Friday, February 16, 2024

Gold Leaf Challenge

On February 15, 2024, we hosted a webinar introducing the official launch of the Gold Leaf Challenge! Learn more about the program development, how to participate, get to know the resources, and hear from our pilot participants.

Webinar Recording:

Presentation Slides:

Links and Resources:

  • Use the Gold Leaf Challenge Welcome Guide as a tool for getting started and accessing additional guidance, program information, and more. 
  • Let us know you want to join the Challenge by filling out this form
  • In its 2020 Strategic Plan, the GreenStep Cities steering committee outlined several visions and goals for the future of the program, as recommended by GreenStep participant feedback. One high priority identified by the GreenStep partners and participants identified climate response. The Gold Leaf Challenge program started development in 2022, launching in February of 2024. Learn more about the background, process, pilot program, and more in the Gold Leaf Challenge Development Report.
  • Reach out to program staff at or 651-757-2793.
  • Friday, October 13, 2023

    IRA Ambassador Program

    In this webinar, presented live on October 5, 2023, we learned more the Inflation Reduction Act and how to serve as an Ambassador and feel empowered to spread the word in your community.


    The Inflation Reduction Act represents the largest investment to address climate change in United States history. Peter Lindstrom from the Clean Energy Resource Teams will present new tax credits and rebates for energy efficiency and renewable energy enabled by the IRA.

      • Anyone who can help share information about the opportunities and resources being provided by the IRA. 
      • Ambassadors have access to the IRA Ambassador Toolkit with: recorded presentations, scripts, handouts, slide decks, and email updates.
      • 466 Ambassadors from across all of Minnesota (and even some in other states) have joined since the program's launch in May 2023! 
      • Alan Anderson is just one of the IRA Ambassadors. Read more about Northfield man works to protect his community's tomorrow

    • What is the Inflation Reduction Act? 

      • The IRA includes a range of funds to drive supply and demand: 
        • Energy: clean energy incentives, manufacturing, individual incentives, clean fuels/ vehicles 
        • Health Care 
        • Climate: conservation/ rural development/ forestry, transportation and infrastructure, air pollution, climate 

    • What do residents need to know? 

      • Energy Efficiency Home Improvement Credit - AVAILABLE NOW!
        • Maximum annual cap: $3,200
        • Up to 30% tax credit; max amount listed on technology: 
          • Home energy audit: up to $150 
          • Attic & wall insulation: up to $1,200 
          • Heating system - Heat Pumps: $2,000
          • Windows: $600 
          • Doors: $250/door, up to $500 
          • Water Heaters: $600 or $2,000 for a heat pump water heater 
        • TIP: You can also get a credit every year - so you can stage your projects to maximize your benefits! 
      • Home Owners Managing Energy Savings (HOMES) Rebates - COMING SOON! 
        • $4.3 billion available through 2031 
        • Starting in 2024
        • For single-family homeowners and multi-family building owners 
        • Rebates for energy efficiency with a whole-house approach
        • Based on energy savings: 
          • $2,000 for 20% energy savings 
          • $4,000 for 35% energy savings 
          • Doubled for LMI households
      • High-Efficiency Electric Home Rebate (HEEHR) Program - COMING SOON! 
        • $4.5 billion available through 2031
        • Starting in 2024
        • Rebates for: 
          • Electric load service center upgrades: $4,000 
          • Electric stove/ cooktop/ range/ oven: $840 
          • Electric wiring: $2,500
          • Heat pump clothes dryer: $840 
          • Heat pump heating/cooling: $8,000 
          • Heat pump water heaters: $1,750 
          • Insulation and air sealing: $1,600 
        • TIP: You can combine these incentives with utility rebates for additional savings! 
      • Residential Clean Energy Tax Credit - AVAILABLE NOW! 
        • 30% federal tax credit for solar and standalone storage 
      • New and Used EV Incentives - AVAILABLE NOW! 
        • Income qualified: 
          • Single, making under $150,000
          • Marries, making under $300,000
        • Conditions: 
          • Must be assembled in North America 
          • Must meet battery sourcing requirements 
          • Must comply with pricing requirements: 
            • Less than $80,000 for SUV, pickup trucks, vans
            • Less than $55,000 for other vehicles 

    • What do businesses need to know? 

