29.06.2017 Uncategorized Comments Off on Grant Writing Tip #5: The Letter of Introduction

Grant Writing Tip #5: The Letter of Introduction

Have you noticed the increasing number of foundations in recent years that no longer have open submissions and have resorted to invitation-only? Given the numbers of foundations going this route nowadays, the situation is disheartening especially if they seem like a perfect fit. But smart minds in philanthropy are now writing letters of introduction in response to invitation-only funders. This letter provides a short and sweet way of introducing your organization and program and may lead to getting your foot in the door. While doing prospect research, I learned that the Frieda C. Fox Family Foundation in California invites such letters, http://www.fcfox.org/what-we-do/want-to-apply/. So, this is progress.

As you may know, foundations took a financial hit in the recession and there’s been an uptick in applications. So the invitation-only scenario gives them control over their workflow, or just how many proposals they want to review in any given funding cycle. Some fund-raisers find that foundations are not offended by the letter of introduction, which sometimes leads to funding…so what have you got to lose?

Although there may be several approaches to this letter, I’ve outlined two below. These two have one important thing in common: don’t broach the subject of funding with this letter. This is a no-strings-attached communication to let foundations know 1) who you are and 2) the important work you’re doing. Keep the letter to one page, if possible.

Here are the two approaches recommended by professional fund-raisers:

1) Tony Poderis of raise-funds.com recommends beginning the letter as follows:

Please accept this note, not as a means to solicit funds, but as simply a letter of introduction and to respectfully ask the following questions:

  • “What would it take to enable our organization to be considered to be on your charities’ priority support list?
  • “How often do you add new grant recipients?”
  • “With our pledge that we will not ask for money, would you be interested in learning more about our organization directly with additional information we would be pleased to provide through an informal information-only meeting with you, or perhaps you may be interested in having a site visit with us to see our organization in operation?”
  • A possible last paragraph: “I will follow up with a telephone call _______ (exactly when). At that time, I hope you will discuss the possibilities I cited in this letter in order to introduce our organization—with no obligation to you, nor any expectation on our part—and otherwise receive your valuable guidance.”

Poderis then recommends waiting ten days for a possible response, and if none, follow up with a phone call. He says that sometimes things do change and there’s always a chance for an opening. He also recommends being spare and selective with any enclosures or attachments. (These might include a 501(c)3 letter, Board of Directors list, and an organizational or program brochure.)

2) A Twin Cities, MN fund-raiser says that foundation staff will read your letter and surprisingly, they will open your attachments (supporting documents). This letter should be open-ended and not have an expectation of a response from the funder…so there should be no mention of following up with them. This fund-raiser reports success by following up with a small post card about a month later.

16.02.2013 Uncategorized Comments Off on Grant Writing Tip #1: Evaluation Tips

Grant Writing Tip #1: Evaluation Tips

Evaluation Tips

How will you know if your project was successful? Grantmakers will look for sound data collection methods that will accurately measure the success of your program–both quantitatively and qualitatively. And, the evaluation plan should be aligned with the objectives and activities in your proposal.

The evaluation section of the Minnesota Common Grant form takes up one-third of the application, as follows:

  1. Please describe your criteria for success. What do you want to happen as a result of your activities? You may find it helpful to describe both immediate and long-term effects.
  2. How will you measure these changes?
  3. Who will be involved in evaluating this work (staff, board, constituents, community, consultants)?
  4. What will you do with your evaluation results?

If you are designing a new program, engaging a professional evaluator at the outset is recommended. This will ensure that the different parts of your grant proposal will be carefully linked together, which will make your proposal stronger. You can also include the cost of a professional evaluator in the grant.

Another way to look at the evaluation process is through the lens of a logic model, which has been used in business since the 1960s. Increasingly, federal grant opportunities require a logic model. United Way proposals require them. Logic models consist of Inputs (What your organization invests), Outputs (hard and fast numbers of what you do and who you will reach), and Outcomes (changes in knowledge, behavior, or status) in the short-term, medium-term, and long-term. Outputs let you quantify your success and outcomes let you qualify your success. Short-term outcomes are changes in knowledge of program participants. Medium-term outcomes are changes in action/behavior. Long-term outcomes are changes in conditions. Here is an example of a logic model from the University of Wisconsin Extension, http://tinyurl.com/ms2sj.

