10 Years of GreenStep

Grand Marais partners with youth to plan for climate action

Now in its 10th year, Minnesota GreenStep is a voluntary challenge, assistance, and recognition program to help cities and tribal nations achieve their sustainability and quality-of-life goals.

Diana McKeown, Metro CERT Director at Great Plains Institute, connected with Shane Steele, Sustainability Coordinator with the City of Grand Marais. Grand Marais has been part of the GreenStep program since 2014 (see their progress).

The biggest way that GreenStep Cities has helped us is to be a framework of reference to what we need to be thinking about to accomplish our climate action plan goals.

Shane Steele, Sustainability Coordinator with City of Grand Marais

What action is Grand Marais most proud of since joining GreenStep Cities?

Shane Steele: I have been the GreenStep Cities coordinator since 2018. My main job was to write the Grand Marais Climate Action Plan (CAP). Just last summer we got the climate action plan passed and since then I was hired as the Sustainability Coordinator for the city and I have only been in the role since January. 

The plan is ambitious—our primary goal is to be carbon neutral by 2040. We worked with Olya, other local youth, and iMatter to develop a plan that would be ambitious. Can we do it? We are going to try. Since our city operations are small, it’s a community-wide goal. We are just starting off and looking for low hanging fruit to get us rolling like electric vehicle (EV) charging stations and energy benchmarking programs. 

See Best Practice Actions for more information on climate action plans (6.5), city electric vehicle fleets (13.3) and commercial energy benchmarking (2.3).

What has the GreenStep Cities program helped the city achieve?

Shane Steele: The biggest way that GreenStep Cities has helped us is to be a framework of reference to what we need to be thinking about to accomplish our climate action plan goals. There is no model for small towns with carbon neutral climate action goals. It’s not like we can turn to another city of 1,300 people and ask what they have been doing for EV deployment or streamlining solar permitting. So the GreenStep Cities team and resources have been the biggest help. We can turn to the Best Practice Actions and scale down actions to fit Grand Marais’ needs.


Is Grand Marais thinking about how to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions?

Shane Steele: This is an important part of tracking progress for our Climate Action Plan. We are focused on GHG emissions from our community and the emissions emitted due to the electricity we consume. We are a really small city and finding a carbon accounting program is tough because it’s hard to justify those costs but I know Steps 4 and 5 have tools that can help. 


How does Grand Marais engage the community about climate change? 

Shane Steele: Our Climate Action Plan is a community-wide plan, so we will be calling on the community to help us all achieve this goal - residents and businesses. There is support for the plan within the community, and many local residents and business owners are already taking it upon themselves to reduce their carbon emissions. Among skeptics, there are some who feel that certain actions in the CAP might not work up here because we are small, the weather is colder, or any number of concerns. Our strategy is to start with city operations first as a demonstration to show that new technology like EVs or solar plus storage systems can work in Grand Marais. There is a lot that can be accomplished on a 20-year timeline, things that seem out of reach now may look different 5, 10, or 15 years in the future.

What’s next for Grand Marais?

Shane Steele: We are aiming to install a couple EV charging stations in the near future, they will be the first publicly available chargers in Grand Marais. This past spring we were planning to conduct an EV suitability study on our city fleet, but COVID interrupted that, so it has been rescheduled for 2021. Our city fleet is mostly light-duty and a few heavy-duty trucks. The EV suitability study will allow us to make data-driven decisions about EVs in the city fleet. We have also recently joined the SolSmart program to make permitting, inspection, and interconnection as easy as possible for residents and business owners interested in solar. 

We are very close to becoming a Step 3 city—there are two actions that we have to complete before we can make that jump. One of those is an urban forest best practice like re-upping our Tree City USA certification. The other action is something in sustainable purchasing. That one is a bit trickier because it’s not exactly a “low hanging fruit” project. I’ve been having a hard time selling that when there are other actions that are more attainable and already happening in the community. Still, advancing to a level 3 city is a priority for Grand Marais.

See Best Practice Actions for more information on the SolSmart program (26.7), Tree City USA certification (16.1), and sustainable purchasing (15.1).


Minnesota GreenStep Cities: A Decade of Growth

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