      • Commercial Solar Incentives - AVAILABLE NOW!
        • 30% tax credit for: 
          • projects under 1MW 
          • projects over 1MW if they meet the prevailing wage and apprenticeship requirements 
          • includes standalone energy storage assets! 
        • PLUS stack IRA adders: 
          • 10% for "domestic content" 
          • 10% for "energy communities" 
          • 20% for projects financially benefiting low-income or tribal communities 
            • or 10% for projects located in low income or tribal communities 
      • Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) - AVAILABLE NOW! 
        • An additional $2 billion for grants and loans for rural businesses and agricultural producers adding renewable energy and energy efficiency upgrades 
        • Allows grants to cover 50% (up from 25%) of project costs
      • 179D: Energy Efficient Commercial Buildings Deduction - AVAILABLE NOW! 
        • Incentives increased and expanded to non-profits

    • What do city, tribal, and school governments need to know? 
      • Direct Pay - AVAILABLE NOW!
        • Allows tax-exempt entities to take advantage of new tax incentives for solar, energy storage, geothermal, combined heat & power, and electric vehicles 
        • Steps: 
          1. ID your project 
          2. Complete your project 
          3. Determine when your tax return is due 
          4. Complete pre-filing registration with the IRS 
          5. File tax returns (Form 990-T)
          6. Receive your money 

    View the workshop recording: 

    View the slides and additional materials:

    Additional resources: 

    Resources for city and tribal governments: 

    Need help with applications? 

    Best Practice Actions related to this topic: 

    • 1.3 Invest in larger energy efficiency projects through performance contracting or other funding or through smaller retro-commissioning/retrofit projects in city-owned/school buildings.
    • 1.7 Install for one or more city-owned/school buildings one of the following efficiency measures...
    • 2.1 Create or participate in a marketing/outreach/incentive program to promote/achieve residential energy/water use reduction and energy efficiency.
    • 2.4 Describe energy/water efficiency outcomes and other green building practices at businesses and not-for-profit organizations located within/nearby the city.
    • 13.3 Phase-in operational changes, equipment changes including electric vehicles, and no-idling practices for city or local transit fleets.
    • 24.4 Public Education for Action: Conduct or support a broad sustainability education and action campaign, building on existing city & community relationships, networks & events 
    • 23.3 Decrease air emissions from vehicle idling, business trucking, and pollutants/noise from stationary engines/back-up generators.
    • 25.2 Create or participate in a marketing/outreach program to connect businesses with assistance providers, including utilities, who provide personalized energy, waste or sustainability audits and assistance.
    • 26.2 Promote resident/business purchases and/or generation of clean energy
    • 26.3 Promote financing and incentive programs, such as PACE, for clean energy
    • 26.5 Install a public sector/municipally-owned renewable energy technology, such as solar electric (PV), wind, biomass, solar hot water/air, or micro-hydro.
    • 26.6 Report installed private sector-owned renewable energy/energy efficient generation capacity...
    • 29.3  Increase social connectedness through engagement, capacity building, public investment, and opportunities for economically vulnerable residents to improve their economic prosperity and resilience to climate change.
    • 29.8 Improve local energy resilience by minimizing fuel poverty, installing distributed renewable energy systems, and developing microgrids that can improve energy system resiliency.

    Register for upcoming GreenStep Cities and Tribal Nations workshops here. You do not need to be a GreenStep community to attend.

     Visit the GreenStep Cities and Tribal Nations program website at

    Thursday, October 12, 2023

    GreenStep 101: a beginner's guide to the program

    In this webinar, presented live on October 10 , 2023, we learned more about the GreenStep Cities, Tribal Nations, and Schools programs.


