Taking action on climate change

Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges the county faces because of its significant environmental, societal, and economic impacts on both a global and local level.

More and more, Hennepin County residents are starting to notice the effects of climate change — from warming winter temperatures, more extreme precipitation events, and changes in our unique and cherished ecosystems.

The county supports many programs and initiatives that offer effective ways to respond to climate change, such as providing services to protect vulnerable people, investing in transit, conserving energy use in our buildings, and protecting our tree canopy.

Development of the county's climate action plan

Updates as of February 9, 2021

Hennepin County is developing a Climate Action Plan with initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strategies to adapt to our change climate.

Recently, the county has:

County staff will summarize the feedback and make final edits to the plan in March. The board would take up formal adoption of the plan, which will include a final public comment process, in April.

Read below for more information, and sign up for email updates.

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Draft Climate Action Plan available for review 

A draft of Hennepin County's first Climate Action Plan (PDF) is available for review.

This draft is the culmination of a year-long planning effort that involved 57 staff from 20 county departments. The plan was also shaped by community members who shared the impacts they’ve experienced from climate change and their values, priorities, and vision for a climate-friendly future. 

Opportunities to provide feedback 

The county will be gathering feedback on the plan through Wednesday, March 3.

Online community meetings

The county is holding two online meetings where county staff will present core goals and strategies. Anyone interested in the county’s response to climate change is encouraged to attend. Using online facilitation tools, participants will complete polls about the goals and strategies, offer comments, and ask written questions that will be answered through a moderated process. Meetings will be held:

  • Monday, February 22 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Monday, March 1 from 4 to 5:30 p.m.

Both sessions will have the same agenda, so you only need to attend one session. Please complete the RSVP form to indicate which session you plan to attend. Information about how to access the meeting will be emailed a few days prior to the event.

For those who cannot make the online meetings, staff are also working to make recorded videos available for the public to review and provide feedback on. Those videos should be available here later in February. Check back for updates or subscribe to the Climate Action Updates to be notified when they are available.

Comment form

Individuals who wish to offer feedback on the plan but do not want to attend an online meeting may share their comments through the online feedback form. This form will be available through Wednesday, March 3.

Timeline and next steps

Planned timeline to seek board adoption of the plan:

  • February 2021: Make draft plan available for public comment and conduct online and virtual feedback opportunities.
  • March 2021: Summarize and share findings from engagement efforts with the climate action teams and county leadership. Use the findings to make final edits to the plan. Make the updated plan available and communicate it to the county board. 
  • April 2021: Board takes up formal adoption of the climate action plan, which will include a final public comment process.

Hennepin County is developing a climate action plan that will include initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strategies to adapt to the changing climate in ways that reduce vulnerabilities and ensure a more equitable and resilient Hennepin County. A climate action plan serves as the foundation for a coordinated approach to planning, policy development, and responses to climate change.

Sign up to receive email updates on the county’s climate action plan.

Plan priorities

Priorities for the plan include:

  • Protect and engage people, especially vulnerable communities
  • Protect our buildings, roads, infrastructure and natural resources
  • Deliver services in times of disruption
  • Reduce emissions in ways that align with core county functions and priorities
  • Partner in ways that can be most impactful

Planning approach

The climate action plan will be developed in 2020. The planning process includes the following phases:

  • Phase 1: Research and assessment on climate change impacts and greenhouse gas emission
  • Phase 2: Develop goals and strategies
  • Phase 3: Review, build support, and seek approval
  • 2020 and beyond: Seek and facilitate partnerships to accomplish the work

Internal and external engagement will be conducted throughout the plan development.

Learn about the county's approach for developing the climate action plan (PDF).

Key findings the research and assessment phase

The first phase of the county's climate action plan development involved conducting research and assessing climate change impacts and greenhouse gas emissions.

Review a presentation (PDF) developed for county commissioners that summarizes key findings from the vulnerability assessment and greenhouse gas emissions sources and trends in Hennepin County.

