University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
Northstar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise

New Study: Revisiting Renewable Portfolio Standard Effectiveness

June 10, 2013NiSEFeaturedComments Off on New Study: Revisiting Renewable Portfolio Standard Effectiveness


In the 1980s film “Field of Dreams,” Kevin Costner’s character pays tribute to Shoeless Joe Jackson and other players unable to fulfill their baseball dreams by following a voice telling him, “if you build it, he will come.”  He built the field, and people (plus a few ghosts) came.  In the world of renewable energy, the opposite tends to be the case.  As of the end of 2011, 32 states had come to the table by developing mandatory renewable portfolio standards (RPS). But, by setting these renewable electricity goals, typically a percent of total electricity sold by a specified year, has more renewable power been deployed than what would have otherwise been expected?

This question is at the heart of the newly released paper, Revisiting renewable portfolio standard effectiveness: policy design and outcome specification matter, by Miriam Fischlein and Timothy M. Smith.

Renewable portfolio standards differ widely across the U.S., making it difficult to compare state-level outcomes directly.  In addition, power often crosses state lines, making it difficult to use readily available state-level renewable capacity or generation data as an appropriate measure of RPS effectiveness.  For example, Minnesota’s RPS may be much more effective in stimulating new wind power in South Dakota, a major supplier of renewable energy for the state, than in Minnesota where fewer wind resources are available.

The authors investigate patterns of RPS policy design and analyze the effects on policy outcomes measured at the level of utility compliance. “This work brings tremendous amounts of new data to this problem,” says Dr. Timothy Smith, associate  professor of environmental sciences, policy and management University of Minnesota.  In this paper, all relevant state statutes were coded, more that 3,000 pages of text, to account for the complexity of RPS design across states, something that has never been done before.  Forty-two design elements were tracked, including compliance schedule, scope, eligibility of resources, quotas and subsidies, renewable energy credit provisions, as well as aspects of enforcement and penalties. In addition, the paper develops a more accurate measure of RPS outcomes by measuring policy response in terms of the share of renewable energy sales reported by each utility in a given state.  A total of 250 RPS compliance reports were collected and searched for information on renewable energy capacity, generation and purchases, as well as renewable energy credit purchases. Together, the map of state RPS design and the new approach to RPS outcome analysis illuminate the diversity of RPS policy practice across the United States.

So, does RPS work?  As with just about everything, it depends, “but, we now know a lot more about what effectiveness depends on,” says, Dr. Miriam Fischlein, study manager and consultant, Southern California Edison.  Overall, utilities reported higher proportions of renewable power in states with stronger renewable targets and where renewable energy credits (REC) may be traded to achieve compliance.  In contrast, lower proportions of renewable power were reported in states where only RECs of instate origin can be traded.

That said, these results are limited to only one year of data; RPS policies are simply too new to be measured at the utility compliance report level across multiple years.  As more data become available, future evaluations of these policies need to both account for the variety of design characteristics and accurately specify the policy outcomes.


National Public Health Week Film Festival

March 11, 2013NiSEEventsComments Off on National Public Health Week Film Festival

film fest

We invite you to attend the 9th annual National Public Health Week Film Festival!

Each year, the University of Minnesota School Of Public Health hosts a five-day film festival in celebration of National Public Health Week. This year’s film festival runs from April 1-5, 2013.

On Thursday, April 4, the free film festival will be screening “Bhopali” at 5:45pm in the Mayo Memorial Auditorium. The film sheds light on the worst industrial disaster that happened in Bhopal, India, and how 20 years later it’s still causing horrific environmental health effects (especially in their water system). The program will highlight how this global disaster has happened in Minnesota.

During the screening, you can enjoy popcorn and appetizers courtesy of the School of Public Health. Following the documentary, you will hear from an expert speaker who will offer perspective on the local effects and implications of the industrial disaster in Bhopali.

We encourage you to attend this enlightening and insightful environmental-health themed evening!

Get Out of Your Geek Speak!

February 27, 2013NiSEEvents, SustainabilityComments Off on Get Out of Your Geek Speak!

Sustainability Symposium

Attention all graduate, professional, and undergraduate students at the University of Minnesota! Have you worked on a project, report, or done research related to sustainability? Share your work at the 2013 Sustainability Symposium on April 5 for a chance to win an iPad Mini! Abstracts are being accepted until March 8; ALL students are encouraged to submit abstracts!

This year’s theme, “Get Out of Your Geek Speak,” encourages you to communicate your story in terms relatable to the broader University community. At the Sustainability Symposium, you will have the chance to develop your communication skills by showing and articulating the importance of your research to a broad audience.