    • What is "sustainability"? Sustainability is the interconnection of the environment, economy, and society through shared goals on health, air quality, education, economic development, equity, environmental quality, clean and safe water, affordable energy, community resilience, and our children's future. 
    • What is "GreenStep"? There are currently three MN GreenStep programs: Cities, Tribal Nations (pilot), and Schools (pilot). Key aspects of these programs are that they are free to participants, voluntary, flexible, statewide best practice frameworks, support communities of practice and peer learning, provide recognition, improve health, well-being, environmental quality, equity, and education, and align local action and leadership with common state goals. 
      • Mission: GreenStep programs encourage and support participants' efforts for substantive action and achievement of their sustainability goals through the implementation of best practices and sharing of metrics and outcomes. 
      • Vision: Sustainability is the norm for all: cities, tribal nations, and schools. 
      • Benefits:
        • Serves as a continuous improvement pathway for participants to "go green," becoming more sustainable and resilient.
        • Saves participants staff time in researching proven, cost-effective actions.
        • Best Practices are user-centered.
        • Reduces costs and helps explore how to spend the same amount of money smarter.
        • Designed as a home-grown, independent program tailored to governments of all size and location in Minnesota.
        • Supports sustainable economic development and local economies.
        • Provides maximum flexibility, total control, and choice by councils and boards in deciding how to implement a proven best practice.
        • Participants are supported by a peer learning network and encouraged to learn from each other.
        • Continuously prompts program participants – like an exercise coach would! – to maximize opportunities to accelerate sustainability actions.
        • Encourages public recognition of the good work being done in Minnesota communities.
    • Who is GreenStep? The programs are a public-private partnership that are directed by steering committee. See GSC partner organizations and GSS partners
      • 143 cities, 4 tribal nations, 51 interested schools/districts, 44 support organizations, 2 GreenStep Youth Green Clubs. 

    GreenStep Cities program 

      • The Steps: 1: pass a council resolution 2-3: implement and report actions 4-5: measure, report, and improve metrics 
      • Best Practices & Actions: There are 29 Best Practices (BPs) and 181 actions (BPAs) under 5 categories of sustainability: Buildings & Lighting, Land Use, Transportation, Environmental Management, Resilience Economic & Community Development. Each BP includes 3-8 specific actions to help guide a community. Each action includes a BP Advisor, 1-, 2-, and 3-star level examples, implementation tools, and a list of who is doing it. BPs and BPAs are structured as a menu of actions, allowing participants to choose the actions that fit their needs best. 
      • Metrics: If you don't measure it, you can't tell results! The menu of sustainability metrics provide communities with a framework for tracking and reporting information needed to set goals, show success, and prioritize actions. Metrics are used to achieve Steps 4 and 5 of the program. 
      • Recognition: Happens annually at the League of Minnesota Cities conference and/or at a Council meeting. Action and metric reports are due by April 1 for recognition in that year. 
        • Categories A, B, and C: A questionnaire about overall community capacity is used to categorize participants into large (A), medium (B), and small (C). The categories are used to determine that challenges for reaching Steps 2, 3, and 4. 
      • Resources: See below. 
      • Gold Leaf Program: Coming soon! A program to help you prioritize high-impact, high-priority pathways for local climate action

    GreenStep Tribal Nations Program: 

    • A pilot of the GreenStep Cities program. 
    • Tribal Nation participants: 
      • Determine their commitment, geographic extent, and Category. 
      • Use GreenStep Cities BPs at their discretion. 
      • Utilize GreenStep Cities information, resources, and website. 
      • Are recognized for their accomplishments along with GreenStep Cities. 

