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In this week’s episode of Coffee and Compliance, we were able to learn more about how the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency creates incentives to mitigate pollution. 

With a degree in Environmental Education, Melissa Wenzel has adopted a common theme over the last 18 years: working with people to educate them about the environment and also enable them to recognize what opportunities they have to make a difference. Her current title is Built Environment Sustainability Administrator, which encompasses a holistic approach to environmental challenges. In her discussion with Ryan, Melissa provided a regulatory and policy perspective on environmental challenges in the built environment.  Melissa defines her role as education, assistance, and guidance. As the Sustainability Administrator, Melissa’s role consists of building relationships with stakeholders, reducing Minnesota’s carbon impact, water quality and flooding, and air quality. Melissa also focuses on environmental justice issues: making sure all people have access to managing their building materials and ensuring equitable accessibility to the same resources. 

Systems Change when Regulations Change 

Melissa and her team recognize the value of the materials in the buildings that are being demolished and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recognizes the need to better manage their landfills. In focusing on a specific area (the built environment) the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is able to divert potential pollutants from landfills, but also, recycle materials that are valuable and able to be reused in new or renovated buildings. 

Currently, Melissa’s top priority is in working with partners and stakeholders to update the rules surrounding construction and demolition landfills. In doing so, her team is able to mitigate the materials that are entering landfills, thus reducing pollution and saving money on new materials. 

Power in Partners 

In working with partners nationwide to create a sustainable building work group, Melissa and her team strategize ways to develop better incentives for material management and brainstorm methods to change a community’s perspective and approach to dealing with embodied carbon. 

As Melissa mentioned in her discussion with Ryan, she works hard to change the definition of waste disposal into material disposal; this distinction evolves the narrative into a deeper consideration of the value that exists in the things we throw away. In our recent virtual EHS Summit, the Mapistry Team discovered that hazardous waste management is costly both in terms of fines for non-compliance and the environmental risks it presents. Building materials play the same role in being a risk to water contamination and air pollution. 

In our discussion with Melissa, however, we learned of the benefits incentives play in encouraging ways to properly dispose of waste, and in this case, reusing building materials. As states begin to develop regulations and incentives surrounding the waste industry, we begin to see a more intelligent approach to reducing, reusing, and recycling. 

Check out our full interview with Melissa below!

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