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Guest Blog Post: Full Circle Organics

The Minnesota Waste Wise Foundation is happy to welcome Kate Goodman as a guest blogger. Kate is a project manager at Full Circle Organics, an organic waste cooperative serving the greater Mankato area, and a Waste Wise member. In this post, Kate will talk about Full Circle Organics and highlight a few businesses that have been able to divert significant amounts of waste using their services.

With the opening of Minnesota’s first privately owned and operated Source Separated Organics Compost Facility in 20 years, located just south of Mankato, local businesses have had an opportunity to take their recycling and sustainability efforts to a whole new level.

Full Circle Organics was permitted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in late February and in an effort to make the option of Recycling Organics viable for businesses in the area, invested in carts and a truck and now services a number of coffee shops, restaurants, grocery stores, schools, fairs, and more in Blue Earth and Nicollet Counties.

Compost is processed in windrows at Full Circle Organics’ processing facility.

A few of the exceptional businesses in the Mankato area:

Mom and Pops! Ice Cream Shop met with Full Circle Organics President/CEO, Max Milinkovich, over a year ago to discuss the compostable food service ware that would be accepted at the compost facility. Along with their conscious choices to be as sustainable as possible, from lights to insulation, Mom and Pops! produces one small bag of non-recyclable garbage each week and sends the other 4-6 yards of “waste” to be hauled off to the compost facility. The spoons, bowls, cups and cardboard ice cream buckets once destined for the landfill spend their days mixed with food scraps and yard debris in windrows on the 3 acre blacktop pad, waiting to be used again as Grade A Compost.

Mom and Pops! Ice Cream Shop is able to divert 4-6 yards of waste each week.

Tandem Bagels has been another key player in Organics Recycling in the Mankato area. They collect food scraps from their bakery and deli along with paper and compostable products from post-consumer use and place them in the bright yellow Full Circle Organics carts to start the growing process all over again. Tandem Bagels also played a role in connecting Full Circle Organics and the Blue Earth Community Farm, which grows and donates hundreds of pounds of produce each week to local food shelves. Full Circle Organics proudly provides the Farm with finished compost made partially from vegetable trimmings coming from produce grown in the Blue Earth Community Farm, completing the whole growing cycle.

Tandem Bagels is another key participant in Full Circle Organics’ organics recycling program.

Many other businesses are jumping on board not only realizing many of their patrons consciously aim to support venues making great and responsible choices for the environment but also realizing the dramatic savings they can have on their regular trash bills. Since Organic Waste falls under the recycling umbrella in Minnesota, this service is tax free and business are automatically saving the 17% Solid Waste Tax along with tip fees half the cost of the area landfill.

This Fall, Mankato Public Schools are starting a pilot program to join the efforts and will be recycling food scraps and paper products from lunch trays and kitchen prep. We are so proud to play a role in offering a service and a facility that will allow Mankato students to start their school days with a deeper understanding of how to responsibly handle “waste”; life lessons and skills that will benefit them greatly as they enter the workforce.

Full Circle Organics was founded on the belief that organic waste should be diverted from landfills, composted and returned full circle back to the soil. Full Circle Organics is dedicated to managing a multi-location cooperative of compost facilities, with Source Separated Organics Compost Facilities in Good Thunder, MN, Dubuque, IA and Becker, MN (opening soon) and Yard Debris Compost Facilities in St. Cloud, MN and Shakopee, MN.

For more information and complete lists of accepted materials, please see www.fullcircle-organics.com or direct questions to info@fullcircle-organics.com

Green Leasing: Breaking Down Barriers in Rental Space

Green Circle Shopping Center was the first  LEED Platinum shopping center in the U.S. (Photo courtesy of Inhabitat)

Do your business lease space? Has this been a barrier to implementing energy efficiency, waste reduction, and broader sustainability projects? Green Biz posted an article today about a unique partnership between developers and business owners that is seeking to break down those barriers in the retail sector. Green leases incorporate provisions into the lease contract that ensure alignment of a company’s sustainability goals with the property’s management.

