emergency.
  • Cities more nimble on climate change policy.

Professionally, I am struck by how far we’ve come as a state in terms of climate change awareness and action in the past 3 years. There are a lot of very smart people in that room today working to solve a problem that seems bigger than all of us. There is still a long way to go and major challenges ahead, but there is definite momentum and hope for positive changes as we continue to see the increasing effects of our changing climate.