The Grotto Foundation in Minnesota recommends using the following verbs to describe outcomes: increase, decrease, improve, reduce, expand, update, upgrade, maintain, start, or complete.

In the Grant Writing Resources section of this Web site, I’ve assembled links to evaluation tools, https://greengrantwriter.com/resources-2/resources-for-grantseekers/. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation Evaluation Handbook is highly recommended.











22.01.2013 Uncategorized Comments Off on Grant Writing Tip #2 – Collect Sound Bites

Grant Writing Tip #2 – Collect Sound Bites

Have you noticed how our day-to-day parlance changes all the time? It’s in constant flux. Words are in the air, we hear them, repeat them, and they’re in vogue for a time. Perhaps they make their way into the dictionary like “boomerang children.” For instance, “sweet” has replaced “awesome,” and suddenly everyone saying “It is what it is…” A few years ago, we constantly heard “At the end of the day….”

In the philanthropic arena, words are constantly changing as well. For example, “underrepresented” is replaced by “underserved,” and “low-income” is replaced by “economically disadvantaged.” While conducting prospect research for your organization, make a list of “sound bites” or phrases funders use on their Web sites that speak to their current priorities. This list will give you an idea of philanthropic trends in your funding area as well as terminology currently in vogue as funders respond to the times. You can tweak your organization’s vision, goals, and objectives by using some of these sound bites to align your organization with potential funders, which will help you attract funding. Your grant proposal is a sales document; you don’t want to be using dated language or concepts. Also use the phrases on your sound bites list in grant proposals to make you look “current.” And while writing a proposal for a specific foundation or agency, sprinkle in sound bites from their Web site. This will help you look like more of a perfect match.


14.09.2012 Uncategorized Comments Off on Grant Writing Tip #3: SBIR Funding Best Opportunity for Small Businesses

Grant Writing Tip #3: SBIR Funding Best Opportunity for Small Businesses

The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) government funding consists of R&D (research and development) money set aside for high risk, high payoff research conducted by small, for-profit businesses. SBIR government funding is $2.5 billion annually. Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) funding is $300 million annually. In addition to R&D, the technology should be intended to be commercially deployed and have a potentially large national impact.

Eleven government agencies offer these opportunities that can be searched from the SBIR Gateway, www.zynsys.com/sbir and www.sbir.gov. Award amounts vary from agency to agency. Phase I awards can range from $150K to $220K to $450K. Phase II awards can be $1 million, $1.5 million or $3 million, depending on the topic. Typically, 1 in 6 to 1 in 12 Phase I SBIR proposals receive funding, and approximately 2 in 5 Phase II proposals win. Thirty-three (33) percent of businesses are first-time winners of Phase I funding.

If you’re planning on submitting one of these proposals, here are some helpful tips from a Webinar presented by Mark Henry, CEO of Grow Emerging Companies, LLC in Depoe Bay, Oregon, http://www.grow-ec.com/.