In our work with businesses, we run across this issue on a regular basis. Many landlords or developers, especially in multi-tenant situations, will retain control of waste and energy contracts. While this can be very helpful for coordinating these bills, the lack of control can frustrate businesses that want to upgrade lighting or add a new recycling program. In addition, businesses are hesitant to make investments projects like upgraded lighting or compressors in spaces that they don’t own. These types of barriers can sometimes derail sustainable projects before they start.

According to the Retail Industry Leader’s Association (RILA), green lease provisions fall into five broad categories:

  1. Improve the base building and common area – address improvements to the base building shell, including common areas.
  2. Improve interior tenant spaces – address improvements to the tenant’s space, consistent with the premises’ permitted use.
  3. Align economic incentives to encourage “green” investments – address mis-alignments between the party that is investing in property improvements and the party that receives the benefits.
  4. Increase access to information on resource use – make the energy and water usage, and waste generation data visible to both parties.
  5. Clarify access and control of key areas of the property – define which party(ies) have access to spaces, such as the rooftop, and who has the right to implement projects in those spaces.

These kinds of efforts are gaining momentum. According to a survey conducted by RILA, 63 percent of retailers and landlords have been discussing green leasing with their teams and 19 percent said that they had already adopted green lease.

Want more information on Green Leases? Check out RILA’s Green Lease Primer (Word doc). It provides some great sample clauses to incorporate sustainability and align your goals with lease agreements. Would you like to start looking into how you could incorporate sustainability in your leases? Contact Waste Wise today to see how we can help!

Muli-Stream vs. Single Stream: What’s Right for You?

One of the biggest recent debates in the wonderful world of waste and recycling has been around multi-stream vs. single stream recycling for residents and businesses. The City of Minneapolis just implemented a single stream recycling program for all residents, while the City of Saint Paul operates a multi-stream system. The costs and benefits of each system are numerous and complex and, debate around this issue has been contentious at times. Without diving into the fray, this post will seek to describe each system and provide some clarifications on the costs and benefits in order to help you decide which program is best for your business.

Single Stream Recycling is a recycling system in which cardboard, paper, plastic, glass and metal can all be placed, unbagged, in one bin. Development of single stream recycling has taken place in the last few years, as new and better sorting technologies have come online. Many single stream systems can also all plastics with resin codes numbered 1-7.


Minneapolis’s recycling program can accept a broad range of materials in one bin.
(Photo courtesy of City of Minneapolis)

Benefits:

  • Since all materials can be placed in the same bin, the only sorting required is to separate recyclable materials from trash.
  • The programs’ ease of use has led to an observed increase in recyclable materials collected in many circumstances.
  • Because multiple containers are not needed, recycling can be possible where space is constrained.

Drawbacks:

  • Because all materials are collected together and sorting is more complicated, the residual rate (percentage of materials collected that can’t be recycled) increases, in some cases by almost double.
  • The quality of recyclable materials is often not as high as in a multi-stream system because of contamination from other streams. For example, a cardboard stream in multi-sort may become a mixed fibers stream in single stream recycling.
  • New sorting equipment requires a large up-front investment at the materials recovery facility (sorting plant).

Multi-Stream Recycling is a system in which recyclable materials are sorted out into multiple categories. The categories depend on the specific program. Dual-sort recycling programs accept mixed fibers (cardboard and paper) in one stream and commingled containers (plastic, glass, and metal) in a second stream. Multi stream systems may require separation of different container or fiber types.

Multi-stream systems sort materials into a variety of streams for processing
(Photo courtesy of  envyrozone.com)

Benefits:

  • Since much of the sorting is done by program users, recycling streams reaching the sorting facility are cleaner, leading to lower residual rates.
  • Because the streams are separated, materials have less contamination and are able to be put to their highest-value use.
  • Less investment in complicated sorting equipment is required.

Drawbacks:

  • Sorting processes are more complicated than with single stream systems, potentially hindering program participation by some.
  • Often, multi-sort systems can’t accept as broad a range of materials (ex: plastics with resin codes 3-7)
  • Multiple containers can be a problem where space is constrained.

