In late 2015, then-Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith convened a group of senior state officials to discuss climate change. Smith, who was appointed to the U.S. Senate by Governor Mark Dayton in 2018, had just returned from a meeting with Minnesota’s delegation to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, and she wanted to explore what the State of Minnesota could do. The group agreed that it would be infeasible to pass climate change legislation in the Republican-controlled legislature, so Smith encouraged the officials to make state government more sustainable. “The words she used,” recalled Erin Campbell, Assistant Commissioner in the Department of Administration (Admin), “were, ‘Let’s get our house in order. Let’s start there. And then let’s show people how we can do this work. Let’s be an example.’”1 Smith elaborated, “I just felt so strongly that the State of Minnesota, as one of the largest employers in the state, had a real obligation not only to talk about how state government policy as going to prescribe how other organizations should work but that we really needed to clean up our own act.”2
It was not immediately clear how to proceed. There had been numerous past sustainability efforts that had created a confusing landscape, and some agencies were wary of taking on additional responsibilities. However, agency leaders knew that Smith’s stated desire to take action on sustainability was not empty talk. She expected results. Explained Cathy Beil, a Senior Continuous Improvement Consultant in the Minnesota Office of Continuous Improvement (MNCI): “When we said, ‘This is a project that she wants done,’ that helped everybody sit up and listen.”3
As Admin officials began crafting an enterprise sustainability strategy, they had high-level backing but faced challenging questions. How could they foster cross-agency collaboration and align stakeholders around a common vision? How should they create systems, structures, and processes to drive lasting change? How should they measure impact? How should they navigate a political climate that appeared inhospitable to climate-change-related reform? Finally, how would Admin position a sustainability initiative to succeed and drive enterprise-wide change and good government over the long term?