  • Plan ahead: You’ll need an EIN and DUNs number, and it takes 44 days to complete government registration via System for Award Management (SAM), https://www.sam.gov/portal/SAM/##11, formerly CCR (Central Contractor Registry). You’ll also need a case number at grants.gov.
  • Preparing a Phase I proposal takes from 100 to 300 hours, or 10 to 12 weeks. Your proposal must be a top fit for the agency topics. Search on Google Scholar to search papers on your topic.
  • In Phase I proposals, reviewers will want you to push the envelope for commercial impact.
  • Understand the playing field. Then write about your idea and sell it. Your proposal is a sales document. Set the stage for your innovation and quantify the problem. Get the audience interested in the problem and quantify the problem. Identify and substantiate the need. Summarize state-of-the-art technology and its shortcomings. Don’t rely on the government’s definition of technical challenges.
  • If your company doesn’t have a strong commercialization track record, make sure some of your team members, consultants, and advisers have commercialization and intellectual property experience.
  • Your proposal has to be a research project with research questions. SBIR/STTR funding is not appropriate for product development. You’ll need preliminary data; give the reviewers the confidence that your plan will work. In Phase I proposals, you need metrics to measure success.
  • Your proposal must have technical merit, innovation, and credibility … and impact is getting more attention now.
  • Focus on your idea and where you want your company to be in 3-1/2 to 5 years (average funding cycle).
  • Be smart about collaborations and teaming. Don’t work in a vacuum.
  • Add academics to your team.
  • Collaboration with academics, other firms, and national labs are allowed, but they should be considered outside costs.
  • Agency program managers will not serve as the reviewers. They don’t have control over your proposal.
  • What you may learn with one government agency SBIR proposal will not translate to another agency.
  • More than half the funding in these programs are contracts. Contracts are the government’s ideas that are reviewed by internal staff and are not as flexible as grants. (DOE is a contract agency in “grant clothing;” focus on clear responsiveness to their topics. These reviewers are a complex audience, i.e., a mix of grant and contract approaches for reviews; and they mix both internal staff and external experts.)
  • Treat the proposal as a business venture, not just a proposal. It should be a combination of something that works (involving inventors) and something that sells (involving entrepreneurs).
  • It’s never a good idea to treat the whole budget as a direct cost. The budget has to be a realistic relationship between direct and indirect funds.
  • Be careful about what you ask for in equipment.
  • These opportunities are not usually price sensitive.
  • Assign consultants an hourly rate.
  • There are 3 phases. Don’t over promise work in Phase I. This should be a proof of concept feasibility study (9 months). You must win a Phase I to get to Phase II.
  • DOE (Department of Energy) does not allow co-PIs.
  • Your principal investigator (PI) must be in the company, not somewhere else.
  • The work plan is usually from five to seven pages, not a 2-page bulleted list.
  • Prior to submission, get outside pre-reviews of your proposal and have confidentiality agreements in place.
  • USDA SBIR/STTR opps are once a year.
  • DOE opps are twice a year and possibly three.



10.05.2012 Uncategorized Comments Off on Grant Writing Tip #4 – Government Grants

Grant Writing Tip #4 – Government Grants

Institutional buy-in is absolutely necessary for government grants. You need at least three people in your organization that have a vested interest in the proposed project or program.

Writing government grants can take more than 100 hours to put together. And competition is stiff. For example, in a recent funding round, 46 grants were awarded from a pool of 600 applicants.

The submission consists of a proposal narrative (10, 15, 25, or 35 pages) and as many as 25 attachments. If you know about the funding opportunity before the RFP (Request for Proposals) comes out, call the funding agency and vet your program with a program officer. Please note that federal agency staff do not like to talk with potential funders after the solicitation is out. And many agencies are turning to help desks to answer queries. Program officers will not be reviewing your proposal. A panel of peers from around the country will review your proposal.

What are reviewers looking for?

  • You are a partner with the government agency. They want taxpayers and legislators to know that tax dollars are reaching the public and doing good.
  • Government agencies are looking for breath and depth. They want their awarded programs to reach a lot of people. Your proposal will be stronger if it’s national in scope, or perhaps replicable by others.
  • Your program or project should develop relationships with constituents over a longer term.
  • Make sure that your program demonstrates a positive impact on others.

What makes a good proposal?