What’s right for you?

This question really depends on your priorities as a business. The answer to this question will help you determine which haulers you should work with and how your program should be established.

Do you want to minimize training and the effort required to participate for your staff? Do you have limited space for multiple recycling containers in your building and by your dumpster? Then single stream might be for you.

Do you want to make sure that the maximum percentage of what is hauled away is recycled? Is your priority to put recyclable materials to their highest and best use? Do you have staff who are excited and will not have a problem with sorting? Then multi-stream may your best bet.

If you want help selecting and implementing a recycling program, be sure to contact Minnesota Waste Wise today!

Sources/Further Reading

“Comparison of Green House Gas Impacts of Dual Stream vs. Single Stream Collection and Processing of Recyclables” – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

“Single-Stream and Dual-Stream Recycling: Comparative Impacts of Commingled Recyclables Processing” - Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Success Story: The Emily Program Recycles Organics

Hilmar Wagner shows off The Emily Program’s new recycling bin set-up

Hilmar Wagner, Director of Nutrition Services for The Emily Program, contacted Minnesota Waste Wise in late 2012 with a strong interest in establishing an organics recycling program. As a nationally recognized organization specializing in personalized, holistic treatment for eating disorders, food is a central component of The Emily Program’s mission and operations. Taking this holistic view towards the organization’s waste management practices, Mr. Wagner expressed that embracing sustainability by recycling food waste and non-recyclable paper would be a logical component of the wellness that the organization promotes.

Utilizing services provided under its contact Ramsey and Washington Counties, Waste Wise met with staff from The Emily Program to get to know the organization, discuss the available options, and plan next steps. The early involvement of cross-departmental staff from treatment, facilities, and operations helped to facilitate this dialogue and expedite the process. Waste Wise referred The Emily Program to Sanimax for organics recycling pricing, since Sanimax has been working with the organization’s existing waste and recycling hauler. In addition, Waste Wise recommended targeted signage, bin placement, and education in conjunction with the roll-out of an organics recycling program.

The Emily Program added great signage to educate staff and clients about the program.

Within just over two months of first contacting Waste Wise, The Emily Program worked with Sanimax to establish organics recycling services at its two facilities on Como Avenue and its Anna Westin House on Cleveland Avenue in St. Paul.  In conjunction with establishing the services, The Emily Program put together a comprehensive training for its staff members, created clear, consistent signage for clients, and adapted and added bins for organics, pairing them with trash and recycling containers.

The space required for containers in the dumpster enclosure was initially a concern. However, by working creatively with their hauler, The Emily Program was able to make everything fit.

Staff and client acceptance of the program has been impressive and overall feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. When staff members in a facility neighboring the Anna Westin House, found out about the program, they set up bins and began bringing the compostable materials over on their own accord. While its organics recycling program is already successful, The Emily Program will continue working with Sanimax to track data on materials recycled, in order to continuously improve the program and reduce waste.

The Emily Program recently got a little additional attention when it was featured on Kare 11’s The Great Green Challenge series as a business that is actively innovating with its waste and recycling programs. The feature is a great example of some of the non-quantifiable benefits of adding recycling programs. This kind of media exposure will hopefully make their already effective programs better known and advance their mission of helping clients make peace with food.

If you have a business in either Ramsey or Washington County and would like to learn how you could add value by increasing recycling, contact Minnesota Waste Wise today.

Embrace Your Inner Green: Earth Day 2013

In 2012, more than a billion people in 192 countries mobilized through the Earth Day Network to achieve “A Billion Acts of Green” in support of a sustainable planet. This year the event will have a global focus and encourage bold leadership by world leaders.

Here at home, many companies in Minnesota practice energy efficiency and sustainability year-round, including many of our readers. Now is a great time to celebrate your energy efficiency advances, and engage with your community and staff on the 43rd annual Earth Day. Embrace your inner green with these ideas!

Participate in Earth Day Events around Minnesota
Earth Day is an excellent occasion to find strength in numbers. Thousands of your fellow Minnesotans will be coming together to celebrate, learn and take action.