As a presenter at the Sustainability Symposium, you will hone presentation skills by sharing your research, enhance your resume, and connect with individuals sharing an interest in sustainability. Submission categories include conference posters, lightning talks (2-minute presentations of your work), and multi-media pieces (artwork, design project, video, etc.). All forms of art and multimedia are welcome and students in these disciplines are encouraged to apply.

Submit your abstract by March 15 for the chance to present at the Institute on the Environment’s Sustainability Symposium on April 5! Click here to submit your abstract today!

All presenters will be entered to win an iPad Mini!

Questions? Contact Molly Buss at

It’s in the Pint

January 7, 2013NiSEEvents, SustainabilityComments Off on It’s in the Pint

It's in the Pint

By Holly Lahd

On Tuesday, November 27th NiSE and founding partner Stratford Companies hosted the first “Procurement in a Pint” mixer for area procurement and sustainability practitioners. We toured Fulton Brewery’s Minneapolis Brewery and Tap Room, learning how Fulton started from garage homebrew to opening Minneapolis’s first Brewery tap room serving thousands of Minnesota Twins fans and craft beer fans across the metro area.

As any good brewer knows the quality of beer depends on what you put into it. Product design and corporate sustainability programs are the same. Optimizing supply chains and procurement systems reduces waste, costs, and processing time, creating more efficient companies. But where to start?

NiSE’s Sustainable Procurement Initiative works to answer this question. We distill complicated sector and product life cycle assessment information to identify the top 3-5 hotspots and improvements companies can make in product sourcing, design, and distribution to improve sustainability performance. The initiative recently completed a project with the Sustainability Consortium’s Food, Beverage, and Agriculture Sector Working Group that connects life cycle hotspots and improvement opportunities for select food products via life cycle modeling.  We’re now refining the model to expand to products that are under development (biojet fuels) so that the findings can be incorporated in the design of these products supply chains.

We hope to raise a pint in celebration of more sustainable procurement successes in 2013!

Photo courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society Press

The views expressed by the author(s) of this blog and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of NiSE at the Institute on the Environment or any employee thereof.

Happy Holidays from NiSE!

December 21, 2012NiSEUncategorizedComments Off on Happy Holidays from NiSE!

Happy Holidays

Exploring Plastics Recycling: A Multi-Perspective Approach

November 30, 2012NiSEFeatured, Recycling, SustainabilityComments Off on Exploring Plastics Recycling: A Multi-Perspective Approach

By Samantha Steinbring

On Friday, November 16, NiSE at the Institute on the Environment held its second Initiative inFocus webinar titled “A Focus on Plastics.” This webinar featured guest speakers Samantha MacBride, author of Recycling Reconsidered and assistant professor at CUNY—Baruch College, and Keefe Harrison, consultant at Resource Recycling Systems. Both speakers provided varying perspectives on the current state and future potential of plastics recycling—a very important issue with implications on not only the environment, but on society as a whole.

Samantha MacBride addressed plastics recycling from both municipal and sociological perspectives. The current strategies for increasing plastics recycling at the citizen-level, according to Samantha, are to increase participation in curbside recycling programs and expand the range of accepted plastics. But how can we address these issues? Recycling managers try to increase awareness, education, and understanding of plastics recycling at the citizen level. Nevertheless, “Citizen recyclers are confused,” she says, due to a lack of logic and consistency in collection programs and an incomplete understanding of the role of plastics in society. Currently, most citizen recyclers do so because they believe that recycling is good for the environment—but many do not consider the more complex challenges that we face with plastics recycling and the health and environmental impacts of plastics consumption overall.

Ultimately, Samantha stated, there is a need to be clear with the public about the future of plastics recycling. Many in the waste-to-energy industry envision that 60% of plastics recycling will be managed by conversion to electricity, fuel, or base chemicals. Other groups promote compostable bioplastics and/or policies to reduce plastic consumption. Either way, it is unlikely that recycling alone will be able to address problems related to plastic waste. “We need to accept that we face complex challenges with plastics recycling,” she said. And, in addressing these challenges and planning a sustainable future, we need to consider justness and equity to ensure a better quality of life for all.

Offering an industry perspective, Keefe Harrison provided insight on plastics recycling based on her work with Resource Recycling Systems. According to Keefe, many organizations are developing programs to increase recovery and accept more plastics in general. While the citizen-recycler plays an important role in the plastics recovery process, Keefe noted the opportunity that industry-level markets have to drive large-scale recovery efforts. Notably, organizations like Food Service Packaging Institute (FPI) and are figuring out improved recovery systems for take-out material (e.g. to-go boxes) and film.

However, while efforts are being made to advance industry-level plastics recycling, communication between sectors is still a barrier. Keefe proposed that to resolve miscommunications about the barriers to increased plastics recovery, sectors need to work together so that market demand for the materials can flow. If these issues are addressed, Keefe foresees a healthy and growing recovery market, with marketplace demand continuing to increase.