    GreenStep Schools Program: 

    • What are "Green Schools"?: Improve environmental impact & cost, protect & improve health, provide environmental education 
      • Based on: 
        • Delivery model of MN GreenStep Cities program 
        • Performance areas of Green Ribbon Schools
        • Research on emerging best practices and regional stakeholder needs 
    • Participation Types: 
    • Best Practices: There are 33 BPs under 4 Outcome Areas of: 0. Organizational Leadership 1. Reduced Environmental Impacts & Costs 2. Improved Health & Wellness 4. Effective Environmental Education & Sustainability Education
    • Project Stories: documents BP achievement and shares resources used and lessons learned with peer schools via a page on the GreenStep Schools website. 
    • The Steps: See the process for different participation types. There are 10 steps that provide a framework for reaching higher levels of sustainability. Step 1 is to pass a resolution and Steps 1-5 align with the best practice and metric reporting that the GreenStep Cities program is based on. Steps 6-10 will provide key actions and performance measures for achieving efforts such as net-zero energy/water/etc. 

    View the workshop recording: 

    View the slides and additional materials: 

    Additional resources: 

    • Green STEP Into the Future Report (and 2-page summary): Leveraging the value of sustainability challenge, assistance, and recognition programs - A report of the GreenStep Cities, Tribal Nations, and Schools programs and a discussion on ways to expand outreach and impacts. 

    GreenStep Cities: 

    GreenStep Tribal Nations: 

    GreenStep Schools: 

    Register for upcoming GreenStep Cities and Tribal Nations workshops here. You do not need to be a GreenStep participant to attend.

    Monday, May 22, 2023

    Repurposing Buildings: Adaptive Reuse in MN

    In this webinar, presented live on May 17, 2023, we learned more about building adaptive reuse, deconstruction, and sustainability in historic preservation.


    • Benefits of Building Reuse - Josh Hauf and Ethan Boote, Rethos
      • Josh shared some information about Rethos, an organization supporting community vitality through enabling the retention and rehabilitation of old buildings. 
      • Buildings are a resource and sustainability within the built environment means preserving the value and practical use of buildings and their materials. To demonstrate this, Josh showed the Hierarchy that puts "preservation/ maintenance"' as most favorable, followed by "adaptive reuse," "deconstruction," and finally "demolition."
      • Diving further into "adaptive reuse," Josh discussed the many benefits including: construction and demolition waste diversion, reduction in new material manufacturing, preservation of historical, cultural, or architecturally significant buildings, and creating assets for community space. Adaptive reuse is great for indoors and outdoors! One example is Peter’s Biergarten in Winona that utilized a temporary open lot following a building fire. 
      • Josh and Ethan shared some resources from Rethos to help cities with adaptive reuse: 
        • Paul Bruhn Grant - historic rehabilitation of second-floor interior spaces in partnership with the National Park Service
        • Building Deconstruction & Salvage Toolkit and material reuse map - coming soon!
        • Historic Tax Credits - attracts private equity for substantial building rehab of listed National Register of Historic Places with a 20% Federal Income Tax Credit (potential for another 20% State Tax Credit) 
        • Historic Rehab Loans - Rethos provides a favorable loan in exchange for State Historic Tax Credits. Ethan shared many examples! 
    • Supporting the Walls - Melissa Wenzel, MN Pollution Control Agency
      • Melissa, who is the Best Practice Advisor for GreenStep Cities Best Practices 3: New Green Buildings, 22: Sustainable Consumption & Waste, 25: Green Business Development and 28: Business Synergies & EcoDistricts, started by sharing the many GreenStep Cities best practice actions that are related to repurposing buildings and adaptive reuse. See the full list below.
      • Melissa also discussed how adaptive reuse relates to the Minnesota Climate Action Framework, specifically in the Goals of: Resilient buildings, Clean energy and efficient buildings, and Clean economy.
      • Sharing a few examples, local Initiatives happening include Hennepin, Ramsey, and Washington Counties deconstruction and structural move grants; Becker County and Linwood Township WLSSD reuse programs, New History AmeriCorps program (Future: Dodge County, Pope/Douglas, New History reuse store in Duluth)
      • Melissa detailed MPCA initiatives for:
        • Funding:
          • Waste Prevention and Reduction Grants and Loans - $2 million for sustainable buildings and materials programs and projects
          • Environmental Assistance Grants - $119K in FY 2024 for sustainable built environment grants (future)
        • Tools:
          • Building Material Management Plan
          • Deconstruction RFP template
          • Deconstruction ordinance template (future)
          • Building Reuse successes around MN - many examples!
      • Finally, Melissa shared a short video that included examples of building reuse in South St. Paul: Drover Apartment, Vandalia Glass, Public Library
    • A Local Example: Great River Children's Museum - David Mohs
      • David provided a local example of a 25,000sf bank that was donated to the Great River Children's Museum. In fact, this won't be the building first reuse! The 1930’s original building was a chicken hatchery and grocery store, later turned into a bank and gym in the 1960s. The Museum is turning the space into exhibit galleries. 
      • The Museum has a priority of salvaging materials for the adaptive reuse. The have provided materials for free to contractors and volunteers and have been able to divert over 50,000 pounds of waste from landfill!  
    • Finding a Purpose
      • This interactive activity allowed attendees to join breakout rooms where they were encouraged to consider vacant or under-utilized buildings in their community (where you work or live) and envision the kinds of spaces they COULD become through adaptive reuse.
    • Q&A and Open Discussion

