Green report

Helping restaurants make dirt, not waste

Two Southwest restaurateurs have helped launch a new composting program that backers hope will allow restaurants across the Twin Cities to rethink their approach to waste.

Danny Schwartzman and Kim Bartmann worked with Eureka Recycling — a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that aims to eliminate waste — over the past six months on the program. It’s called Make Dirt, Not Waste, and it provides restaurants with resources on composting organic waste, using biodegradable containers, and more.

Schwartzman (who owns Common Roots Café in Lowry Hill East) and Bartmann (who owns Uptown’s Bryant-Lake Bowl and Barbette, and the Red Stag Supperclub) have each composted nearly 90 percent of their waste at their respective restaurants since they opened.

"They see sustainability not as a marketing tool or a feel-good thing … but a responsibility to a core principle to the way they operate," said Susan Hubbard, Eureka’s CEO, at a Dec. 15 event at the Wedge Co-op announcing the program.

"Business through the lens of sustainability is good business," Bartmann said. "It doesn’t have anything to do with crazy environmentalism."

Tracy Singleton, the owner of South Minneapolis’ Birchwood Café, also worked with Eureka to help create the program.

"(Composting) really lets us close the sustainability loop," she said. "From food to waste to compost to dirt to more local organic sustainable food."

Ten restaurants (including the five mentioned above) have taken the pledge to compost their waste, and Eureka hopes to sign additional restaurants in the coming months.

There’s more info on the new composting program online at www.makedirtnotwaste.org.

Rybak: To compost or not to compost

Our Dec. 1 issue featured a short profile on Mayor R.T. Rybak and his green-minded behavior. He drives a plug-in hybrid car, bikes frequently, buys local foods, cuts his lawn with a pushmower.

One thing the piece didn’t mention, though, was composting. That’s because Rybak and his wife, Meg, weren’t into it.

"We keep thinking, ‘Well, we want to do that but we’re busy, and it stinks and all that kind of thing,’" Rybak said, speaking at the Eureka composting program kickoff earlier this month.

Now they’re ready to give it a try.

"I’m a politician who likes dirt," he said.

Rybak turned to Hubbard, the Eureka Recycling CEO. "Would you tell me what Meg and I should be doing with this so it doesn’t stink in our house?"

No word yet on what composting system Rybak will use, though at the event he recoiled slightly at the idea of a bucket with live worms.

Council commits to Target Center green roof

The Minneapolis City Council recently committed to keeping the Target Center viable for at least four more decades, voting Dec. 12 to install a green roof atop the arena.

Some have criticized the project because of the arena’s age and the time — two decades, by most estimates — it will take the city to recoup the $5.3 million cost through reduced energy needs. It also isn’t clear whether the Timberwolves, the arena’s most lucrative client, will stay once the team’s lease expires in 2025.

Council Member Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) said the decision was made simply because the roof needed to be replaced, and because the 115,000-square-foot green roof is expected to last 40 years — twice the lifespan of a typical roof.

"It’s not like let’s just put some plants on top of the Target Center," Goodman said. "… It’s being strictly installed for environmental purposes."

Several council members pointed to the green roof’s ability to absorb water as potentially helping to keep Downtown cooler during the dog days of summer, lessening the so-called urban heat island effect. The arena’s stormwater utility fee is expected to decrease by about $9,000 per year.

"Both for energy and water systems, this is a good project," Council Member Sandra Colvin Roy (12th Ward) said.

The greening of our larger community

HOURCAR, the Twin Cities car-share program, now offers a plug-in vehicle at its location at the light-rail station at Hiawatha and 46th Street in South Minneapolis. The Prius is charged by a solar-powered system.

HOURCAR has a second solar-powered station in the Twin Cities—it’s in St. Paul at Mississippi Market in the Selby-Dale neighborhood.

HOURCAR has several Southwest locations, including: The Wedge Co-op (22nd Street & Lyndale Avenue); the Calhoun Square ramp (Hennepin Avenue & 31st Street); the Hennepin Avenue YWCA (at 28th Street); and Nicollet Avenue & 19th Street in Stevens Square.

Visit www.hourcar.org for more information on the program.