Host or Sponsor an Event in Your Community
Create an event with your organization, such as volunteering at Earth Day celebrations in nearby schools or parks, picking up trash in your neighborhood, and forming a Green Team to advance sustainability and energy efficiency goals at your business. Or invite customers to visit your facility to learn about your activities for reducing energy use.

Know Your Environmental Footprint
Whose conservation behavior can we influence most directly? Our own.

Sometimes our concerns about the planet’s largest sources of environmental degradation distract us from improving the choices we ourselves make daily. The Earth Day Network offers a great tool for measuring your footprint, tracking the results over time, and receiving practical suggestions for improvement.

Take the footprint quiz now, and evaluate your progress again next Earth Day.

Save Green by Going Green
Minnesota Waste Wise specializes in helping Minnesota-based businesses reduce waste and conserve resources. It’s never been easier to save money by improving environmental performance. Call or email us today to learn more about how we can help!

Electronic Waste Drives: Tools for Employee Engagement

When it comes to successful sustainability efforts, employee engagement is a key component. While engagement can take many forms, one hands-on approach that is gaining popularity among businesses is to hold an electronic waste recycling drive for employees or the surrounding community.

Electronic waste (e-waste), made up of things like old computers, monitors, T.V.’s, appliances, and batteries, is a growing category of troublesome waste. As new and updated versions of consumer electronics come online, there is a growing stream of these items headed for disposal. Because they contain some harmful materials, like lead and mercury, and many valuable materials, like copper and gold, these items need to be sent to a certified recycler. Since individuals typically have to pay fees to get these items recycled, e-waste often sits in basements and storage sheds, taking up space and gathering dust.

In order to combat this clutter and foster employee engagement in sustainability efforts, two different Waste Wise members have taken the lead by planning and leading e-waste drives. Their efforts are highlighted below.

Marvin Windows & Doors
On November 13 and 14, 2012, Marvin Windows teamed up with 5R Processors of Ladysmith, Wisconsin to hold an e-waste drive for it staff at three of its locations in Eagan, Grafton, and Warroad, Minnesota. During the two-day event, an estimated 11.5 tons of materials were collected and recycled. “We experienced recycling at its finest as many grateful people cleaned out their basements and other storage areas to take advantage of this,” commented Wayne Pearson, Waste Management Supervisor who coordinated the event for all three Marvin-owned facilities. Marvin employees appreciated the chance to support company recycling efforts while clearing their homes of unusable electronics and saving the cost of landfill fees.

Wayne Pearson, of Marvin Windows, contributes a printer to their e-waste drive

Sappi Cloquet, LLC
In October of 2012, Sappi Cloquet, LLC held an e-waste drive for employees at its Cloquet, Minnesota mill. Over the course of the drive, an estimated 19 tons of recyclable materials, ranging from computers and fish finders to televisions and welding tools, were recycled through John’s Twin Ports Recycling of Duluth, Minnesota. Further analysis by Waste Wise was able to help Sappi estimate the quantities of precious and hazardous metals, along with other materials, that were diverted from a landfill. The drive was such a success that Sappi is considering expanding the effort in coming years.

The trucks sit full from Sappi’s e-waste drive.

Waste Wise wants to congratulate both Marvin Windows & Doors and Sappi Cloquet, LLC on their exceptional recycling efforts.  These e-waste recycling events were very effective in getting company and employee materials recycled while also providing a valuable resource to the local community.  If you want to hear more about their successful efforts, let us know and we can get you in touch with representatives from each company.

If your company is interested in coordinating an event similar to these, contact Waste Wise for assistance. We will be happy to help get you started and can assist with the planning efforts.

Want to give electronics recycling a try on a smaller scale? Waste Wise offers a free program to recycle small electronics, including cell phones, laptops, and printer cartridges. When you sign up, a pre-paid shipping container will be sent to your workplace. Once it is full, you can send it back and get a new pre-paid box. Call2Recycle also offers a similar program for recycling a wide variety of batteries.

