Detroit trash incinerator shutting down; 150 to lose jobs

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan cheered the closure and said the city will work with the company to help laid-off employees find new jobs.

“As far as future use of this site, it is my strong preference that this site never again be used as a waste incinerator,” Duggan said in a statement. “We will be pursuing our legal options to make sure this remains the case.”

Duggan said the city will transfer its trash contract with Detroit Renewable Energy to “to another company and our rates are locked in through the remainder of the contract.”

Detroit Renewable Energy is the holding company for Detroit Thermal, the company that supplies steam heat through underground pipes to 106 buildings in downtown, Midtown and the New Center area.

The Beacon plant has two natural gas boilers installed in 2005 and 2006 and two boilers that were converted from coal to natural gas in the late 1970s. They have the capacity to supply heat to all of Detroit Thermal’s customers, Grzech said.

“They have run at full capacity — even in this past heating season — and they can carry the load for the entire system,” Grzech told Crain’s.

The incinerator sits along Russell Street in what’s known as the Poletown East neighborhood and is visible from the nearby Chrysler (1-75) and Edsel Ford (I-94) freeways.

The facility’s union, the Operating Engineers Local 324, was notified Wednesday of the waste-to-energy plant’s immediate shutdown and the nearly 150 employees will be offered severance packages, according to the company.

“We are extremely disappointed that Detroit Renewable Energy has chosen to shutter their Detroit facility without warning and eliminate the jobs of 150 hard working skilled employees,” the union said in a statement. “… It is also disturbing that there are so many that would celebrate this decision without thought or care for these workers, their families, or the tax revenue this facility provided the city of Detroit. The future jobs of these professionals should be of more pressing importance than thoughts about the future of the land their lost jobs sit on.”

The company’s thermal underground steam-heating system dates back more than a century, with a labyrinth 39-mile maze of tunnels running heat below the greater downtown area.

The switchover to natural gas will not result in any disruptions in service to Detroit Thermal’s biggest customers including General Motors Co.’s Renaissance Center, the Fox Theatre or the Detroit Medical Center, Grzech said.

The Beacon plant’s boilers also have enough capacity for new buildings. Detroit Thermal has secured contracts to supply steam heat to Bedrock LLC’s new high-rises at the Monroe Blocks and Hudson’s site developments.

Detroit Renewable Energy has plans to “harden” its existing infrastructure to prevent line loss of steam heat and implement “better preventative maintenance programs on those boilers at Beacon,” Grzech said.

“But there is capacity to support the current customers and the current future growth,” he said.

Detroit Renewable Energy is a regulated utility company and changes in its rates from the switch to all natural gas will be subject to approval by the Michigan Public Service Commission.

“We see the rates at least remaining the same and possibly going down,” Grzech said.

NAR: Sustainability sells

“Green houses” are not just a niche fad.

Eco-friendly home features have broad appeal among consumers and can play a valuable role in real estate marketing, according to a new report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the largest real estate trade group in the United States with over 1.3 million members.

The report, published on Friday, is based on survey responses from 6,047 NAR members. Of the respondents, 59 percent said their clients were “at least somewhat interested in sustainability.” Moreover, 69 percent said that promoting energy efficiency in their listings “was very or somewhat valuable.”

Credit: NAR

In a statement, NAR President John Smaby further explained that the “the state of the environment is important to our members and their business practices, and the report shows that sustainability impacts consumers’ home buying decisions as well.”

The report goes into detail on a plethora of additional ways that sustainability is influencing real estate. For example, 41 percent of the survey respondents said that their multiple listing services (MLS) included fields where they can input data about a property’s energy efficiency and other eco-friendly features.

Credit: NAR

In addition, 83 percent of the people surveyed said that solar panels are available in their markets. More significantly still, 36 percent of respondents said “properties with solar panels increased the perceived property value, compared to 33 percent that said they had no effect.”

Credit: NAR

Those findings hint at the significant inroads solar energy has made in recent years. Last year, for example, California regulators decided to make solar panels mandatory on all new homes beginning in 2020. Private companies such as Tesla and Hanergy are also racing to deploy advanced solar roofing materials that could further redefine the sector.

Friday’s report from NAR suggests that these types of developments are trickling down to the consumer real estate market, both influencing buyers and changing the way real estate agents market their listings.

The report also breaks down the appeal of several home features that have a direct relationship to greenhouse gas emissions. For example, 40 percent of respondents said that proximity to frequently visited places was “very important” to their clients and 19 percent said the same of commuting costs.

Fourteen percent also said that walkability was very important.

Those data points are particularly significant because scientists have identified vehicle emissions as a major source of greenhouse gases, and cutting down on driving is likely to be a major ongoing focus in the fight against climate change.

