A word from Duluth’s first Sustainability Officer

Mindy Granley

When I applied to be the City of Duluth’s first Sustainability Officer, I was led by both my head and my heart.

My head was trained as a scientist; it knows that we need to act on climate change at a scale larger and faster than ever before to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

My heart feels love for my family, friends and for nature. I want my kids (and future grandkids) to experience all four seasons in northern Minnesota, to catch the same fish, and walk the same trails with the same trees that I love.

When it comes to climate action, there are four basic ways cities create change.

We can engage and encourage all sectors across our community.

We can lead by showing sustainability in city operations.

We can incentivize climate action through funding and grants.

We can regulate and enact policy.

Our leaders have set the table: Mayor Larson declared greenhouse gas emission reduction goals in 2017, and our City Council acknowledged the climate emergency in April 2020.

We know we need to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy, share those benefits, and reduce more carbon.

Now it’s time to bring out the spreadsheets and figure out how we’re going to do this as a community. How much it will cost? Who do we need to make things happen? Where do we start?

To plan the city’s approach, a cross-departmental team has been identifying climate change impacts and needed action since January 2020. Currently, we are developing those ideas into the first Climate Action Work Plan for the City of Duluth.

This plan will be submitted to our City Council before the end of the year, and it will list strategies, initiatives, and actions for the city to accomplish during the next 5 years. It won’t be a long-term plan that includes details on how to reduce emissions to zero. Rather, it is a short-term, strategic ‘To Do’ list, of how to reduce emissions and help our community adapt to a changing climate.

The plan will include actions within nine strategies: 1) reduce energy consumption in buildings, 2) increase efficiency and resilience in city utilities, 3) support low-carbon transportation options, 4) encourage renewable energy development, 5) improve stormwater management, 6) reduce solid waste, 7) reduce disparities in public health, 8) support economic growth, and 9) identify carbon sequestration options.

Along with a list of actions, the Plan will outline some of the general approaches to climate work within our community, including prioritizing vulnerable residents (those under economic stress, with limited transportation options, people with disabilities, and older adults), community listening and engagement, and finding new funding pathways.

While some of the climate actions can be accomplished within existing resources and staff, others will require investment and new financing pathways, grants or partnerships.

The city’s first Climate Action Work Plan is a great start; there aren’t just a few things to do, but dozens.

The city can set the stage to make energy transformation viable. We’ll need the talents of every department, along with a strong plan for financing strategies.

But, the city can’t do this work alone. We’ll need to partner with folks from other public entities, private businesses, residents, schools and higher education, and nonprofits and foundations.

In the past 18 months, I’ve been lucky to learn and work with cities from across the state of Minnesota and around the world on climate action. Listening to colleagues from Saerbeck, Germany, on a recent webinar, one of their leaders exclaimed “Projects, projects, projects! Just get on with it!”

We definitely need a balance between planning and action, but at some point, he was right. We need to just get on with and do things. A short-term, fast-paced Climate Action Work Plan provides an outline on the things we can do.

We need all kinds of green infrastructure: more efficient buildings, stormwater runoff and flood control, solar power, electric vehicles and charging stations, bike lanes and better sidewalks. Our streets, stormwater controls and natural spaces need to be ready for the storms of our climate future. 
We also need insulated homes, repaired roof gutters and drainage, and efficient heating solutions to make sure our housing stock is more resilient.

We need politicians and electricians. Librarians and educators. Researchers and protestors. We need our utilities and our business community.

We need big companies to upgrade their stormwater treatment in parking lots, and we need residents to plant native trees and flowers. We need corporate headquarters to make sustainability part of company goals and reporting. 

Finance professionals are key too, as affordability can be more restrictive than the actual technical feasibility of climate solutions! 

Anyone who knows me knows that I love music. I am happiest at concerts, with loud music, an overpriced concert T-shirt and a cold beverage. My head loves the lyrics, but my heart loves the feelings a good song can bring.

A recent collaboration between Bono (of U2) and Martin Garriz hypes me up when challenges are in front of me: “We’ll build it better than we did before. We are the people we’ve been waiting for…”

As for my head and my heart, I both know and feel that I can’t do this work alone. But, I can use my role to listen to community, inform and influence decision-making, and inspire people across city departments and community sectors to take action on climate issues.

As Sustainability Officer at the City of Duluth, Mindy Granley works to incorporate sustainability into decision-making, measure and communicate City progress, and build partnerships for community-wide change. Previously, Mindy served as Sustainability Director at the University of Minnesota Duluth, and worked in watershed management in the Lake Superior watershed at local, regional and state levels. Mindy has a B.S. in Geology, an M.S. in Water Resources Science, and is a Certified Energy Manager.