For full details, view the webinar recording here:

Photo courtesy of

The views expressed by the author(s) of this blog and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of NiSE at the Institute on the Environment or any employee thereof.

Upcoming Initiative inFocus Webinar: A Focus on Plastics

November 9, 2012NiSEEvents, RecyclingComments Off on Upcoming Initiative inFocus Webinar: A Focus on Plastics

Initiative inFocus Webinar: A Focus on Plastics

Join us next Friday, November 16 from 12:00-1:00pm CST for this FREE and educational webinar!

In this upcoming webinar, we will focus on our Materials Cycling Initiative.

Less than 30% of plastics used in bottles and less than 9% of all plastic waste is recycled in the United States. While municipal recycling programs have traditionally focused on bottle recycling, other plastics – including film and rigid plastics – compose the majority of available plastic waste. As communities seek to reduce waste sent to landfills and meet higher diversion targets, there is increased interest in including these additional plastics in recycling programs. Through the presentations and discussion in this webinar, we hope to explore plastics recycling and its future potential from a variety of perspectives.

Joining us will be Samantha MacBride, assistant professor in the School of Public Affairs at CUNY – Baruch College and author of Recycling Reconsidered: the Present Failure and Future Promise of Recycling in the United States. Her current research is on the contested politics of municipal organic waste management in the U.S. and Canada. She focuses on how landfill gas recovery, industrial-scale composting and anaerobic digestion, and conversion technologies are differently understood and advocated for in relation to threats of climate change by social movements, business sectors, and the state.

Also joining us will be Keefe Harrison, consultant at Resource Recycling Systems, where she brings her direct experience in facilitating cross-sector solutions to the increased recovery and recycling of packaging.  Formerly, Keefe served as the director of communications for the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, the project director for the Southeast Recycling Development Council, and as a local government assistance team member for the North Carolina Division of Environmental Assistance and Outreach.  She has worked in the waste reduction and recycling field since 1998 and is an active national speaker and published author on recycling issues.

Tim Smith, Director of the NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise, will facilitate.

Be sure to follow us on Twitter @UMN_NiSE for news and updates!

Initiative inFocus is a dialogue-oriented program of NiSE at the Institute on the Environment aiming to surface new challenges and opportunities requiring collaborative inquiry. These webinars allow many ideas to enter the discussion and identify only the most likely avenues for fruitful research and practice. Outcomes from inFocus events will directly influence broader dialogue and research conducted at the NorthStar Initiative and partnering organizations.

Announcing GreenBiz’s VERGE SF @ Greenbuild Event!

October 25, 2012NiSEEventsComments Off on Announcing GreenBiz’s VERGE SF @ Greenbuild Event!

As a partner of GreenBiz Group, we want to keep you up to date on the latest trends in sustainability.  GreenBiz is presenting a conference in San Francisco on Nov 12-13, VERGE SF.  VERGE SF brings together business innovators, entrepreneurs, and leading public officials focused on the opportunities for radical efficiencies created through advancements in energy, buildings and transportation technologies.

Because we’re part of this exciting event, you can save $100 off the registration price by using priority discount code v12nise– bringing your registration down to $895.

VERGE SF features a diverse and exclusive group of executives in sustainability, government & policy, building and energy management, utilities, fleets & logistics, R&D, and corporate financing.

If you want to:

  • Discover the future of sustainability:  Smarter supply chains, energy and the cloud, next-gen buildings and facilities, connected vehicles, and cities 2.0.
  • Explore the new ecosystem. VERGE explores company engagement in a vast web of relationships to exploit convergence, from industry standards to employee engagement to NGO partnerships.
  • Join the innovators: Connect with the community of thought-leaders, entrepreneurs, and suppliers in the VERGE ecosystem.
  • Be inspired: Join some of the brightest minds in the new era of disruptive sustainability.

Learn More & register today!

NiSE Contributes to Biojet Project in Missoula, MT

October 17, 2012NiSEEvents, Featured, SustainabilityComments Off on NiSE Contributes to Biojet Project in Missoula, MT

By Samantha Steinbring

On September 13 and 14, a group of engineers, chemists, and economists gathered in Missoula, Montana as part of the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA). The group aims to turn waste wood into jet fuel, an innovation that will prove advantageous for the biofuel industry as well as Montana’s remaining loggers.

The recent NARA conference served as an update on the first year’s accomplishments and scoped the next four years of the project. Representatives included researchers from the University of Minnesota, University of Washington, Washington State University, University of Oregon, University of Idaho, USDA representative Bill Goldner, U.S. Forest Service, and other stakeholders from forestry organizations.