Credit: NAR

However, the appeal of climate-friendly transportation may still be limited; the survey found that overall 69 percent of respondents said their clients rarely or never asked to see properties close to public transit.

The report’s findings come as experts raise red flags about the real estate industry’s vulnerability to climate change. And while consumers may be slowly coming around to the idea of sustainability, other recent reports have also indicated that the industry lacks a climate change strategy and that individual agents may be unaware of just how susceptible their properties are to environmental chaos.

For its part, NAR has created a sustainability program that is meant to “provide leadership and strategies” related to these various issues. And in his statement Friday, Smaby added that “Realtors remain on the cutting edge of sustainability and continue to lead the conversation about energy efficiency in real estate.”

Email Jim Dalrymple II

Microsoft’s green plan: Our data centers will run on 60% renewable energy by 2020

Microsoft tapping wind power to ease data center burden on Ireland
Microsoft buys wind energy from GE and a license to supply energy to Ireland’s grid.

Microsoft says at the end of 2018 half the power used by its data centers came from renewable energy and it should hit 60 percent by the end of 2019. 

With the 60 percent milestone in sight, the company is now targeting over 70 percent renewable energy for its data centers by 2023.

Microsoft is aiming to cut its carbon emissions by 75 percent by 2030 and as part of that effort has raised its internal carbon ‘tax’ to $15 per metric ton on all carbon emissions, which is nearly double the current rate for carbon emissions, according to Microsoft president Brad Smith. 

Microsoft has had a carbon tax in place since 2012 that puts the burden on business divisions financially to cut their own carbon emissions. 

SEE: Cloud v. data center decision (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

The higher fee comes amidst Microsoft’s massive revamp of its Redmond campus, where it’s tearing down old buildings and constructing 17 modernized structures across 2.5 million square feet. The new buildings, including existing ones, will not use fossil fuels and will run on totally carbon-free electricity.

Additionally, it’s cutting the carbon stemming from construction materials used in the big campus rebuild by at least 15 percent with a goal to reduce carbon by 30 percent. 

“Combined with our smart building technology, Microsoft will be the first large corporate campus to reach zero-carbon and zero-waste goals,” Smith said.   

Microsoft’s new renewable targets follow Apple’s announcement last week that 44 suppliers have now signed up to the Supplier Clean Energy Program. Apple claimed to be operating on 100 percent renewable sources in 2018 and is trying to clean up its entire supply chain, too. 

Google last year began purchasing more energy from wind and solar farms than the electricity its global operations use. And Amazon Web Services last week announced three new wind farms in Ireland, Sweden, and the US, which will bring its renewable projects to a total of 12 when they’re complete. 

Amazon reached a 50 percent renewable energy target in 2018 and is aiming for 100 percent. However, over 6,000 staff have signed a petition published this week, calling on Amazon’s leadership to put a date on that goal.   

As part of Microsoft’s ambition to go 100 percent on renewable energy, Microsoft today announced a five-year hydropower supply agreement with Chelan County Public Utility District (PUD) in Washington state. 

The two firms have also signed a memorandum of understanding to improve broadband availability in rural parts of Chelan County. 

The software and cloud giant is also negotiating a contract to purchase the output of a new Washington state wind or solar resource, which should be up and running in the next five years. 

Smith said Microsoft will also launch a “data-driven circular cloud initiative” that will use IoT sensors, blockchain, and AI to “monitor performance and streamline our reuse, resale and recycling of data-center assets, including servers”.

The mission extends to water usage too, with the company launching a water replenishment strategy where it replaces what its operations consume in water-stressed regions by 2030. 

The Azure cloud is also playing a role in Microsoft’s environmental objectives around improving environmental research through data science. 

The company has promised to host “the world’s leading environmental data science sets on Azure”. That will mean storing petabytes of government datasets containing satellite and aerial imagery.  

More on Microsoft and data-center green issues

Oakland, California, to adopt fuel from waste feedstock in city fleet

Adidas, Germany, is testing out its 100 percent recyclable running shoe on 200 “leading creators” from across the world ahead of the brand’s plans to commercialize them in 2021. The first generation all-white Futurecraft Loop performance running shoes, which are “made to be remade,” will be returned to Adidas, broken down and reused to create new running shoes.

“We set out to create a new type of product that we can take back, grind up and reapply into new Adidas product,” says Tanyaradzwa Sahanga, manager, technology innovation, Adidas.

The beta release follows more than a decade of research, material development and collaboration with manufacturing and recycling partners across Asia, Europe and North America. The first Loop shoe is made with one material type and no glue. The shoe is made with reusable thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU), which is spun into yarn, knitted and fused using Adidas’ Speedfactory technology.

