10 Years of GreenStep

Hutchinson a bright spot for sustainability in Minnesota

August 2020

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.

Pazey Yang, GreenStep intern at the Environmental Quality Board, connected with John Paulson with the City of Hutchinson. Hutchinson has been part of the GreenStep program since 2015 (see their progress).

Hutchinson was working on sustainability even before joining GreenStep Cities but the program has since helped them complete many more actions that have made them successful in their sustainability goals. Hutchinson’s GreenStep Coordinator, John Paulson, talks about how the city has done benchmarking and energy tracking predating the GreenStep action list. Paulson says that, “being able to see the writing on the wall and being able to initiate that prior to the GreenStep program” is something that they are very proud of. 

Since joining the GreenStep Cities program, Hutchinson has been able to put more effort toward their sustainability work. What helps the city is having the program offer tools that quantify and provide resources where they can track measurements that they would not have been able to track before. Paulson says it has been great to have a guide where different metrics being used on an annual basis can illustrate where Hutchinson is sitting relative to other cities.

However, despite the program’s useful framework, not all best practices have been easy to achieve. Hutchinson, being located in the West Central region, lacks the resources that Metro cities have, such as dedicated sustainability staff. The difficulty lies in being able to try and manage all of the levels and steps within the program among different staff across multiple departments who are all playing different roles. “Being able to manage that effectively is a challenge. Being able to do what we’ve done given the fact that we don’t have a full-time sustainability person is a testament to the simplicity of the GreenStep program,” says Paulson.

Solar "brightfield" on closed landfill

Being able to do what we’ve done given the fact that we don’t have a full-time sustainability person is a testament to the simplicity of the GreenStep program.

John Paulson with City of Hutchinson

Finding ways around those challenges has yielded many benefits to the community. Some actions visible, and some not. Yet, the city takes pride in their extensive trail system, solar arrays, and stormwater systems that are also used as tools for awareness and teaching in the community to help others better understand why sustainability is important. The city’s acre of solar on a closed landfill—which they call a brightfield rather than a brownfield—is a great example of this. Paulson says the city paired their renewable energy efforts with energy efficiency work in their buildings. Hutchinson also has an extensive tree inventory that is mapped out digitally along with a new Sustainability Advisory Board waiting to kick off.

See Best Practice Actions for more information on installing public renewable energy projects (26.5), energy efficiency upgrades in public buildings (1.3), and coordinating  green teams (24.1).

Their time in the program has also led to a lot of learning. Paulson uses I&I (Inflow and Infiltrations) ratios to gauge stormwater metrics annually for Step 5. The differences from 2018-2020 are always fluctuating. Learning how to convey the data and information is very important to the community’s improvements as staff work together to fix problems on an annual basis.

“To actually do metric reporting and to do it every year is very valuable to us in the sense that we don’t always know why things change. To be able to formulate a rational reasoning on why they’re different, why they went up, why they went down, or change what affected it — that’s really powerful for us to better understand our possibilities that we may not have necessarily looked into before GreenStep,” says Paulson.

Learn more about Steps 4 and 5 metric reporting. 

Metric reporting for Step 5 is really powerful for us to better understand our possibilities that we may not have necessarily looked into before GreenStep.

John Paulson with City of Hutchinson

All of this is made possible because of Hutchinson’s belief that climate resiliency and clean energy is of importance to the community. Nonetheless, there are some who do not share the same sentiment. Paulson explains how, “That’s okay. I think clean energy is important from the diversification of our energy supply. The city has plans on tackling where to find the equilibrium between what these issues look like.” 

In the future, Hutchinson’s Sustainability Advisory Board will look into developing a climate energy action plan. Establishing goals for 5, 10, 20 years out is a big priority after seeing the valuable results in communities working on similar plans. The city continues to work toward a cleaner environment because, “Hutchinson is progressive enough that we should take that climate energy action plan and actually utilize it and guide our decision making in the future.” Paulson concludes. 


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