Guest Blog: Warners’ Stellian’s Sustainability Commitment

Waste Wise would like to welcome guest blogger Julie Warner, marketing manager for Warners’ Stellian, a Twin Cities appliance retailer, and new Waste Wise member. In the following blog post, Julie describes her company’s extensive efforts to reduce its environmental impact and conduct its operations in a sustainable way.

Warners’ Stellian has responsibly recycled appliances for years, and our warehouse facility built in 2005 includes photo-sensing lighting, an energy-management system and an “economizer” cooling system. But in the last few years, Warners’ Stellian took the initiative to address a less-obvious, yet huge environmental concern within appliance retail operations.

Appliances come with tons of packaging – literally. Plenty of cardboard still cradles refrigerators and washers for safe shipping. But more frequently manufacturers wrap appliances in Styrofoam. This nonbiodegradable material gained such ubiquity, it accounts for about a quarter of landfill waste, according to the Sierra Club. And worse yet, it doesn’t decompose. Robert Warner, Warners’ Stellian vice president and director of operations, estimates the Styrofoam accounted for 85% of our waste.

Styrofoam packaging makes up a large portion of Warners’ Stellian’s Waste Stream

Moreover, additional packaging such as plastic wrap, wooden pallets, steel banding and even the steel screws add up to a whole lot of potentially reusable material that — for the majority of companies — ends up in our waste stream. Plus, waste of that volume requires constant shipments, which means plenty of fuel consumption and labor.

Appliance and cardboard recycling have been a part of our mission for many, many years — but we wanted to do more, Robert said. “We’re moving beyond recycling pop cans. Whatever we generate that we can recycle, we’re doing.”

With the support of our customers and staff, Warners’ Stellian made a significant investment in a machine that compacts Styrofoam into 1/20th of its original size while processing it into a reusable format. Consequently, the compacted packaging takes up far less air space, so it uses a fraction of the fuel to transport from our facility. This compactor is one of only two in the state. (Additionally, our fleet vehicles automatically power down after only 5 minutes of idling to further reduce our fuel consumption.)

An employee loads styrofoam into the machine’s hopper.

Our recycling program’s success relied heavily upon support from every area of our company, from sales associates educating customers, to delivery crews keeping packaging materials separate after uncrating appliances, to warehouse staff cleaning and processing the material.

The Styrofoam compacting process requires intense labor. The material must be completely devoid of all cardboard, tape and staples, so staff must dedicate time to picking all of these items off the Styrofoam before it can be loaded into the compactor.

“It’s very labor intensive to sort, and it’s not a profitable endeavor — especially at this point — for us,” Robert said. “But the motivating factor is doing the right thing.”

The machine puts out logs of densified polystyrene

Scrap metal and cardboard are recycled through Waste Management, in addition to the replaced appliances. Plastic wrap is collected en masse and donated to Merrick, Inc., a nonprofit providing vocational opportunities to adults with disabilities. Merrick sells this material to a company for reuse.

Warners’ Stellian now recycles 85% of the waste we generate, exceeding the goal we set of recycling 75% of our waste. To put it in perspective, Warners’ Stellian previously hauled our 40-year roll off waste container three or four times per week. Our recycling program reduced those collections to only three or four times per month!

Our volume of packaging material isn’t rare among our peers, yet our resolve to reuse it still is. Executives from leading appliance brands learn about our recycling program and see the processes first-hand when touring our facilities. A visiting vice president of Frigidaire/Electrolux commented that only two or three facilities on par with ours existed in the independent network of appliance retailers nationwide.

The logs of  polystyrene are then loaded onto pallets and sold to processors that make them into new materials

We’re proud to blaze a trail in our industry nationwide, but we’re also hopeful our efforts to promote our program educates customers on the impact purchases have on the environment and the value of supporting sustainable business practices. We also hope this knowledge increases consumer demand and motivates other small- to medium-sized businesses to realize no business is too small to take steps to decrease its environmental impact.

We aren’t aware of other retailers — certainly none of our size — meeting the challenge of nonbiodegradeable packaging as we are, and we hope to serve as an example of what local business can do to lessen the environmental impact we have on our communities.