    View the workshop recording: 

    View the slides and additional materials:  

    Additional resources: 

    Best Practice Actions related to this topic: 

    • 2.7 Customize a model sustainable building renovation policy 
    • 5.1 Adopt an historic preservation ordinance/regulations and encourage adaptive reuse.
    • 5.2 Implement the Minnesota Main Street model for commercial revitalization.
    • 5.3 Plan for reuse of large-format retail buildings, or work with a local school, church or commercial building to either add-on space or repurpose space into new uses.
    • 5.4 Create/modify a green residential remodeling assistance/financing program to assist homeowners in adding space or features such as EV charging, renewables to their existing homes.
    • 5.5 Adopt development/design standards and programs that facilitate infill, redevelopment, and adaptable buildings.
    • 15.5  Set minimum sustainability standards to reduce the impact of your concrete use, asphalt, roadbed aggregate, or other construction materials.
    • 22.4 Publicize, promote and use the varied businesses/services collecting and marketing used, repaired and rental consumer goods, especially electronics, in the city/county.
    • 22.8  Adopt a construction and demolition (C&D) ordinance governing demolition permits that requires a level of recycling and reuse for building materials and soil/land-clearing debris.
    • 22.4 Public Education for Action: Conduct or support a broad sustainability education and action campaign, building on existing city & community relationships, networks & events 
    • 25.2 Create or participate in a marketing/outreach program to connect businesses with assistance providers, including utilities, who provide personalized energy, waste or sustainability audits and assistance.
    • 25.3 Promote sustainable tourism in your city, and green tourism resources to tourism and hospitality businesses in/around the city.
    • 25.5 Lower the environmental and health risk footprint of a brownfield remediation/redevelopment project beyond regulatory requirements; report brightfield projects.
    • 28.2  Document that at least one business/building uses waste heat or water discharge from another business or conducts materials exchange activities with another organization.
    • 28.3 Require, build or facilitate at least four sustainability attributes in a business/industrial park project
    • 29.3  Increase social connectedness through engagement, capacity building, public investment, and opportunities for economically vulnerable residents to improve their economic prosperity and resilience to climate change.
    • 29.5 Protect public buildings and natural/constructed infrastructure to reduce physical damage and sustain their function during extreme weather events.

    Register for upcoming GreenStep Cities and Tribal Nations workshops here. You do not need to be a GreenStep community to attend.

     Visit the GreenStep Cities and Tribal Nations program website at