At their end-of-life, the shoes are washed, ground to pellets and melted into material that can go back into making the next generation Loop shoe.

“We knew this was a far-reaching vision in every way, technically and even behaviorally,” Sahanga says. “There were times when it didn’t seem like we could get over some of the technical hurdles. Now we’ve made the first leap, the playing field has changed. We cannot create a circular future on our own. We are going to need each other. We’re excited to see this first step come to life as part of the beta launch.”

The creators will run in the Loop shoes, return the shoes and share feedback on their experience, which will provide the foundation for the next generation of Loop shoes. A wider commercial release of the Loop shoe is targeted for spring or summer 2021.

Adidas began partnering with Parley for the Oceans, New York, New York, to make shoes made out of recycled ocean plastic in 2015. The brand went from creating a footwear concept with an upper lid made with yarns reclaimed from ocean plastic to producing 11 million shoes made with Ocean Plastic by Parley in 2019.

The key breakthrough into a circular business model was simplifying the design from using 12 different materials to one and using heat rather than glue to fuse the shoe together. As part of its sustainability strategy, Adidas is committed to using only recycled polyester in every product and on every application by 2024.

“Taking plastic waste out of the system is the first step, but we can’t stop there,” says Eric Liedtke, executive board member, global brands, Adidas. “What happens to your shoes after you’ve worn them out? You throw them away, except there is no away. There are only landfills and incinerators and ultimately an atmosphere choked with excess carbon or oceans filled with plastic. The next step is to end the concept of ‘waste’ entirely. Our dream is that you can keep wearing the same shoes over and over again.”

Tips On Utilizing Green Manufacturing Without Crippling Your ROI

The color green, among other things, represents growth, money, sustainability, and greed. Ironically, the pairs growth/sustainability and money/greed are somewhat contradictory. How so? Well, as we are well into a new year, let’s examine what the hot topics were last year.

Besides politics, climate change and economic growth are back in the news in a good and bad way. As people usually prefer, I will start with the negative. Bad, as in the grim report recently disclosed in the US government’s Fourth National Climate Assessment. It’s a bleak outlook of increasing natural disasters inflicted by Mother Nature for not heeding prior warnings of the dangers that greenhouse gases have on our quality of life and the economy. And, good… as in the rise of American manufacturing and the US economy.

Here’s the first contradiction… We don’t generally equate manufacturing growth with environmental sustainability. Manufacturing conjures visions of dangerous smoke and vapors polluting the air, chemicals leaching into water systems, and plastics floating in our oceans. In order to stop the acceleration of climate change damage, industries need to make changes in their carbon footprint to comply with government and state regulations to become more socially responsible.

Here is where the next contradiction comes in….it takes money to make significant changes in manufacturing processes, and well… greed can prevent more spending. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

So, how can industries make changes and still make a profit to stay sustainable this year and beyond? The answer is making a plan with actionable goals towards implementing green manufacturing practices. This article will explain where to start and how to make environmentally friendly changes in each stage of the product life cycle from design through consumption.

Where to Begin?

The first step is researching State and Federal rules and regulations to make sure your company is compliant. The EPA website provides regulatory information by the manufacturing sector, as well as updates in existing laws or guidelines. Most companies already follow industry requirements, and not doing so can result in fines or imprisonment.

Before a plan can be implemented, a careful analysis of all manufacturing operations in the product life cycle should begin with input from the executive team, production management team, engineering team, maintenance team, buyers, plant supervisor, quality manager. The goal is to find ways to conserve energy, resources, and reduce waste in ways it is economically feasible, and that will ensure long term profitability.

Product Life Cycle

  • Design
  • Manufacturing Processes
  • Packaging
  • Transportation
  • Consumption


If manufacturers are truly serious about making eco-friendly products, then there is no better place to start than the designing phase. The definition of Design For Manufacturing (DFM) is to make sure that the product is not only easy to manufacture, but also in a cost-effective manner. In this phase, careful consideration should also include what impact this product will have on the environment when its life cycle is over.

A familiar example is plastic water bottles. They are filling up landfills and oceans at a record pace. One company decided to break the mold and create a new business model using locally sourced spring water in a paper container. Just Water containers are 82% paper with a cap made from sugar cane. The results – a 74% reduction in carbon emissions! The risks seem to be paying off as they have introduced a new line of flavored waters.

Manufacturers can no longer ignore the effects of production on the earth or the growing consumer demand for more sustainable products.

What about manufacturers whose products are not biodegradable? How can they still make products that are easy on the environment?