  • Write clearly and succinctly.
  • Pitch your language to an educated, general audience and avoid using professional jargon or buzz words.
  • Don’t make promises you can’t keep. For example, make sure you have both the staff capacity and money to carry out the program, otherwise you’ll have to return both the awarded contract and the money.
  • Do your homework. Make sure your project will not duplicate a project or research already in the field, or serve as research pulled from the Internet.
  • The more innovative the program the better, which will serve your constituents and the field.
  • Have a sound evaluation plan that answers the question: How will you know that your program is successful? Keep in mind that you’re a research partner with the government agency. They’re collecting information on what works. (If you’re hiring an evaluation professional, you can create a line item for them in the project budget.)
  • Getting in-kind gifts or additional support for your project is always attractive to potential funders.
  • Resolve inconsistencies in the proposal. Do all the pieces make sense?
  • Case studies can be persuasive.
  • Have at least three people look at the submission before it goes out the door.

To get started, visit grants.gov. Good luck!



06.05.2012 Uncategorized Comments Off on Solutions Summit – University of Minnesota

Solutions Summit – University of Minnesota

For decades, environmentalists, economists, and scientists have identified an exhaustive list of problems in our unsustainable world that we are now experiencing firsthand: CO2 emissions, dramatic climate change, waning resources (food, water, energy), air and water pollution, over-consumption, and overpopulation. Clearly, we’re in crisis mode, and as the title suggests, the Solutions Summit at the University of Minnesota smartly focused on solutions for our unsustainable world.

A brilliant array of visionaries and world leaders briefly shared what keeps them awake at night and went straight to the solutions. Each speaker was as inspiring and engaging as the next. Topics reinforced the conference brochure that says “one-size-fits-all solutions are unlikely. The most robust and resilient solutions will be those that are co-created by diverse stakeholders through shared understanding, pooled resources, and joint action.” Speakers from industry, nonprofits, and academia touched on defining the new leverage points to changing behavioral systems; identifying where we can be most responsive to change; supply chain economics; the problem of scale; the need to engage in unlikely partnerships, i.e., the cross-disciplinary nature of sustainability; the need for marketing genius and the continuance of social marketing based on reputation; the next generation and its entrepreneurs; and the necessity of working around the federal government stalemate on the issue. Time permits my ability to share only conference highlights from a very inspiring day.

Brian Richter, river scientist and head of the Global Freshwater Program at the Nature Conservancy, focused on water scarcity and the difference between water withdrawals and water consumption. He said, “Some of all the water that we use goes back into the original freshwater source. Moreover, very little water is depleted from homes, businesses, manufacturing, or thermal electric production. Agriculture is the dominant water user at 92 percent, which has a direct impact on our food supply.” For example, last year’s drought in Texas had a devastating impact on the state’s economy. Texas lost $1 billion in agriculture production due to water depletion.

Richter sees the solutions in following three areas: 1) the role of governments and their ability to control how much water is allocated and to whom; 2) corporations: more than two-thirds of water is flowing through corporate supply chains; and 3) cities: they need affordable technology. Rapidly growing cities with watersheds that are being depleted need to come up with a new water supply. He added that there is great potential for urban-rural partnerships.

Andrew Hutson, of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), said we are guided by science and economics and recommends unlikely partnerships to find practical and lasting solutions. “We need to change how we’re working with farmers, grocers, and restaurants to create market incentives—to have a different impact on the entire system,” he said. One problem he grapples with is: “How do we create a low carbohydrate, low nitrogen corn to lower fertilizer use?” Hutson cites the Mississippi River as a source of 70 percent of the nitrogen runoff from ground water that contributes to the hypoxic zone. EDF is in the beginning stages of thinking about agricultural retailers, crop advisers, and supply chains. “Scale is the biggest issue that we face. How do we get everyone in the same room to harness the issues?” He recommends developing close partnerships one-on-one with market leaders. “There’s a lot of work to do with farmers. Hopefully, it will bubble up to the national level. We all win if we move in this direction.”

Professor Kyo Suh of the Institute of GreenBio Science and Technology at Seoul National University in Korea, spoke about the global challenges of food shortage and high cost of resources. Suh says, “Korea is known for its electronics and automobile industries, but it’s a poor resource country that imports 100 percent.” The key Korean solutions consist of a well-educated workforce, big business, and exports. He’s happy to report that food waste recycling in Korea is at 94 percent, as opposed to 3 percent in the U.S. He looks to the Korean government for solutions, which currently guarantees the price of rice, up to 85 percent of the target price.