As part of this five-year, $40 million research project, NiSE director Tim Smith and graduate research assistant Rylie Pelton are developing a life cycle assessment which will inform the project by providing an assessment of process steps and material input flows. This recent meeting allowed NiSE researchers to connect with fellow researchers regarding other aspects of the project and identify contacts from which to gather information necessary to conduct the life cycle assessment. The methodology developed

for the Sustainable Procurement Initiative is being further tested through NiSE’s work on the NARA biojet project.
To learn more about the project, visit the NARA website or consult the recent articles published in Missoula press (below).

“Biojet Project Takes Off in Missoula” in

“Northwest researchers look to turn waste wood into jet fuel” in

The views expressed by the author(s) of this blog and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of NiSE at the Institute on the Environment or any employee thereof.

What’s New with NiSE — October 2012

October 4, 2012NiSENewsletterComments Off on What’s New with NiSE — October 2012

Network Updates

Leading Edge Consortium Virtual Forum | There’s still time to register for the Leading Edge Consortium VirtualForum on Environmental Sustainability at Work: Advancing Research, Enhancing Practice! The topic emphasizes the business case for environmental sustainability, and how sustainability can become a competitive advantage, as well as specific issued relevant to I-O practitioners.

Join us at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environmental on Friday, October 19 to engage in this cutting edge symposium on the latest research and developments in environmental sustainability. At 90% off the cost of regular conference registration, you will have the opportunity to view a live projection of the conference as it takes place in New Orleans, LA and interact with speakers via Twitter and Facebook. Learn more.


Best Buy: Sustainability Amidst Turmoil | Despite recent shifts  in leadership and business development, NiSE Founding Partner Best Buy is rising to the top when it comes to sustainability efforts. With Leo Raudys as the Senior Director of Environmental Sustainability, the company has developed an environmental program built around clear business objectives, according to journalist Marc Gunther. The company aims to recycle 1 billion pounds of consumer good by 2014, reduce its carbon footprint by 20% in 2020, and initiate new energy-efficient store designs, among other impactful goals. Learn more

Do you know of  a company doing great work in sustainability? If so, send us an e-mail!

Sustainability News

Global Initiative on Financing Sustainability | We are exploring the barriers and opportunities to industrial energy efficiency projects in small and medium enterprises through a small exclusive symposium October 22-24 co-hosted with the Environmental Defense Fund and The Johnson Foundation. The purpose of this symposium is to discuss how supply chain coordination can facilitate and incentivize industrial energy efficiency initiatives in small and medium enterprises.

The symposium will convene key visionaries and thinkers to chart a course toward widespread energy efficiency deployment across the supply chain. Additionally, we will highlight opportunities and barriers to energy efficiency aggregation and finance while identifying the next steps to capture more of these opportunities and overcome the barriers. While the scope is global, there will be many examples from those working in China. Stemming from this event, we will launch a parallel research initiative to build consistent data infrastructure and offer integrative methods of analyzing supply chain coordination, financial risk and governance required across the value chain for enhanced energy savings, productivity and profitability.

Sustainable Procurement Initiative | How can we develop sustainable supply chains for bio-aviation fuel? The Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance (NARA) is an alliance of private industry and research institutions aiming to develop a solution to this pressing issue. NiSE is currently working on a life cycle assessment as part of the project. The methodologies developed in conjunction with this project will help inform our Sustainable Procurement Initiative. Stay tuned for an upcoming blog about the recently-held NARA Conference. Learn more

Materials Cycling Inititaitve | Save the date! Our first Initiative inFocus Webinar of the series will take place on November 15! This webinar will relate to the Materials Cycling Initiative.

Sustainability Around Campus

Check out what’s happening in sustainability at the University of Minnesota.

Frontiers in the Environment | The Institute on the Environment is proud to announce its exciting fall lineup for its Frontiers in the Environment speaker series! The Frontiers series brings together engaging speakers with thought-provoking topics to illuminate the forefront of ideas and frontiers in various environmental fields. The talks are free and open to the public, can be viewed live online at UMConnect, and are also archived on the Frontiers website.

U of M to Study Interactions Between Water and Land-Use Systems | The University of Minnesota has recently received a $4.3 million Water Sustainability and Climate grant over five years from the National Science Foundation to lead a study on the interactions between climate, water and land-use systems. The grant will specifically examine impacts of land use and climate change on water quality and ecosystem health using the Minnesota River Basin as a prototype. Learn more

Engineering Professor Appointed to Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board |The White House announced that President Barack Obama will appoint Efi Foufoula-Georgiou, a civil engineering professor in the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering, as a new member of the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board. Foufoula-Georgiou is one of only eight individuals nationwide who will be appointed to the board, which is responsible for providing independent scientific and technical oversight of the Department of Energy’s program for managing and disposing high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel. Learn more

To learn more about the latest University news, click here.

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