Back to the Sep-Oct 2021 issue

How Has Your City Worked With Minnesota GreenCorps?

John PaulsonJOHN PAULSON
PROJECT/ENVIRONMENTAL/ REGULATORY MANAGER
HUTCHINSON (POPULATION 14,282)

The City of Hutchinson has a history of innovation that dates back to when our community’s founding fathers designated a public parks system that is the second oldest in the United States. That commitment to innovation, however, can often transcend our existing funding or staff capacity. Fortunately, there are tools like the Minnesota GreenCorps program that can help bridge the gap so that an innovative idea can become reality.

Improving operations, expanding community engagement

We have hosted GreenCorps members for projects that push past our limitations and challenges. The program covers a wide range of sustainability topics that has allowed us to improve our operations while expanding community engagement through the development of volunteer programs, public outreach, and education.

Past projects have ranged from forestry outreach and volunteer education related to tree identification, as well as reducing contamination found in source-separated organics composting.

Applying data to energy conservation efforts

During 2015-2016, our GreenCorps service project focused on energy conservation. Since 2006, Hutchinson had been benchmarking utility meters to track electric and natural gas usage. The data helped us to identify problems in our facilities, but was being underutilized since we lacked the resources to analyze the information.

GreenCorps members were able to use the existing benchmarking data to help identify energy conservation priorities and develop conservation improvement projects. The team also devoted time to community outreach and promoting energy efficiency in private buildings, which supported meaningful community engagement that empowered and provided tools for the public and local organizations to act on their own. The city was also able to participate in the Minnesota Energy Star Challenge, where multiple churches and businesses were able to receive assistance and guidance on benchmarking and efficiency improvements.

Helping innovative ideas become reality

There are a variety of tools available to cities to advance sustainability. If your city has a need to take a sustainability concept to the next level, the Minnesota GreenCorps program should be in your toolbox as well.

 

John HowardJOHN HOWARD
NATURAL RESOURCES SUSTAINABILITY COORDINATOR
WINONA (POPULATION 27,252)

The City of Winona has hosted three GreenCorps members over the last five years, each with a different focus. As a small- to medium-sized city, a single addition to our staffing makes a huge difference. In all three instances, the member accomplished a project that probably would not have been completed, or only at a much smaller scale, without their help.

Creating a tree inventory

Our first GreenCorps member, Tyler, took on the herculean task of measuring and recording all 11,800 trees planted in our street boulevards and maintained park areas. With this data, we are now able to start to manage the emerald ash borer epidemic that is wiping out our ash trees. We learned that our urban tree canopy was skewed heavily towards maples and ash trees — these two combined to be over 50% of all street trees. Since then, we’ve realigned our tree planting policy to ensure diversity so we avoid a mass die-off like we are experiencing with our ash trees.

Creating a list of energy meters

Our second member, Sarah, helped quantify and track energy use throughout city facilities. Thanks to Sarah, we now have a master list of energy meters and understand where our biggest energy using buildings are located. This became useful when we enrolled in community solar gardens, and needed to know which accounts should be included and credited. The exact dollar savings of this effort keep piling up as we have another 23 years of solar credits in store.

Coordinating a sustainability plan

Possibly the most important project undertaken by any of our GreenCorps members is that of our current member, Kelsie. She is helping coordinate our city’s first sustainability plan. Kelsie is also a huge help with research for the project and provides a fresh perspective. Another of her successes is setting up a chloride monitoring plan for Lake Winona, the largest lake in the area.

GreenCorps members have been able to make meaningful progress during their service year and their projects will have a lasting positive impact. And with the only costs being the office space and staff supervisory time, they have proven to be a tremendous asset.