Elizabeth Wilson, associate professor of energy and environmental policy and law at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute, talked about the need to remove 80 percent of CO2 to stabilize the atmosphere. She also spoke about the interrelationship of energy and water: energy affects water and vice versa. Her solutions include exploring new networks, conducting feasibility studies, and commercialization. She, too, advocates for unlikely partnerships and recommends the creation of synergies between academia, corporations, the federal government, and farms.

Nationally recognized organizational strategist Jason Pearson of TRUTHstudio presented an analysis of the Direct Environmental Impacts of Key Supply Chains and Upstream Environmental Impacts of Economic Demand. His solutions lie in the impacts in the eight supply chain areas he identifies, along with public education, government policy, and educational leadership. “Every little bit counts,” he says.

Akshay R. Rao, General Mills Chair in Marketing at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, recommends focusing on the demand side of sustainability. “Demand will create production, which will create jobs. The federal government is a potential source of support, based on the premise of jobs.” Rao’s focus, of course, is on marketing. “How do we get people to do things without realizing it? What can we do to get consumers to change their behavior?” He recommends using incentives to change behaviors such as attaching a smiley face, or giving a pat on the back, which has been commercialized by the O Power Company. “Social media is based on a concept of reputations that are publicly visible so we can influence people. We need to use incentives toward reputation; we need to change the structure of the marketplace. The Recycle Bank provides rewards to curbside recyclers. We need to change the social norms; they are a powerful means of fostering pro-social behavior with relatively small economic costs. “It will require marketing genius to identify the consumer,” he said. “Sustainability needs to be tough, as opposed to gentle and soft, like the veneer of the green movement.” Rao recommends rethinking the basic populace, new government systems, and the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Environmentalist, serial entrepreneur, and widely acclaimed author Paul Hawken served as the keynote speaker. First he talked about his solar panel company, One Sun, Inc., followed by his philosophic and passionate perspective of the situation we’re in.

One Sun, Inc. focuses on ultra low-cost solar based on green chemistry and bio-mimicry. When Hawken and his partners formed the company, they didn’t want it to be involved with government subsidies. “It’s like looking for love in all the wrong places. Government moves too slow; it’s designed to move slow. We need rapid failure for rapid innovation,” he said. The solar panels his company makes are 90 percent recycled plastic (upcycling) from all parts of the world and is 100 percent recyclable. They make electricity as soon as the sun comes up. The energy return on energy invested (EROI) with solar is 5:1. One Sun’s EROI is 200:1.

Hawken believes that sustainability is a social movement about changing the way human beings relate to one another. “Environmentalism hasn’t failed. There’s only action. We teach by being, not by telling. We heal a system by connecting more of it to itself; pathology is about disconnection,” he says.

“Sustainability is not about fixing. You’re separate if you see things as components,” he says. “I prefer to think of sustainability as ‘regeneration,’ or ‘spiritual rebirth,’ according to the OED (Oxford English Dictionary). You can’t think of it as a resource issue but as the complex relation between living systems. Our best thinking got us here. There’s enormous complexity between systems that’s not understood. We think nature’s out the window; it’s not true. We are a system as humans. We’re a community of organisms, both bacterial and viral …. Natural systems and organisms will always regenerate. Collectively, we’re an organism. That’s what we’re here to discover …. How do we create a world to respond to the assaults and insults? It’s not going to be okay. Is this happening to us or for us? There are 7 billion people and 2 billion to come. It is a gift to come here. Our purpose here is to benefit others, which is technical, social, and market based. We’re getting this fantastic hall pass from the Creator to change who we are, how we feel. We’re here for people we don’t know and we’ll never meet. That’s when we’re really alive.”

The conference was sponsored by the NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. For more information, visit northstar.environment.umn.edu.


