Ellen Anderson: Critical Collaborator

  • May 3, 2018
  • |
  • Bjorn Olson

While all Environmental Initiative awards celebrate the exceptional and remarkable people in the environmental field, the Critical Collaborator category is in a class of its own. It is the recognition of a lifetime of work— a cannon of dedication and commitment to a life spent making Minnesota a better place. This year’s pool of nominations was no exception. While the overwhelming qualifications and accomplishments of all of the candidates inspired a thorough debate, one nominee was distinguished as the unanimous decision.

If you don’t already know, Ellen Anderson is a modern-day superheroine. Her nomination form had a list of accolades so long it could only fit on a CVS receipt. From her time in the State Legislature to her current position at the University of Minnesota, Ellen has compiled an absolutely stellar resumé of achievements through a life of service to the environment and the people of Minnesota.


(S. M. Chavey / Pioneer Press)

Let’s start in 1993, which, despite my cognitive dissonance, was 25 years ago and when Ellen first entered the Minnesota Legislature. Over the following 18 years, she would chair the committees for Jobs, Energy and Community Development; Commerce; Energy and Telecommunications; and Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Finance. Some of her signature legislation included the Community Based Energy Development (C-BED) and co-authorship of the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment. Her most well-known accomplishment may be bundling the 6- 8 Renewable Energy Standard bills into the Next Generation Energy Act, which received overwhelming bipartisan support and passed with 90% of the Legislative votes. She also served on the Legislative Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, and directed hundreds of millions of dollars of state funding to environmental initiatives as the energy and environment division of the finance committee, including establishing Minnesota’s Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs).

Along with championing environmental causes, Ellen was also essential in legislation to raise the minimum wage, pass the Mortgage Foreclosure Prevention Act, and pass the nation’s first law protecting nursing mothers in the workplace.

Most folks would be content to call it a day after that kind of a run. Not Ellen. After chairing the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission from 2011-2012, she organized hundreds of key leaders in the Environmental Congress in 2013, including intergenerational voices through the Next Generation Youth Environmental Congress.


Even now, Ellen’s dedication at the University of Minnesota is building the next generation of energy and environment leaders.  Teaching in three different departments, Ellen’s guidance has influenced Sustainability Studies Minor undergraduates, future lawyers enrolled in the University Law School’s energy law clinic, and a cross-sector mix of engineering, public policy and other students in a course addressing our earth’s “Grand Challenges.” She also led students at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Morocco (2016) and Bonn, Germany (2017).

If that wasn’t enough, Ellen also currently convenes to Minnesota Energy Storage Alliance, a group that includes utility companies, environmental groups, researchers, and other stakeholders which recently produced a report that is the gold standard for evaluating storage-plus-solar opportunities in the state.

When our group was evaluating the Critical Collaborator nominations, one of the framing questions posed for discussion was: “If this person didn’t exist, would the work have been done anyway?” In Ellen’s case, I believe I speak for everyone when I answer that question with a resounding “Absolutely not.” I guess that’s why “critical” is in the title of this award.

And to top it all off, Michael Noble, a renowned environmentalist in his own right, put it this way: “No single public sector leader has had more influence on Minnesota’s success as a clean energy leader than Ellen Anderson.”

So, Ellen, if you’re reading this, I am so excited for May 23 to join a room filled with Minnesota’s current and future environmental leaders and applaud you on an extraordinary job well done. I’m sure I’m not the only one to say simply, but sincerely, “Thank you.”


Our ceremony to honor Ellen Anderson and six additional awardees will be on May 23 where we’ll celebrate the amazing state-wide work that’s benefitting our environment, economies, and communities.

Get your tickets before May 11