Our colors are green, white, and yellow, but just how green is Edina?


Maggie Baker

Edina’s environmental efforts include the implementation of recycling, trash, and organic waste collection, an emphasis on energy efficiency, and support for alternative options to cars.

Celeste Eckstein, Managing Editor

“We can no longer go on pretending that the problem is happening somewhere else and that we, at the local level, don’t have enough power to do our part,” the City of Edina’s Energy and Environment Commission wrote in a letter prefacing the Climate Action Plan (CAP), Edina’s most ambitious and comprehensive plan for climate adaptation and mitigation to date.

The CAP, which passed in December 2021, was created by a 26 person planning committee “consisting of residents, business community members, institutional representatives, City commission members, and City staff.”

Two changes to Minnesota’s climate are occurring already: shorter winters with fewer cold extremes, and more heavy and extreme precipation.

— City of Edina

As scientists warn of the irreversible dangers of climate change, many Edina students, citizens, and city employees have seemingly prioritized the issue through actions like the CAP. Yet the unanswerable question remains: Will it be enough? 

Edina’s history with climate action 

While the CAP is likely Edina’s most significant action to address climate change yet, it’s not the first. In 2007, Edina’s Energy and Environment Commission (EEC) was created, which advises the city on conservation and environmental efforts. In the same year, Edina set a goal to reduce carbon emissions by 15% by 2015 in accordance with Minnesota’s Next Generation Energy Act, which aimed to reduce greenhouse gasses “while supporting clean energy, energy efficiency, and supplementing other renewable energy standards.” The city failed to achieve this.

In 2015, Edina joined Xcel Partners in Energy to create an Electricity Action Plan. Though less comprehensive than the CAP, the plan worked to reduce electricity use and carbon emissions in Edina. Through focusing on both businesses, residents, and municipal facilities, the plan worked to make buildings more energy efficient by encouraging lower electricity usage and the incorporation of renewable energy sources. The next year, Edina hired its first sustainability manager to help coordinate and oversee environmental efforts like the Electricity Action Plan. 

Electrification and energy efficiency are still important priorities for Edina today, but the city has expanded its goals. “The Climate Action Plan is really big and incorporates some of those electricity actions but expands the focus so much, to all energy for one thing, so adding in natural gas, but also all natural environments that are affected by climate change and all the other ways that pollution like greenhouse gas emissions gets into our environment through waste management, water quality, and that kind of thing,” Edina’s sustainability manager Grace Hancock said. One example of Edina’s efforts beyond electrification is the No Mow May campaign—initiated for the first time in 2022—where lawn height ordinances are suspended for participating properties so residents can refrain from mowing their lawns to support pollinators. 

In 2020, development of the CAP first began. “When I joined the city [in late 2020], there had already been a lot of momentum, primarily from residents, and primarily by volunteers on the Energy and Environment commission, asking the city council to direct staff to develop a Climate Action Plan,” said Hancock. “The EEC has been very instrumental in the environmental work that has happened in the city…So the city council heard that request [for the CAP] and were, I think, convinced by the EEC that this was an important next step.”

Climate change concerns

Edina’s northern, landlocked position doesn’t protect it from the consequences of climate change. According to an infographic published by the city, flooding, extreme weather, increased mosquito/tick diseases, food insecurity, grid failure, water quality, and wildfire are just some of the ways in which climate change may affect the city in the years to come. Every passing year, Edina’s climate will begin to resemble that of a place 12 miles further south. By 2100,  it will be akin to Denison, TX today. 

From 1980 to 2018, the city has seen a number of significant changes, including higher average temperatures, less days below freezing, and more heavy rain events. On their website, the City of Edina wrote that Minnesota is already experiencing “shorter winters with fewer cold extremes, and more heavy and extreme precipitation.”

The Minnehaha Creek provides evidence for the impacts of climate change on Edina. In 2014, intense heavy rain events encouraged a study to assess the creek’s vulnerability to climate change and enable community adaptation. Yet in the fall of 2022, the creek faced extreme drought.

Intense precipitation has impacted students and teachers during the 2022-23 school year. With a total of four e-learnings days this year alone—three due to weather and one due to a lack of power—the changing climate has forced students and teachers to adjust their schedules.

Between causing environmental damage, interrupting schooling and activities, and altering the seasons, climate change poses a risk to all; however, vulnerable communities such as disabled, low-income, and elderly people are often impacted to a greater degree. Through adoption of the CAP, Edina hopes to adapt to the changing environment and prevent future damage while recognizing the increased risk of these vulnerable communities. 

Adaptation and prevention: Edina’s environmental response

This year, Hancock hopes to minimize Edina’s negative impact on the environment. “The most pressing problem right now is just to get our greenhouse gas emissions down. We want to hit that 45% [carbon emissions deduction] as soon as we possibly can, no later than 2030,” Hancock said. She explained that electricity and natural gas are the biggest polluters in Edina. 

Because of greenhouse gas emissions from energy use, the city is beginning a campaign to encourage electrification through Electrify Everything, a program “founded by the cities of Eden Prairie, Edina, Minneapolis, and St. Louis Park, with support from the Center for Energy & Environment.” Electrification is the process of switching from natural gas energy sources to electric power in order to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, passed in August 2022, and Edina’s Climate Action Fund, residents will have financial resources to increase energy efficiency and electrify their households. The city also plans to host a series of workshops to educate residents.

Transportation is Minnesota’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and one of the CAP’s eight central focuses. However, Hancock explained that Edina plans to ease into addressing transportation pollution more cautiously than electrification. “America is built for cars,” she said. “Asking someone to walk to the store instead of driving to the store—that is not only a convenience issue or a money issue, although those are important, but there is a behavioral part of that and a cultural part of that.” 