04.05.2011 Uncategorized Comments Off on University of Minnesota Renewable Energy Conference Highlights

University of Minnesota Renewable Energy Conference Highlights

Renewable energy success stories abound from the corporate sector (3M, DuPont, and Spain’s Abengoa), the German Consulate, renowned green tech author Alexis Madrigal, and researchers at a conference hosted by the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE) at the University of Minnesota. Scientists, engineers, policymakers, legislators, grad students, economic development leaders, entrepreneurs, and patent attorneys joined the experts. And the news is: it’s all good. Renewable energy technologies are showing healthy bottom lines, creating jobs, and the political tide is changing.

IREE Managing Director Dick Hemmingsen set the tone for the day by sharing the Initiative’s vision: to be the Midwest’s Silicon Valley in renewable energy and natural resources. This is highly plausible considering that 7.7 million acres of corn were harvested for grain this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, www.nass.usda.gov. With support from Xcel Energy’s Renewable Development Fund and the Minnesota State Legislature, IREE provides seed money through grants to University of Minnesota researchers to carry out its mission.

Tracy Anderson, 3M’s director of renewable energy, presented a talk on “Aligning Capabilities to Industry Needs.” Just five years ago, 3M began focusing on solar, wind, and biofuels to make products such as solar controls, residential window films, and commercial window films. Anderson attributes the company’s success in renewable energy to engaging customers around the world, identifying their pain points, and aligning customer needs with 3M’s technical capabilities. Initially, 3M executives met with 100 companies around the world and quickly built a global team. Establishing 3M as subject matter experts in the areas of biofuels, solar, and wind also played an instrumental role in the company’s success.

Robin Jenkins, Sustainability Competency Leader at DuPont, shared the company’s “Sustainable Growth in Industrial Biosciences,” with a focus on biofuels and cellulosic ethanol. She spoke about the different supply chain levels: functionality, economics, and Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). DuPont uses LCA as an internal benchmark and a tool to quantify environmental benefits that enables leaders to make better decisions. Jenkins attributed DuPont’s success in the field to “inclusive innovation,” or collaboration. The company is currently working with its subsidiary, Danisco, at a demonstration facility in Tennessee where they are exploring the use of corn stover as a biomaterial for personal care products. They are also setting up a commercial feedstock supply model to develop the commercialization of a stover-to-ethanol biorefinery. In the future, they plan to use corn cobs as feedstock and work in Iowa.

Gerson Santos-León, executive vice president of Abengoa, a global biotech ethanol company headquartered in Seville, Spain, spoke about “Innovative Technology Solutions for Sustainability.” “Not only are renewable energy solutions the right thing to do for the environment and customers, it’s also a good business,” says Santos-León. Abengoa has achieved 70 percent growth in renewable energy business totaling $5.5 billion Euros ($7.5 billion). The company currently employs 26,500 people in 600 subsidiary companies in 70 countries. “You cannot grow a business without innovation,” says Santos-León, adding that Abengoa honors its sustainable obligations in the marketplace by developing technology—with 900 employees dedicated to Research & Development (R & D). But he’s quick to add that growth involves change and pain.

As a leader in second-generation biofuels, Abengoa develops new alternatives in hydrogen, marine energy, and energy crops. Santos-León says, “Biofuels are fast growing and represent a 30 percent increase in sales in Spain, France, and Holland. Abengoa’s goal is for biofuels to make up 60 percent of the global fuel demand by 2030.” He cited logistics and arbitration as key challenges as well as a lot of change and transition in the transportation sector with new findings in Brazil and Cuba. “It’s hard to keep up with the demand for fossil fuels. China and India have experienced growth in the transportation sector.” Santos-León later added that the solution lies in energy crops.

Excited about new developments in South and North America, Santos-León reports that Abengoa’s solar group built 70 plants in South America last year. A global pioneer in solar technology, the company also initiated two R & D projects in Concentrating Solar Power in the U.S. last year: one in Phoenix, Arizona and another in the Mohave Desert in California, the Mohave Solar Project. Supported by a loan guarantee of $1.2 billion from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Mohave Project is expected to create 1,900 jobs.