Cristof Traudes contributed to this report.

Green report

Singing the state electric

Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-60B) and Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-60) have seen the future and it’s electric.

The two lawmakers recently returned from a fact-finding trip to California, where they visited Better Place, a prominent Silicon Valley company that’s building electric-car infrastructure in Israel, Hawaii and California’s Bay Area.

Hornstein and Dibble want that kind of development to happen closer to home. They’re working on legislation that would support electric-car research, develop infrastructure like hook-up stations and battery exchanges, and encourage consumers — with tax breaks, refunds, etc. — to purchase electric vehicles.

"We want to provide simple incentives for people," Hornstein said.

This isn’t a new interest for them. They authored and helped pass a bill during the 2006 session — the first of its kind in the country — that called on the state to purchase electric cars as they become commercially available and established a task force to study ways of developing electric-car infrastructure statewide.

Of course, there are a few big hurdles between their ideas and the vision of average Minnesotans behind the wheels of electric cars. The cars aren’t mass-produced and are significantly more expensive (up to $10,000 more) than regular or hybrid vehicles. And there isn’t a network of stations or battery-exchange places that would allow anyone to roam far from home (most electric cars can only go several dozen miles on a single charge).

There’s also the hurdle of the state’s multi-billion-dollar budget deficit. Which means that the buzzword for this kind of legislation will be "revenue neutral."

Dibble and Hornstein plan on crafting the legislation over the next few months and introducing it in the opening weeks of the 2009 session. While they said they’re confident they can pass some things next year, they know not all of their ideas will stick, at least not right away.

"We’ll have to see what we can get done, what would be the biggest bang for the legislative effort," Dibble said.

Dibble said that while he and Hornstein are focused now on electric cars, their efforts are really aimed at a bigger-picture issue: Addressing and curbing climate change on a state level.

"Too much needs to be done too quickly," Dibble said.

City plugs in to electric cars

Speaking of electric cars: The city of Minneapolis just added a pair to its fleet.

The Regulatory Services department will use the vehicles for inspections. They look like Jeep-designed golf carts (yes, they have heaters, and yes, employees are expected to use them during winter), travel up to 25 miles an hour, and can go 20 to 35 miles on a single battery charge. They’re easily and cheaply charged — just plug the car into an outlet, where the batteries will pull about 50 cents of electricity — and require little maintenance.

City calculations show that the switch to the two electric cars will save the city several thousand dollars in maintenance and gas costs over the next five years.

The city’s fleet already includes one converted plug-in hybrid and an additional 50 hybrids (which run on a combination of electricity and gasoline), as well as nearly 250 vehicles that use E-85, the fuel blend of ethanol and gasoline.

One of the city’s new electric cars comes from a Princeton, Minn.-based company called e-ride.

A local LEED

Southwest is now home to Minnesota Greenstar’s first gold-certified new house in the state.

Minnesota GreenStar is a Roseville-based nonprofit that certifies houses built or modified to include green-building standards, including efficient water and heat use, low-energy appliances and lighting, low-impact landscaping, and other elements.

Their process is similar to other point-based certification processes like the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED, which is considered one of the preeminent green-building programs in the country.

More information on Minnesota GreenStar is available on their website at www.mngreenstar.org.

Compost: From the curb to the lights in your home

The folks at Linden Hills Power & Light planned to visit Fargo, N.D. on Dec. 11 as part of their continuing investigation into the possibility of building an anaerobic digester in the neighborhood.

They were scheduled to attend a free workshop on the benefits of digesters, and then tour a working digester at a sugar factory in Moorhead, Minn.

Anaerobic digesters convert organic materials into electricity. In the United States they’re mostly used in rural settings to convert manure and waste from food processing. Power & Light is interested in examining how effective a digester can be in an urban setting. They’re still weighing some of the biggest questions, like the digester size and what to do with the electricity it generates (in most cases, it’s sold to a power company, which connects transmission lines to the digester).

The digester project comes on the heels of Power & Light’s curbside compost collection program, which rolled out in September. About 40 percent of neighborhood residents are participating, a figure the organization hopes to increase to around 70 percent in the coming months.