Little by Little, Going Greener at the MWMO

By Max Dalton

At the MWMO, our focus is on water. And while clean water is a critically important issue, Earth Day reminds us that the environment is bigger than that.

We as MWMO staff are fortunate to work in a building that was designed around energy efficiency. Over the years, we’ve challenged ourselves to maximize that efficiency by managing our facilities in a conscientious way.  It’s an idea some call “participatory green” — the notion that users of our building must actively participate in its green practices.

On this Earth Day, we thought we’d share a few of our small, daily efforts to eliminate waste and reduce the environmental impact of our activities here at the MWMO. This is partially to brag, of course, but it’s also a way of illustrating just how many of our daily actions as human beings can impact the environment — and how many ways there are to help reduce that impact.

Tweaking Our Geothermal System

The Stormwater Park and Learning Center, where our staff comes to work every day, is heated and cooled by a system that uses geothermal energy. Since the building opened in 2012, our staff have continuously modified the geothermal system’s schedule to try to run it as little as possible.

Over the past few weeks, we have changed the schedule so that the system only operates while the cost of energy to run it is cheap — usually late in the evening or very early in the morning. During the day, we have essentially turned off the system and leave it to our staff to adjust the temperature using our windows, which were designed to open in multiple ways so as to better adjust airflow through the building. The results of this experimentation have been twofold: a comfortable temperature and low operational cost.

The Stormwater Park and Learning Center was designed with large windows to encourage staff to manage the building's temperature using sunlight and airflow.
The Stormwater Park and Learning Center was designed with large windows to encourage staff to manage the building’s temperature using sunlight and airflow.

Giving Back to the Grid

Late last year, a Made in Minnesota grant from the Department of Commerce helped us install a solar photovoltaic array on the roof of our garage. As the seasons change and the sun rises higher in the sky, we’ve watched our solar output tick upward to the point where we’re now able — on some days, and only for brief time periods (so far) — to produce more electricity than we consume.

This solar energy, combined with our efforts to run our geothermal system less often, appear to be on track to cut our energy bill in half this month. Of course, it’s hard not to turn up the heat in the dead of winter, but our building was constructed with large, south-facing windows that allow sunlight to heat up our concrete floors and radiate that warmth throughout the building. (This is what is known as passive solar building design.)

A graph comparing energy usage to energy consumption at the MWMO.
The red line shows energy consumption at the Stormwater Park and Learning Center, while the green line shows energy output from our solar panels. MWMO staff have been actively trying to reduce energy usage by modifying the schedule of our geothermal system.

The Little Things that Add Up

We try to be green in other ways, as well. All the cleaning supplies used in our building are certified as green. We are enrolled in Minneapolis’s new organics curbside pick-up program. We purchase materials that are recyclable or compostable. We even, as staff, make a huge effort to unsubscribe and remove ourselves from mailing lists to stop receiving junk mail. With the junk mail reduction efforts alone, we have stopped the waste of over 76 pounds of paper per year, which is usually as easy as making one quick phone call.

Stormwater will always be the driving force behind our work, but through these small actions, we hope to do our part around the office too.

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