A video of Warners’ Stellian’s Styrofoam compacting process can be viewed at: http://is.gd/fduWm.

Warners’ Stellian Appliance Specialists locations include:

·         Apple Valley                       Cedar & 42
·         Edina                                 Across from the Galleria
·         Maple Grove                       494 & Bass Lake Road
·         Minneapolis Outlet              Diamond Lake Road & Nicollet Avenue
·         Rochester                          1318 Apache Drive SW
·         St. Paul                             Snelling & Larpenteur
·         Woodbury                          494 & Valley Creek Road

WARNERS’ STELLIAN: Warners’ Stellian is Minnesota’s retail appliance and grill specialist. Family owned and operated for more than 50 years, Warners’ Stellian provides an unmatched shopping experience with incomparable services. For more information, please visit www.warnersstellian.com.

KARE 11 & Rethink Recycling team up for The Great Green Challenge

In the past few months, it has been exciting to see growing news coverage related to waste and recycling in the Twin Cities Metro. Among others, The Pioneer Press ran a great series of articles about composting, Finance & Commerce featured a great story about business recycling.

For the past couple of months, KARE 11 partnered with Rethink Recycling to take this coverage to the next level with The Great Green Challenge. The 11-week series on KARE 11’s 5 pm Tuesday night broadcast followed the station as it implemented a variety of efforts to reduce waste and conserve resources at its headquarters, while encouraging other businesses to commit to doing the same by taking Rethink Recycling’s Pledge. Each week of the series focuses on a different facet of waste reduction and resource conservation, including:

Week 1: Finding a Champion
Week 2: Looking in the Bin
Week 3: Reducing Waste
Week 4: Troubleshooting Recycling Programs
Week 5: Donating Unwanted Items
Week 6: Making Meetings Green
Week 7: Composting!
Week 8: Buying Green Products
Week 9: Making Landscaping Eco-Friendly
Week 10: Training Staff
Week 11: The Emily Program

No matter the size of your business or where you are in your sustainability efforts, Minnesota Waste Wise can help you with any of the topics listed above, and many more. If you want to learn how you can reduce your business’s footprint, contact us today.

Success Story: A. Johnson & Sons Florist

For a dose of good news on a Friday before a holiday week, today we are sharing a success story from a business that worked with us with through a partnership with Ramsey County. This particular case shows how a bit of creativity and a lot of follow-through on the part of a business owner led to substantial cost and waste stream savings.


Tom Johnson stands next to one of his new yard waste containers.

Tom Johnson, owner of A. Johnson & Sons Florist on Grand Avenue in St. Paul, scheduled a basic site visit when Minnesota Waste Wise staff stopped by his business to introduce services under the Ramsey County contract. At that time, A. Johnson & Sons had a recycling program for cardboard and employees were taking some plastic, glass, and metal containers home with them to recycle. However, there were no convenient options to recycle the largest part of the business’s waste stream—organic materials made up of stems, cuttings, and pieces of plants and flowers sold at the store. Waste Wise conducted a waste and recycling evaluation focused on those materials, in order to establish a recycling program.

Waste Wise evaluated A. Johnson & Sons’ facility and current systems in order to determine the best way to establish an organics recycling program and identify other opportunities to get materials out of the dumpster. Because all of the organic materials produced at the business could be classified as yard waste, Waste Wise recommended contacting Walters Recycling and Refuse, their current hauler, and a Waste Wise member, to see if the materials could be included in their residential yard waste pick-up program. In addition, Waste wise recommended switching their cardboard dumpster to a single-stream dumpster that could accept cardboard, paper, and mixed containers together. To complement these changes, Waste Wise recommended adding signage and training staff in new procedures.