As a world leader in producing drinking water from sea water and processing industrial waste, Abengoa built water plants in China and North Africa. With more than 90 patents to its credit, the company is starting to work on commercialization efforts with support from the DOE and Spanish government.

Friedo Sielemann of the German Embassy in Washington, D.C. reported on Germany’s success in decreasing greenhouse gases by more than 24 percent since 1990. Wind, biomass, and solar are the strongest renewable areas. Renewable energy has grown more than 20 percent of electricity production during the first half of 2011, according to Sielemann. Moreover, there’s broad support for renewable energy in Germany. For example, 54 percent of the population is okay with the cost, and surprisingly, 25 percent of the population want to pay more for renewable energy.

“It’s not do we have to do it, but how it needs to be done, and who is going to pay? And tax breaks,” says Sielemann, adding “… the country cannot make progress without taking the people along,” emphasizing both the social effects and the necessary fight for acceptance in using renewable energy.

The German government isn’t worried about new houses, or “zero energy homes” that use solar for warmth, says Sielemann, “But the houses built in the 1950s and 1960s after World War II pose a challenge for implementing weatherization.”

On the jobs front, he says, “Yes, green jobs do exist. There are 370,000.”

The German government plans to phase out nuclear power with a shutdown by 2022. Sielemann says, “There’s work to be done in reducing CO2 from coal …. Germany’s Department of Economics and Department of Environment want to reduce CO2 by 40 percent by 2020 and by 80 percent by 2050.”

Alexis Madrigal, senior editor at The Atlantic and host of The Atlantic’s Technology Channel, galvanized the conversation by providing the big picture from a political perspective—along with an impassioned plea to revisit both our attitudes and semantics around the environment.

“Climate change is a divisive issue and the politics of it started to change last year …. The issue is best framed not as an environmental problem, but [as] a human infrastructure problem. We created it and we’re going to solve it,” said Madrigal, adding, “We start to see people change about climate change when we see it having an impact on their lives—as the elephant in the room. Social change is a necessary component of technological change; it’s a reciprocal relationship.” Showing a slide of a Brooklyn neighborhood paralyzed by a recent snow storm, Madrigal says, “The climate that cities are built for are not the climate that cities are going to have …. Until government experiences a changing baseline for their city, they’re not going to do anything.”

“Historically, the word ‘environment’ has connotations and they’re not all fair—referring to the hippies of the 1960s and The Whole Earth Catalog. We need to get away from Saving the Earth,” says Madrigal. Instead, he suggests bold companies, long-term R & D, and entrepreneurialism to promote growth in green technology and create a larger audience. “Green technology doesn’t have heros . . . we need new heros for the environmental movement—to draw more people than we currently have. Henry David Thoreau was an icon …. We need a bigger tent to drive forward politically,” he says.

Madrigal also recounted the early history of green technology derived from his new book, Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. He told the story of Lowell, Massachusetts that produced clean power from the Merrimack River in 1833 that met with opposition by Henry David Thoreau. And he spoke of John Etzler, the first green futurist who wanted to save the world, and other luminaries of long ago. Ending on a positive note, he encouraged energy entrepreneurs “… to have faith in what you’re doing. You’re on the right side of history. The politics are going to change … [and] engineers are the best messengers.”

The afternoon sessions consisted of University of Minnesota research presentations, most of which were highly technical. Marc Hillmyer presented a talk on “Green Chemistry and the Center for Sustainable Polymers”; Lowell Rasmussen presented an impressive account of “Using Renewable Resources to Manage a Campus Carbon Footprint” on the Morris campus; Susan Mantell presented “Solar Energy in Cold Climates”; and Martin Saar presented “Combining Geothermal Energy Capture with CO2 Sequestration.”

Patrick Huelman of NorthernSTAR Building America Partnership reiterated a well known fact that 50 percent of energy use is in buildings and residential use is half of that. He recommended replacing the furnace and water heater simultaneously to avoid serious combustion safety issues.  Huelman also explored foundation heat loss and ice dams in homes—just in time for another Minnesota winter.