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 tactics to build a more socially and environmentally conscious state.

The U.S. Green Chamber of Commerce is excited to bring you this series of sustainability leaders who are making a positive impact in Minnesota. Meet the people who are working to improve the environment in Minnesota and around the world. Click here to view all of our Minnesota Leaders.


Emily Larson



Company or NGO Name:

City of Duluth

Region or City:

Duluth, MN

1. What is the mission of your company/NGO?
We are a municipality – our goal is fairly simple: to provide reliable, innovative and cost efficient services that 86,000+ residents can rely on, and to be an economic development and community investment partner and leader.


2. What is the most innovative or environmentally/socially impactful project/practice your company/NGO has implemented?
We own two utilities – one of them has run exclusively on coal. We are invested in a transition away from coal – this year alone we decreased greenhouse gas emissions by 15%.


3. Please share any new projects you will be implementing in the near future.
We are on-line with the Community Solar Garden, we are looking to finish our three-year exchange with Germany to advance our mutual energy goals and we are planning for the next few years of energy investments to maintain our commitment to the Paris Accord.


4. What are the biggest challenges you have faced when pursuing or trying to promote sustainable practices/projects?
Funding. As I like to joke, all it takes is a lot of money to get big things done. Innovation in sustainable practices requires investment of time, money and capital that is often really hard for municipalities to leverage.


5. What are your top 3 career accomplishments?
Securing election as Mayor with 72% of the vote, and serving as the City’s first female in this role; establishing a long term, sustainable streets funding plan that was supported by 77% of the vote in a city-wide election; and Leading the state in our energy-forward thinking and investments.


6. What inspired you to choose your career path?
It was a natural extension of my efforts as a political activist and engaged voter. It was a nonlinear path that included work as a social worker, campaign manager, soccer coach and classroom volunteer. For me, it’s pretty simple: when you find you have something to offer, you owe it yourself and your community to give it a go and put yourself out there.     


7. Personally—Why do you care about sustainability? What is your story?
I live in a city that inspires active stewardship of our natural world and reverence for its’ limitations. Sustainability is a mandate for survival.


8. What do you think are your biggest strengths as a leader in Sustainability?
Understanding that there is an important balance to lead with policy while being patient with groundswells. Steady is what sustains. To enact broadly before the public is ready enables the possibility for erosion of that same policy with the next elected leader. Knowing when to pause and when to pedal down. That’s my strength.


9. What is/are the biggest incentive(s) for businesses in your area to adopt sustainable practices?
Citizen and resident engagement – a reflection on the core values of communities. Financial efficiency works too, but as a stand-alone strategy it has limits. To truly push sustainability, it takes a commitment.


10. What is/are the biggest environmental or social challenge(s) facing Minnesota today?

Federal undermining of EPA and other protections, and the funding which allows cities and states to advance green infrastructure, energy efficiency and remediation / revitalization. These are not resources that can found in other formats. It absolutely has to come from a federal framework.


11. What is the most positive action Minnesota has taken to positively impact its environment or social wellbeing?
Maintaining the course on all things climate change – the Paris Accord, the goals of 2025. Leadership could more fully embed progress by staffing sustainability on the state level in ways that cross departments. It’s a jobs issue. And an economic development issue. And a financial and utility issue.  


Bonus Questions:

1. What are your thoughts on climate change? What is your company/organization doing to help bring awareness or to help mitigate climate change?
This is one of the areas that has literally been the most fun as Mayor. It deeply engages the public in ways that inspire activism and broad support. Making the verbal, staffing and personal commitment to addressing climate change is really important. Rebuilding storm-impacted areas in town with climate adaptation is important. Talking about it is critically important. People rise to the water level of leadership around them. If leaders have the confidence to lead, things actually do get done.


2. How dedicated are Minnesota’s businesses to corporate social responsibility? List some practices you think would be helpful.
MN has a history of compassion and cohesive action and that is reflected by our business community. Not all businesses have the financial capacity to play big in social responsibility, but the vast majority of businesses take time in ways that are small and individual to choose their place of impact and to ensure their employees feel valued and heard. In Minnesota, we like to do the right thing, for the right reasons.  


3. What has been the most enjoyable part of your role/position/career?
Being present to the events and moments that are important to our community: celebrating the accomplishments of local businesses and leaders, welcoming our Olympians home, attending the services of those we have lost. Mayors serve in a deeply personal role, and it means something when you show up. But it means even more to me to serve as a witness to the accomplishments, losses and celebrations of our community.



To learn more about Emily and her work, visit:

Twitter: @LarsonForDuluth

Facebook: Emily Larson Duluth Mayor