New director leads environmental nonprofit in rebranding

Southwest High School grad now heads Linden Hills Power & Light

There are plenty of hot environmental topics in Minneapolis, from plastic bags to organics recycling to renewable energy.

New Linden Hills Power & Light Executive Director Forrest Theisen is helping his organization contribute to many of them — at 25 years old.

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Theisen, a 2010 Southwest High School graduate, took over as the non-profit community group’s executive director in April, after spending about five months on the group’s board of directors. He recently sat down with the Southwest Journal to talk about how he got involved with the group and what they’re working on.

Southwest Journal: What appealed to you about joining the organization?

Theisen: It’s sort of my background and interest. I guess you could say my interest in environmental consciousness developed when I was in middle school. I did several trips up in the Boundary Waters with YMCA Camp Menogyn, and so that was I think where my environmental focus really started. I’ve always been really interested in environmental activism and studied environmental studies in undergrad. And I think climate change is one of the most important topics that our generation is going to face, and so I really wanted to be involved.

Are you focusing on anything in particular?

When I first got involved with the organization, one of the big things we were working on was the preemption bill at the state level. One of the things I did was go to the state legislature and testify against the Consumer Choice Act, as it was called. … We proved slightly unsuccessful, but we were glad they removed language about plastic bag fees. So now the city is trying to move forward with a plastic bag and single-use bag fee. (The City Council last month delayed an ordinance amendment on a 5-cent fee).

Anything else?

One of our big programs right now is our Boomerang Bags program. It’s a reusable bag cooperative. We have sewing bees where we bring together volunteers from around the Twin Cities to sew wasted fabrics … into beautiful, reusable bags (on sale at Midtown Global Market, Heartfelt and the Linden Hills Farmers Market).

Another thing we’ve been doing is just trying to get involved in what’s going on at the city. … One of those things more recently that’s come up is the Minneapolis parks Ecological System Plan. They’re currently in the outreach phase for that, and we’re hoping to be able to provide some valuable community input.

How does it feel to be an executive director of an organization at 25?

You know, I think at first it was a little nerve-racking. I was sort of forced to get over it pretty quickly, with having to testify at the state legislature as one of my first things. But everyone on the board has been really supportive, and, you know, I think what I bring is a lot of passion and energy to these topics, and so I’m excited to work on expanding and growing our organization.

Anything you guys in this next year are looking to do more of?

I’m not going to give out all the details, but we are under a big rebranding and expansion process right now. Unfortunately, people will often associate (Linden Hills) Power & Light with either a utility or with Interfaith Power & Light, and so we feel that we sort of need to re-identify ourselves so that we can maintain our identity and not be confused with these other groups. And we also sort of want to be a more city-level actor. We love our community of Linden Hills, and we love our people there and how active everyone is, but there are bigger issues going on throughout the city. You know, Minneapolis has the worst racial disparities of any city in the country, and we want to be a part of that broader conversation in the city.

Anything else you’d want to highlight?

This year, we started a Climate Action Hero award (given to a community member and an elected official). The community member was Theresa Harich (a teacher at Lake Harriet Community School). She fights for climate change issues and tries to educate her classrooms on climate change. Our other Climate Action Hero was (state Rep.) Frank Hornstein, who has always been a champion of climate change and environmental issues.

One of the other exciting things I will say is that we do have our community solar garden, one of the first community-based, community-led solar gardens in the state, for sure in Minneapolis, (that) is supposed to be coming up and going online this fall. … It’s a 110-kilowatt array, and so we have about 100 community subscribers. … We’re working with some great project partners such as Jamez Staples who has a new company where he is training disadvantaged youth and adults in solar installation.

To learn more about Linden Hills Power & Light, go to lhpowerandlight.org.

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