Within a week of receiving their recommendations, A. Johnson & Sons worked with Walters to establish the first commercial yard waste pick-up that the company had ever contracted. In addition, they switched their cardboard dumpster to single stream, enabling them to divert all paper, along with metal, plastic, and glass containers from their dumpster. Walters helped A. Johnson & Sons to reduce pick-ups from their trash dumpster, which decreased those bills and the associated taxes.  While there were costs associated with establishing the additional recycling options, A. Johnson & Sons is still saving about $600 on their waste bills while recycling an estimated 22,000 pounds of organic materials per year. According to business owner Tom Johnson, the changes have already been beneficial: “We are actually seeing a savings in our billing as trash is taxed 70% and compost is not taxed. Thank you for your help in coming up with these ideas. Everyone here is excited for this change.”

If you are interested in finding ways to reduce waste or save energy at your business, please contact Minnesota Waste Wise today!

Introducing Will Steger: Speaker at Waste Wise’s Annual Meeting

Minnesota Waste Wise is proud to announce Will Steger as the keynote speaker at our Annual Meeting on October 2 at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Will is an educator, explorer, and environmentalist whose groundbreaking expeditions have taken him tens of thousands of miles by dogsled, foot, canoe, and kayak. Steger joins Amelia Earhart, Robert Peary  and Roald Amundsen in receiving the National Geographic Society’s prestigious John Oliver La Gorce Medal. In the following blog post, he outlines his long history as a businessperson and provides a brief introduction to his latest venture: an off-the-grid sustainability retreat center. He will be providing more detail, along with a formal announcement of the project, at Minnesota Waste Wise’s Annual Meeting on October 2.

The Intersection of Business and Environment

By Will Steger
Polar Explorer, Founder: Will Steger Founation

Many people know me as a polar explorer, educator and champion for sustainability and environmental action, but behind much of this work, I have long been a businessperson. Over the years, I have built my passions for education and exploration into businesses that have engaged millions in the preservation of polar regions and wilderness areas and made my achievements in exploration possible. As someone who has long sought to do business in a sustainable, socially-responsible way, I am excited for my upcoming keynote speech at Minnesota Waste Wise’s annual meeting on October 2, where I will be speaking about my experience as a business person, and announcing my newest venture.

My business roots began as a means to enable a self-sufficient life on my homestead and fund expeditions into the wilderness. When I was 25, I packed up and moved to the woods outside of Ely, MN, in order to build my capacity for outdoor education and exploration. In 1980, I founded Lynx Tracks, an outdoor school that focused on dogsled-based exploration. Over my career, I have led some of the most significant polar expeditions in history, including a seven-month, 3,741 mile crossing of Antarctica by dogsled. While these expeditions were primarily noted for the extreme conditions and physical challenges, they also carried extreme financial and logistical challenges that necessitated the agility and precision of a skilled business manager.

As I successfully completed expeditions, I began building a bigger dream—an off-the-grid conference center and sustainability education model that would use a wilderness setting, along with skilled facilitation, to inspire leaders in business, government, and academia to tackle the challenges facing them. I designed this conference center as I was crossing Antarctica and, for the last 20 years, have built it the old way, using re-used, recycled, and sustainably-sourced building materials, and completing fabrication and construction in my small wood shop on-site. Once it is completed, it will be almost completely self-sufficient, employing a mix of the latest sustainable technologies for building design, energy efficiency and generation, food production, and sanitation. I envision it being a strong community, and a model that decision makers can look to as inspiration for their business, government, or nonprofit organization.

And so now, I move into the next phase of my career, working with companies across Minnesota and around the world to build a model for environmental and social sustainability in the Minnesota wilderness. I am in the final stages of completing my business plan and will be bringing my idea to the public to seek partners, sponsors, and investors, much like so many early-stage entrepreneurs. I see the homestead as a venue where businesses across industries can showcase their products and companies, and how they fit into a sustainable economy. I have long believed that businesses are tremendous engines capable of solving problems and enriching lives, and I am excited for the opportunity on October 2 to engage the business community in order to build economic strength through environmental responsibility.

The root cellar keeps our food cold in the summer and unfrozen in the winter.

Every winter since 1967, we have harvested ice off of the lake to stock our ice house. This keeps the root cellar cool through mid-September.

A group of teachers meet at the homestead for a retreat on the role of science in education

View from the 4th floor, inside the conference center.