The automotive, electronics, and aerospace industries perfect examples facing this dilemma. Many of these industries use metal components in their electronics systems. With increasing wireless technologies such as 5G, Artificial Intelligence, GPS, computers and satellites, conductive metals are a necessity for proper function. Part of the electronic design phase includes metal selection, and often a few materials share similar properties.

In that case, copper would be a good choice because it has the highest electrical and thermal conductivity making it more energy efficient than other metals, thus lowering operation costs by as much as 20-30%. Copper is easy to recycle and remanufacture because it does not lose its properties. In fact, it is cheaper to recycle than to mine or extract new copper. Copper components are also found in renewable energy systems such as solar, wind, hydro and more.

Manufacturing Processes


The operational cost of production is the biggest expense in a manufacturing plant. Thankfully, there are emerging technologies such as Artificial intelligence that is transforming manufacturing by providing real-time data to track machine efficiency and output as well as detecting mechanical failures before they happen.

These machine monitoring systems (MES or Manufacturing Execution System) not only improve production and conserve resources to save money, but they can also prevent mechanical failures. Machine breakdowns are not only costly but can sometimes lead to chemical or gas leaks that can compromise our water supply and atmosphere.

Smart connected factories can monitor many systems within the organization, including utility usage. An investment in this type of technology will lower heating, cooling, electrical and water bills, thus reducing the carbon footprint.


Replacing all lighting with LED is an investment in cost savings. In fact, according to research by a London Company that analyzes data for corporations, LED Bulbs Reduced 570 Million Tons Of Carbon Emissions In 2017. To put it into perspective, that is equivalent to closing down 162 coal-fired power plants around the world. Compared to traditional bulbs, LED lights save up to 75% in energy costs and improve employee safety


Solar energy still remains a viable option to reduce energy costs in factories. Studies have shown that it has become the cheapest energy source in the world.  Although, there is debate as to whether solar energy is worth the cost. Savings aren’t seen until long term, and solar panels are expensive, and obviously not effective during night time operations. But, for commercial use it proves to be more cost-effective than residential settings. Larger systems conserve more energy in a shorter time period than residential and the system pays for itself within a few years.

Another incentive is the new investment tax credit (ITC), also known as the federal solar tax credit which allows you to deduct 30 percent of the cost of installing a solar energy system from your federal taxes. Depending on the type of panel, its life span, and the amount of sun, solar energy systems can yield efficiency ratings up to 22%.


Another area that impacts the environment is water usage in daily operations.  Ideally, it is beneficial to have a conserve, reuse and recycle plan. The cheapest way to conserve water is preventative maintenance by periodic checks manually or with existing machining monitoring systems. If a capital investment has been made with the latter, it is important to know the lowest volume of water needed to run machines efficiently. Machine monitoring systems provide this data, as well as detect malfunctions which can cause leaks.

Beyond conservation, recycling water for use in more than one process should be considered. For instance, if a rinsing process does not require 100% contaminant-free water, then perhaps it can be used in another rinse cycle.

And finally, finding methods to recycle water in-house, can greatly reduce consumption. There are many ways to filter water for reuse, and some systems can be installed to existing equipment. For example, in 2010 Dr. Pepper’s Snapple plant installed a reject recovery reverse osmosis (RO) system for treated water. This capital investment resulted in over 90% water savings and a huge environmental impact as well as money their pocket.


Seeking sustainable packaging options are popular as environmental awareness has increased. It is also becoming more necessary to find other options as some states and cities are banning certain types of materials.

New material options include plant-based plastics, biodegradable peanuts, corrugated bubble wrap, and more recently, mushroom and seaweed!  Unfortunately, there is a higher cost involved when switching to these alternatives.  Even more, the manufacturing processes of these materials may deplete resources and increase carbon emissions. As a result, you could be paying more for nothing. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition helps manufacturers weigh the costs before choosing the right materials, and in addition, examines the challenges facing different industry sectors.

If you are not quite ready to make the investment, then finding ways to reduce the amount of packaging is a good start. One example is trading styrofoam peanuts for plastic air pillows. Less packaging means less waste.

And finally, at the very least, make sure your company has a recycling plan for all incoming packages from vendors.


Transporting goods and services should not be overlooked when making a sustainable plan. A reduction in packaging materials will help lower freight costs. Choosing local vendors whenever possible will help reduce carbon emissions. And, finally, careful planning with logistic software makes it possible for shipping departments and distribution centers to plot out the most cost-effective way to deliver goods.  In some cases, it may be more cost-effective to outsource to a third-party logistics provider.


Committing to the green manufacturing process is being mindful of the impact that a used product will have on the environment. And for this reason, all manufacturing efforts should go into creating either a biodegradable, reusable, or recyclable product.  Packaging should be minimal and contain instructions on how consumers can safely dispose of the product.


