Why I (Still) Work at Environmental Initiative

  • December 13, 2017
  • |
  • Mike Harley

The growing divisions of our times cut both ways for the work of Environmental Initiative. While the demand for collaborative work is greater than ever before, at the same time it has never been more challenging to bring Minnesotans together across differences in politics, in perspective, and in interest. That makes for work that is especially rewarding but also deeply frustrating when those divisions block progress.

Early one morning this past summer, Bill Droessler and I sat outside across the street from our office for our usual weekly check-in on progress, partners, and potential problems. Bill is the longest tenured Environmental Initiative staff member, other than me, and he is the architect of our clean air work, including some of the projects that make me most proud to be associated with this organization, like Project Green Fleet and Project Stove Swap.

I usually start check-in meetings with staff by asking what we need to talk about, but that morning I instead asked Bill “why do you still work here after all of these years?” His answer was surprising to me, but it resonated deeply. I won’t try to capture Bill’s answer here, but I would encourage you to ask him that
question yourself.

Bill then asked the same question of me. Now, I have a standard answer to that question, which is heartfelt, but also well practiced. What I have said for years is that I feel gifted to have had the opportunity to work in an organization that so strongly shares my core values and where my particular talents are so aligned with what the community looks to the organization to provide. It’s a gift that I never take for granted.

But that morning, I said something else. I said that now is not a time to settle or to aim low. No matter how well we have done in the past, what important differences we have already made in the world, it cannot be enough in the face of growing divisions. Where I need to be now is an organization that is constantly stretching and reaching to make a bigger difference, even when it means taking greater personal and professional risk.

In its soul, that’s the kind of organization Environmental Initiative is– one that strives to transcend its own limitations and to take on new challenges that push us into uncharted territory, even when we must do so at the risk of failure. This is exactly what we are doing as we reorient ourselves toward equity and environmental justice, and in the action-oriented work of the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition and Clean Air Minnesota, and in our work to build powerful partnerships between farmers, food companies, agricultural retailers and watershed organizations, in so many other projects at this time. At our best, Environmental Initiative is an organization that is driving to new horizons, doubling down and working ever harder for collaboration and common cause, and doing so despite society’s apparent movement in the opposite direction.


This is why I have stayed at Environmental Initiative all of these years, and why I stay now when the work is harder than ever before. I know that this is also why our members support us even when their own resources are stressed, and why our partners choose to work with us to make their difference in the world. Environmental Initiative’s success is always dependent on how seriously our members and partners engage, and how each of you leans into our work. We are all being challenged to step up our efforts for collaboration in these divided times, and there is no better place to do that work than with Environmental Initiative.

I hope you help us rise to the challenge of these times by contributing to our year-end fundraising campaign. We need your continued support so we can address the next set of environmental challenges we face and to ensure a healthy environment, a prosperous economy and an equitable society. Thanks to the generosity of our current and past Board of Directors, we have a $20,000 match to double your gift between now and December 31st.