The city plans to accelerate creation of walking and biking infrastructure, work with Metro Transit to ensure “efficiency, convenience, frequency, and reliability of bus service,” and encourage electric vehicles by adding publicly available charging stations, which are also used for municipal electric vehicles adopted in accordance with Edina’s Green Fleet Policy.

Junior Suryash Rawat, who is a member of the EEC, predicted slow improvement in pollution reduction in the transportation sector. Hancock noted that the city is addressing transportation “much more slowly and much more carefully” than energy because of the cultural importance of cars.

The CAP also addresses waste management, water/wastewater, food and agriculture, greenspace and trees, climate health and safety, and climate economy. Each of the eight central categories are subdivided into smaller, actionable steps with the ultimate goal of creating a broad yet approachable plan to address the central issues associated with the environment. 

Other cities like Minneapolis, Eden Prairie, and St. Louis Park adopted climate action plans of their own before Edina created its CAP. “In my personal opinion, it may have been a step that should’ve taken place a while ago, but better late than never,” said junior Celia Hollenkamp. 

“I think the policies are great; I think it was a little too late. I think we waited too much for other cities around our area to do it, that’s the only part we missed. Other than that, the plan kind of covers everything that would bring our city up to date and make it more environmentally friendly,” said Rawat.

Climate action at EHS

While Edina High School has environment-focused student groups such as Project Earth and the new Recycling Club, some students remain unimpressed with the school’s progress. “It’s evident that the school could (and should) be doing more to help the environment, especially because Edina is a school that has the funds to do so,” Hollenkamp said.

Likely due to the historical reliance on cars in suburban areas like Edina and the cultural importance of cars, EHS students prefer driving themselves to school over utilizing the bus system or carpooling. In addition to increased CO2 output, this can result in increased traffic. At the beginning of the 2022-23 school year, many students struggled to get to school on time because of congestion, prompting EHS administration to urge students to use the buses.

Rawat believes EHS is still making progress environmentally, but he has noticed a lack of momentum coming from students. “Recently, we got more organic bins and [Project Earth] just set up posters, but I think more could be done. I think progress has definitely slowed down since last year, because in our environmental club…[there are] a lot [more] inactive members than what [there] used to be last year,” Rawat said. 

Some students have expressed concerns with EHS’s waste disposal processes. Head custodian Shawn Draves explained that the high school has three different types of containers: trash, recycling, and compost (or organics). All the bags are placed in the same gondola, organized according to type of waste. The bags are disposed of in separate recycling, organics, and trash dumpsters behind the school.

“Now on paper, it sounds like a really good and responsible system,” said Draves. “The problem we have is that students, staff probably also, don’t pay attention to which can they throw their trash into. And I do not have the manpower or the time to sort garbage, so if I go to, say, an organics can and it’s contaminated by more than 10%, I have to—by waste management standards—throw that bag in the trash, so it does not go in the organics.”

And I think until somebody figures out a way to make people care, or to make it more attractive, I don’t see how you’re going to fix it.

— Shawn Draves

Draves emphasized the difficulty of getting people to correctly sort their waste, especially with organics. “This school year, organics has failed miserably,” he said. In fact, he believes that EHS hasn’t produced two uncontaminated organics bags in a single day, with the exception of waste from the school’s kitchen staff. However, he also noted that about 75-80% of the recycling bags are uncontaminated. 

“At the end of the day, the only way you’re going to keep your organics stream clean is by having somebody stand by the can,” said Draves. “I appreciate people that have passion for that and really want the system to work, but just because whatever percentage of the population is very big on it, there’s also, sorry to say it, but probably a larger percentage that really don’t care. And I think until somebody figures out a way to make people care, or to make it more attractive, I don’t see how you’re going to fix it.” 

Looking towards the future

As climate change has received increasing recognition as a major issue from a local to international level, many have mixed feelings of hope and anxiety. “The future…is more hopeful than what the news and our perspectives may believe. Even with mass amounts of destruction humans and specifically the United States cause on the environment, we are seeing a huge shift in the mindsets of individual consumers,” said Hollenkamp. “The future of our planet isn’t exactly what I hoped it would be, but it’s definitely not too late to start changing policies and mindsets.”

The city of Edina has begun prioritizing the environment more in recent years. Mayor James Hovland is part of the 25-member Climate Mayors Steering Committee, which oversees and helps lead Climate Mayors, a network of more than 750 environment-focused mayors from across the United States. Additionally, the Edina 2023 State of the Community address, delivered by Superintendent Dr. Stacie Stanley and Hovland, was named “Edina: A Brighter Shade of Green,” spotlighting the community and school district’s sustainability efforts.

Edina isn’t alone in its climate efforts; other cities in the metro area have also created climate plans and set even more ambitious goals. “The state of Minnesota is leading the way on climate action when it comes to energy use, so Edina’s not alone and that gives me a lot of hope that what we’re doing is in line with state and national priorities. And that is going to help us accelerate our goals and hopefully not fall behind, because right now we have a lot to do by 2030 and it feels kind of close,” Hancock said. 

As Edina looks forward to the Electrify Everything campaign and the return of No Mow May, it’s clear the city’s work is still not finished. Draves, Hancock, Hollenkamp, and Rawat all shared the same idea: education is key to addressing environmental issues. A lack of knowledge leads to a lack of progress, so sharing information and taking small steps is necessary.

“The top thing I would tell everyone about environmentalism is that it isn’t perfectionism,” said Hollenkamp. “Shaming people isn’t the way to go about helping the environment. Educating people on what consumption is or isn’t sustainable is incredibly important.”