As you can see there are a lot of options to consider and it can be overwhelming. Fortunately, there are Sustainability Consultants who can offer suggestions where the biggest impact can be made in the product life cycle with the lowest cost investment.  A carefully managed plan can result in savings and a profit if a company promotes its products and its supply chain as environmentally sustainable.

Manufacturers can no longer ignore how their processes negatively impact the environment and how this affects buyer behavior. Companies that implement Green Manufacturing processes now, will most likely have a competitive edge.

Sources: Panjehfouladgaran, Hamidreza. (2012). Environmental Conscious Manufacturing for Sustainable Growth.

4 Ways to Cut Plastic’s Growing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

As concern over plastic waste grows, researchers are raising red flags about another problem: plastic’s rapidly growing carbon footprint. Left unchecked, greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastics will be nearly four times greater by mid-century, when they are projected to account for nearly one-sixth of global emissions.

Not all plastics have the same carbon footprint, though. What they are made from, the source of the energy that powers their production, and how they are disposed of at the end of their life cycle all make a difference.

In a study published Monday in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change, researchers compared the life cycle emissions of different types of plastics, made from fossil fuels and from plants, and looked for ways to lower their total greenhouse gas emissions.

They found that there is no silver bullet. Every combination of plastics production and end-of-life disposal generates greenhouse gas emissions. But by combining four different approaches, they found they could lower emissions up to 93 percent compared to business as usual by 2050 if each measure was taken to the extreme.

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The researchers found that using 100 percent renewable energy in plastics production with fossil fuel-based feedstock could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by half compared to business as usual in 2050, though it would still be roughly twice the emissions generated from plastics in 2015.

Adding both aggressive recycling that keeps plastics out of landfills and incinerators and efforts that reduce the growth in demand for plastics by half to that scenario could further lower greenhouse gas emissions from plastics to roughly the amount produced in 2015.

Using plant-based feedstocks instead of fossil fuels could lower it even more, the researchers found.

Chart: Plastic's Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The most effective combination the researchers found was to use a plant-based feedstock (sugarcane in this case), with 100 percent renewable energy for production, recycling of all plastics rather than incinerating or dumping them in landfills, and reducing the annual growth in demand for plastics by half.

That combination could theoretically reach a 93 percent reduction compared to business as usual in 2050, or about a 74 percent reduction from 2015 levels, the researchers found.

The Unprecedented Scale and Pace Required

The authors readily acknowledge that this would require implementing these strategies at “an unprecedented scale and pace” in an industry that is projected to have sustained 4 percent annual growth through 2050.

Less than 1 percent of the plastic produced globally was made from biological feedstocks and only 18 percent of plastic waste was recycled as of 2015.

Shifting all plastic from petroleum to bio-based feedstocks such as corn or sugarcane would also require as much as 5 percent of all arable land, the researchers said. Such a shift under current agriculture practices would put added pressure on food security and freshwater resources, though other plant-based feedstocks, such as crop residue like leaves and stalks, may yet emerge.

“The strategies that we tested are anywhere between unrealistic to ridiculous, to be honest,” said Sangwon Suh a professor of environmental science and management at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a co-author of the study. “What we realized as a result of the study was the magnitude of the challenge that we are facing really requires an unprecedented level of effort to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.”

To limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius or less, a target in the Paris climate agreement, scientists say greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to near zero by mid century.

“That is a tremendous challenge, and there is no room for us to increase our greenhouse gas emissions,” Suh said.

Plastics Also Release Methane as They Degrade

The study looked at plastics’ life cycle greenhouse gas emissions—emissions associated with every aspect of plastics, from extracting oil and natural gas for fossil fuel-based plastics, to manufacturing, to end of life processes, such as dumping plastic waste in landfills, recycling it or incinerating it.

Though not accounted for in the current study, roughly 3 percent of plastic waste produced each year ends up in oceans at the end of its life.  A study published last fall concluded that as ocean plastic slowly degrades, it emits methane and other pollutants into the atmosphere. Methane, a short-lived climate pollutant, is also emitted during oil and gas extraction and is many times more potent than carbon dioxide.

The amount of methane currently released from such decomposing ocean plastic in the world’s oceans is tiny, likely less than 1 percent of total methane emitted into the atmosphere each year from natural and manmade sources according to Sarah-Jeanne Royer, a marine scientist at the University of Hawaii and lead author of the ocean plastics study. Unless waste management practices improve, however, the amount of plastic entering oceans could be 10 times greater in 2025 than they were in 2015 according to a 2015 study in the journal Science.