Climate vulnerability assessment

Hennepin County contracted with Barr Engineering to complete the climate change vulnerability assessment based on the experienced and projected climate hazards as outlined by the Minnesota State Climatology Office.

Members of the climate action plan team coordinated with Hennepin County GIS and Barr Engineering to multiple sets of data combine data to create an initial assessment of where county residents and infrastructure are vulnerable to precipitation and temperature changes.

Data used includes:

  • Data from across Hennepin County's lines of business
  • Census data
  • Centers for Disease Control human vulnerability data
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Environmental Justice data
  • Metropolitan Council’s areas of concentrated poverty and climate vulnerability data
  • FEMA flood plain maps
  • University of Minnesota urban heat island analysis

The key findings of the assessment were shared with the county’s climate action teams as they developed objectives and strategies. The final vulnerability assessment report is scheduled to be finalized and available in spring 2021.

Countywide greenhouse gas inventory

Hennepin County contracted with LHB, Inc. to update its greenhouse gas inventory, which builds on the county’s 2006 to 2012 inventory that was completed as part of the Cool Counties Initiative.

The inventory summarizes community-wide emissions, not just those from county operations. The county is using ICLEI’s U.S. Community Protocol for its inventory.

Most local communities use this protocol, so it is most comparable with communities across the U.S. It's also customizable and can be modified to be comparable with the Global Protocol, the other main competing protocol. This enables the inventory to be customized to best suit the county's goals and balances completeness with relevance.

The updated inventory includes all elements required by the U.S. Community Protocol, but also expands the scope to evaluate other emissions and emissions reductions including those resulting from expanded transit, district energy, tree canopy enhancements and natural resource preservation efforts.

Staff are working to complete the final report for the inventory. A final step being taken is to analyze emission scenarios more closely to examine the best opportunities for emissions reductions in Hennepin County. The final report will be available in spring 2021.

Foundational climate strategies

Staff have outlined seven climate strategies that will serve as a solid foundation for the county to advance a coordinated response to climate change.

For details, review a presentation (PDF) made on September 24, 2020, at a county board briefing on our progress towards developing the county’s climate action plan.

Developing the strategies

In March 2020, staff teams were created around five focus areas.

  1. People: health, behavior and disparity reduction
  2. Transportation and infrastructure
  3. Buildings and energy
  4. Waste and materials
  5. Water, natural resources and land use

The teams were asked to propose climate action strategies based on their focus area. The climate team leads worked with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion staff to apply a disparities reduction lens when they brainstormed strategies. In total, the teams came up with more than 200 strategies to address climate change.

The strategies were analyzed for similarities between the teams and categorized into themes. Finally, team leads were asked to consider the current landscape, taking into account financial realities, the county’s core work functions and their professional expertise in their focus area to recommend which strategies the county should pursue to build a strong foundation for an impactful response to climate change.

That analysis led to the seven foundational climate strategies presented to the county board on September 24, 2020. While these are not all the strategies that will be included in the county’s climate action plan, they are staff’s recommendation about the best place to start that will serve as a strong foundation for the county’s long-tern response to climate change.

Provide feedback on the draft Climate Action Plan

The county gathering feedback on the draft Climate Action Plan through Wednesday, March 3, 2021. See feedback opportunities.

Findings from the first phase of community engagement

The first phase of community engagement was conducted in fall 2020.

Feedback sessions

In November 2020, staff held a series of feedback sessions with community groups, youth, and the county’s Race Equity Advisory Council. A total of 84 people shared feedback on the climate action plan’s foundational strategies, impacts the community has experienced from climate change, and their priorities for a climate-friendly future.

Review a summary of the feedback received (PDF).


The county also conducted an online survey for residents that received more than 2,300 responses to learn about impacts the community has experienced from climate change and understand residents’ priorities to inform the plan. The survey also asked about actions residents are already taking and what actions they are interested in taking to mitigate climate change, which will be used to shape future outreach on the plan and guide the county’s education efforts on climate action.

Review a summary of the survey findings (PDF).

