10 Years of GreenStep

Warren is a small town thinking big on sustainability

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 Shannon Mortenson, City Administrator/Clerk-Treasurer with the City of Warren. Warren has been part of the GreenStep program since 2011 (see their progress).

I would definitely recommend GreenStep to other cities, and I have—to Hallock and East Grand Forks. Both have joined in the last year.

Shannon Mortenson, City Administrator/Clerk-Treasurer with City of Warren

In a place of just under 1,600 people, Warren’s city employees take on many roles. Since joining the GreenStep Cities program, the roadmap to sustainability it offers helped provide support and ease for staff dealing with differing duties and obligations. Shannon Mortenson, the city’s GreenStep Coordinator, says they are most proud of implementing a mandatory curbside pickup recycling program. The program has had great success and led to fewer trips to the landfill while the amount of recycling has increased. For many participants, it’s a great way to see how much of their household waste can be recycled, which has altered their garbage habits for the better. These results are essential stepping-stones as the city works its way toward a sustainable future.

Warren has also done energy efficiency work in many of their public buildings, as well as city-wide building energy research with drones. Behind the scenes, the preparation of Warren’s Vulnerable Populations and Climate Adaptation Plan is complete. Developed through a 2017 Environmental Assistance Grant provided by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the plan is available for elected officials and residents to follow. 

See Best Practice Actions for more information on organized waste collection (22.7) and vulnerability assessments and climate adaptation plans (29.2). 

However, like many of the member communities participating in the GreenStep Cities program, Warren also faces obstacles when trying to improve sustainability in their community. Mortenson says, “The mandatory recycling program failed the first time it was considered for implementation.” Afterwards though, the savings and household waste costs were presented to residents and it was then approved by the city council and implemented. 

In regards to clean energy and climate change, Mortenson states that affordable energy is important and in the case that clean energy is affordable, “It would be very important to the community to build a solar field or erect a wind turbine.” Concern is also expressed when residents realize that rain events pour inches of precipitation at a time, coming to an understanding that climate change is happening. 

See Best Practice Actions for more information on installing public renewable energy projects (26.5).

Climate Smart Municipalities visit Germany

Warren’s notable community engagement continues to show how crucial sustainability is as well. Their involvement emphasizes the earlier points of climate adaptation and resilience shown through a partnership with a city in Germany to advance climate protection as part of the Climate Smart Municipalities program. The lessons learned from this partnership are expressed to both civic groups and the elementary school. Mortenson says, “We have had community Q&A to further the conversation on climate change.” 

See Best Practice Actions for more information on sustainability education (24.4).

Future plans for Warren consist of a renewable energy goal and a system to educate the public on the positives of renewable energy. To reach their next step as a GreenStep City, proficiency with the B3 Benchmarking program is essential to provide metrics for achieving Step 4. When asked if she would encourage other communities to consider the program, Mortenson was enthusiastic: “I would definitely recommend GreenStep to other cities, and I have—to Hallock and East Grand Forks. Both have joined in the last year.”

See Best Practice Actions for more information on renewable energy goals (6.5) and  B3 Benchmarking (1.1). Learn more about Steps 4 and 5 metric reporting.


Minnesota GreenStep Cities: A Decade of Growth

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