Cost an Issue for Plant-Based Plastics

Efforts so far to replace polyethylene and polypropylene, two of the most common types of plastic used in everything from plastic bags and bottles to pipes and containers, have fallen short, said Geoffrey W. Coates, a chemistry and chemical biology professor at Cornell University.

“There is not a bio-based polymer that gets anywhere close to replicating those materials,” he said.

Coates added, however, that for more niche applications, other solutions are being developed. Novomer, a company Coates co-founded, uses carbon dioxide as a feedstock to make polyurethane, a polymer used in paints, varnishes, and foams. 

Cost also poses a challenge as plant-based plastics try to gain a foothold in an industry where petroleum-based plastics benefit from economies of scale and a half-century head start over newer bio-based alternatives. Developing bio-based plastics that can compete with petroleum-based plastics will come at a cost, said Marc Hillmyer director of the Center for Sustainable Polymers at the University of Minnesota and co-founder of a company that is exploring new bio-based plastic materials.

“The economics of bio-based resources are not at parity with fossil fuel-based sources,” Hillmyer said. “The real question is are we willing to pay for it?” 

Methodist Hospital turns ditch into an outdoor oasis

A decade ago, the dirtiest mile of the 22-mile-long Minnehaha Creek was little more than a stagnant drainage ditch that ran through the “backyard” of Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park and other commercial properties.

Duane Spiegle is the vice president of real estate for Park Nicollet Health Services, of which Methodist is the flagship with its 28-acre campus. He reached out to the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District about permits for a hospital expansion. It inspired a discussion about restoring the creek to its original meander and depth, cleaning out invasive species and capturing stormwater into what had become a several-acre stink pot.

Today, the backyard of Methodist is a several-acre showcase of clean water, wetland filtration, flourishing native plants, fish, bees and other habitat that Methodist said plays a great role in the health of patients, staff and the public. They enjoy it out a window or along a boardwalk Methodist built that connects to area walkways.

“What we considered a nuisance is now a great asset,” Spiegle said last week. “Having a healthy stream and wetland incorporated into our Methodist campus differentiates us. This place of healing now promotes well-being inside and outside.”

Methodist, part of $1.6 billion-revenue Park Nicollet Health Services, starting in 2009, has spent less than $2 million on what has become an $8.4 million project among public-and-private partners that border the once-rancid, mile-long stretch of creek through St. Louis Park and Hopkins. The partners also reduced flood risk and heightened awareness about the benefits of working with nature.

Jim Holm, a retired engineering manager at Methodist, chuckled that he had to “fight for the capital” at first for the wetlands project and later to increase native-planting landscapes and so-called “smart irrigation” that dramatically cut water consumption and for ways of reducing salt without compromising vehicular safety, as well as shrinking the size of a once-vast lawn.

Methodist’s long boardwalk through its nature preserve has become a much-praised environmental-and-health showcase.

The “green” movement in commercial space, firmly entrenched indoors with building managers who readily invest in energy-efficient HVAC systems, thermal glass and more to save fuel and money, is slowly spreading to the outdoor environment.

Generally, it’s cheaper to cut the grass and fertilize than to make long-term, conservation investments. These investments cost more up front but become worthwhile as water, grass-and-snow maintenance and other costs decline.

“Methodist is a leader because it has invested in the intangibles … its environment, which benefits health and healing, and not just what delivers the fastest return on investment,” said Paulita LaPlante, an owner of 38-year-old Prescription Landscape of St. Paul, which works with Methodist, and is considered a local leader in the movement. “We try to get all our clients to invest increasingly [at least] in perennial gardens and trees. Whatever we can do to reduce mowing is in our long-term interest and the client’s.”

Last week, at a regional conference in St. Paul of the U.S. Green Building Council, there was increased focus on outside-the-building environment. Teams from Prescription Landscape and Wellington Management addressed “eco-friendly,” campuses, including walking paths, “climate-cognizant” landscaping and water management and conservation.

These also are top trends in the $100 billion landscaping business, according to the National Association of Landscaping survey of industry members in 2018. The biggest player, Pennsylvania-based Brightview, which has extensive operations in water-short California and the Southwest, has pushed industry trends with drought-tolerant and low-maintenance landscapes, efficient irrigation and water recycling.

Water-sewer rates in the Twin Cities are lower, $3-to-$4 per thousand gallons, LaPlante noted. However, up to 60% of water use in warm-weather months is watering. And there is a growing group of customers saving dollars through the use of smart-watering systems.

Steve Wellington is the founder of Wellington Management, which owns the Greenway Office Building, built 20-years ago on once-polluted land on several acres near Hiawatha Avenue and E. Lake Street. The building has won a slew of awards for integrating everything from solar energy, an insulating roof garden, geothermal heating and cooling, and using rain water to irrigate its expansive perennial gardens.