How the findings are being used

These summaries have been shared with county commissioners, county administrators and climate team leads. Staff have reviewed the findings and are refining the plan’s goals and strategies based on the feedback received.

Key findings

In reviewing the engagement findings, three key findings rose to the top of our analysis and were shared with county commissioners to consider in their review of the county’s climate action goals and strategies:

  • Set ambitious goals and provide bold leadership
  • Climate change is intersectional with racial disparities
  • Focus on systems change, not individual choice

Implications to guide next steps

The following implications from the first phase of engagement will guide the next steps in the development of the climate action plan:

  • Consider more ambitious greenhouse gas emissions goals and establish metrics
  • Address disparities while responding to climate change
  • Engage the public to advance collective action
  • Increase education and empower local leadership
  • Heighten the connection of climate change impacts to racial equity and health
  • Pay attention to who is represented, include community-driven solutions, and make equitable investments
  • Pursue robust, multifaceted, consistent, and ongoing community engagement

Read more about the key findings and implications in the latest Climate Action Update.

Next steps and timeline toward approval of the Climate Action Plan

Planned timeline to seek board adoption of the plan:

  • February 2021: Make draft plan available for public comment and conduct online and virtual feedback opportunities.
  • March 2021: Summarize and share findings from engagement efforts with the climate action teams and county leadership. Use the findings to make final edits to the plan. Make the updated plan available and communicate it to the county board. 
  • April 2021: Board takes up formal adoption of the climate action plan, which will include a final public comment process.

Greenhouse gas emission reduction goals

In 2007, the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners adopted goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from county operations from 2005 levels by:

  • 15 percent by 2015
  • 25 percent by 2025
  • 80 percent by 2050

The county’s facility services department has also set a goal of reducing energy use by 20 percent from 2013 levels by 2020.

The county’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions rely on both reducing energy use and using cleaner energy by increasing energy efficiency and the generating renewable energy. The effort also includes high performance, more efficient vehicle fleet management and transportation practices and other targeted greenhouse gas emission reduction programs.

How the county uses and produces energy

Buildings and fleet

The county’s vision is to provide reliable energy for the county’s operations while being environmentally and fiscally responsible. Hennepin County is unique in that it not only consumes energy but also produces it by operating a waste-to-energy facility, an energy center, and a solar array.

Buildings are the county’s primary consumer of energy, comprising 85 percent of the total energy used. The vehicle fleet comes in second, consuming 9 percent of energy.

County-owned energy facilities

The county owns two facilities that generate energy:

  • The Hennepin Energy Recovery Facility (HERC) is a combined heat and power facility that exports approximately 31 megawatts to Xcel Energy’s power grid - enough to power 25,000 homes. HERC also provides steam to downtown district energy and Target Field.
  • The Hennepin County Energy Center provides steam and chilled water to the HCMC campus, six county buildings, and three private customers totaling over 6 million square feet of space. The Energy Center can produce 310,000 pounds of steam and nearly 16,000 tons of chilled water.

Solar array

The county also has a solar array on the roof of the Hennepin County Public Works Facility in Medina. The array has more than 500 solar modules and outputs an 80 kilowatts of power. The array supplies five percent of the building’s electrical needs and prevents 100 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.

View the system's online monitoring dashboard, which shows the amount of electricity generated, greenhouse gas emissions avoided, and environmental benefits of the solar array.

2015 goal achieved

Hennepin County achieved the 2015 goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from county sources by 15 percent. Many factors contributed to the county's success, including:

  • Xcel Energy made efforts to provide cleaner electricity by increasing the use of renewable energy provided.
  • The county implemented numerous energy conservation and efficiency measures, including high-efficiency building design, recommissioning of buildings, upgrading lighting, installing building controls, and changing operation and maintenance efforts to reduce the total amount of energy consumed.

Learn more

View charts showing the county's progress (PDF) toward our greenhouse gas emissions reduction and energy reduction goals.

See our video about how we’re conserving energy in Hennepin County buildings (YouTube).

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