“The building is full and the rents are high enough,” said Wellington. “The energy costs are lower because of all the technology.

“However, property managers are quite bottom-line oriented, including us. And I still don’t see that many lawns ripped out for prairie grass,” he added. “Mowing is still cheaper. You still have to find vagrant weeds, but once [a prairie lawn] is established it works well.”

Wellington is happy to get greener, and can explain long-term financial and environmental benefits to owners so inclined.

And he and other building owners are pushed by tenant environmental committees, rising garbage fees, water rules and other pressures to implement everything from organics recycling to community gardens to capturing stormwater for rain gardens.

Wellington publishes a quarterly sustainability report that indicates slow-but-steady environmental trends.


Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at

Chicago Becomes Biggest US City to Pledge 100 Percent Clean Energy

Kyra Woods is an organizer for the Sierra Club’s Illinois chapter and for the Ready For 100 Chicago Collective, a city-wide coalition comprised of a group of community organizations that has been working towards passing the clean energy resolution. “Setting the goal to power our city with 100 percent clean, renewable energy is a monumental achievement. It is through bold, local action that we can enable meaningful participation and cultivate strong benefits for our local communities throughout this process,” Woods said in a statement in a press release on the Sierra Club’s website. “Setting a goal is just the beginning; Sierra Club looks forward to our continued collaboration with community groups, the City of Chicago, businesses, and other stakeholders as we advance a just, clean energy transition for all of Chicago.”

Maryland Lawmakers Approve Renewable Energy Mandate

Maryland’s General Assembly just passed a measure mandating that half of the state’s electricity supply come from renewable sources by 2030. The measure appeared defeated until lawmakers revised it to preserve subsidies for the waste-to-energy industry, The Baltimore Sun reports.

Supporters say the legislation could boost wind farms, solar industry jobs in the state and other alternative energy development, according to The Sun. It requires utilities across the state to subsidize solar and wind farms, as well as trash incinerators, hydroelectric dams and paper mills powered with a substance known as black liquor, noted the report.

Critics, on the other hand, say “the program supports polluting industry.”

The Baltimore Sun has more details:

Maryland lawmakers approved a dramatic investment in renewable energy in the final hours of the 2019 General Assembly session, passing a measure mandating that half the state’s electricity supply come from renewable sources by 2030.

The proposal appeared doomed as recently as two weeks ago, languishing in the House of Delegates until lawmakers revised it to preserve subsidies for the waste-to-energy industry. Senators had voted earlier in the session to stop subsidizing trash incineration as green energy.

Supporters say the legislation will stem a downturn in solar industry jobs in the state, and could also boost wind farms and other alternative energy development. It requires utilities across the state to subsidize solar and wind farms, as well as trash incinerators, hydroelectric dams and paper mills powered with a substance known as black liquor.

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Eco-Friendly Wedding Decor Ideas for an Even More Meaningful Day

Distinct Occasions is a company that specializes in eco-friendly wedding decor ideas
A wedding by Disctinct Occasions (Photo: Karina Anne)

As someone in her 30s, I can confidently say there is no shortage of weddings to attend all spring, summer and fall. But when you realize that each one has the potential to produce up to 400 lbs of waste and 63 tons of CO2, you’ll want to leave the venue and go directly outside to hug a tree. And that’s just an average-sized wedding. For just one day.

The reality is that the majority of wedding waste comes from the  decor—everything from lighting to flowers can add up to a LOT of energy and waste. Thankfully, the eco-friendly movement is on the rise in the wedding industry, so there are many ways you can reduce your carbon footprint and still have the big day of your dreams.

We spoke with the experts—wedding planners, florists and venue operators—to help identify those key opportunities, both big and seemingly small, to minimize your wedding decor waste without sacrificing taste.

Start with hiring green vendors

The first step to reducing waste on your wedding day starts with the people who will be part of it from start to finish. When it comes to choosing wedding planners and vendors, first consider those who use green initiatives in their products and as part of their company policy.

For example, Crystal Adair-Benning, owner of highly acclaimed wedding and event design agency Distinct Occasions, starts the eco-friendly journey from the very first steps of planning. Striving to make her company as minimally wasteful as possible, Adair-Benning implements paperless and emission-reducing strategies. She uses, “online tools for couples and staff [and] video chats for meetings whenever possible,” while also limiting the use of excess packaging when it comes to food and event decor.

Your food vendors are also key to minimizing waste on the big day—from making arrangements for food leftovers to what goes into the cake itself. If your goal is to have a green gateau, ask your baker for zero-waste options. This will mean designing a cake that is entirely edible, which may require foregoing multi-tiered creations that require internal supports. Also ask if the bakery uses organic ingredients and can create edible cake decorations, as opposed to using plastic or metal flourishes that tend to get discarded.

Opt for an eco-chic venue

A wedding table setting at Nita Lake Lodge
Nita Lake Lodge

We know the setting for your big day has to be fire for the ‘gram (after all, if your wedding isn’t Insta-worthy, did you even get married?), but the wedding venue can also make the biggest impact on how environmentally friendly your event will be. Consider buildings that are LEED-certified with energy-efficient features, such as the popular Toronto wedding venue Wychwood Barns. This renovated heritage structure has been given the ultimate Mother Earth makeover and now uses water-conserving plumbing, geo-thermal HVAC systems, stormwater harvesting, energy-efficient lighting and 100% recycled sliding panels.

If you don’t have access to LEED-certified locations, there are still plenty of fabulous venues that offer eco-friendly decor options with the elevated look you desire. Plus, sometimes that look can do the work for you for free. For example, Nita Lake Lodge in Whistler, BC offers a stunning natural setting that doesn’t need a lot of dressing up to make an impact—far easier on the setup and on the wallet. The events team at the lodge also suggests eco-friendly decor ideas that complement the look and feel of the setting, such as rustic chic tables that don’t require linens, meaning you can save energy by avoiding laundry, too.

Bonus tip: Holding your ceremony and reception at the same venue not only saves your guests the hassle of getting from Point A to Point B, but also saves the environment from carbon dioxide emissions from the excess travel—win-win!

Get lit the right way

The lighting industry is no stranger to developing eco-friendly options and, thankfully, the designs are only getting better, so you can make sure your wedding is green and lit AF. Go ahead and ask venues if they use energy-efficient lighting, or go next level with solar lighting! And never, ever underestimate the power of candlelight to set a romantic mood. Just be sure to to use natural candles made of soy or beeswax and, if scented, done so with essential oils rather than synthetic chemicals.

When in doubt, rent it out

It seems like there are more and more wedding rental companies popping up every year because, #realtalk, why would you buy new for just one day? Wedding rental and design company, Whisteria Design, sources the majority of its items—like beautiful mix-and-match china plates and on-trend vintage rattan chairs—secondhand from antiques dealers and thrift shops. What’s so extra about this (in the absolute best way) is that it gives your wedding a unique look and feel, but also, as owner Carin Smolinkski says, gives back by supporting local businesses and charity stores. “Our items can be reused indefinitely, avoiding unnecessary waste,” says Smolinski.

Flex your green thumb

A floral arangement by Coriander Girl
Florals by Coriander Girl (Photo: Kat Rizza)

The rule of the green thumb—for gardeners and eco-conscious brides alike—is to stay local. This not only means using local blooms, but also working directly with local florists, as opposed to big suppliers, to eliminate excess packaging and shipping.

Also, jump on the trendy bandwagon with the #NoFloralFoam movement and ask for reusable and eco-friendly products like chicken wire, reusable buckets, water tubes and biodegradable bouquet wraps to keep your arrangements together instead.

But the number-one piece of advice the floral experts give? Be open-minded. Most florists find clients want something very specific, which may need to be imported, and don’t often want to consider local options. The arrangement pictured above, from Toronto-based Coriander Girl, features a majority of Canadian-grown plants including cafe-au-lait dahlias, white dahlias, black scabiosa, white lisianthus, white snowberry and forsythia greenery—and it looks freaking stunning!

Top your tables with personal touches

The DIY wedding trend only continues to grow with every new Pinterest board, and it’s becoming more and more common when it comes to centrepieces. Now, this doesn’t mean whittling your own wooden sculptures or hand-sculpting vases on a pottery wheel (unless it does, in which case, you’re my hero). Rather, it’s a simple way to add a unique and personalized touch to your wedding decor by using items you already own—like framed photographs, trinkets from your travels together, even items you saved from your first dates. These personal touches can help reduce the amount of waste produced from buying new items and, bonus, tend to be great conversation-starters for your guests.

However you decide to top your tables, there’s one thing to 100% avoid: plastic glitter and confetti. Pretty, sure, but these microplastics inevitably end up in our waterways and that’s definitely not chic.

Say thank you with meaningful favours

First of all, you don’t need to have wedding favours—let’s be honest, unless they provide some specific use for each and every guest, they’re likely be left or tossed. But if you’re still all about the thank-you takeaways, go for something universally useable and/or recyclable. Even better if it’s locally sourced! Think locally farmed honey, potted plants (hold the floral foam, please!), or natural handcrafted soaps.


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