Eco Award Recognizes Excellence in Sustainability

Two people shake hands and exchange an award on a stage in front of a seated audience. The projection on the wall shows the award recipient and the name of the business, WLSSD.
Executive Director Bohren accepts the 2024 Eco Award.

At the Business Sustainability Luncheon on Earth Day, April 22, Ecolibrium3 presented the first annual Eco Award for excellence in regional sustainability. This year’s recipient was Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (WLSSD) and Executive Director Marianne Bohren.

The Eco Award recognizes people and entities that set high standards for environmental work, and whose impact is widely and deeply felt throughout the region. “To make change, you have to be innovative and consistent,” says Ecolibrium3 founder and CEO Jodi Slick. “Ongoing, unfaltering pursuit of sustainability shows true dedication to the community.” 

WLSSD and Executive Director Marianne Bohren truly embody these principles. WLSSD has shown long-term commitment to sustainability and innovation, and the impacts of its work are felt throughout northeastern Minnesota. Bohren has been with WLSSD for twenty years; during this time, she has overseen significant expansions, facilitated key investments, and created important partnerships. At the Luncheon on Earth Day, Bohren shared the impressive history of WLSSD.

WLSSD was founded in 1971 with the primary goal of cleaning up the St. Louis River basin and its tributaries. At the time, the river was in dire condition, and pollution was threatening local ecosystems including Lake Superior. The photos on the left below shows the extent of the pollution in the river. The majority of the pollution was the untreated, or minimally treated, wastewater from cities and towns.  The photos on the right shows the healthy state that the river is in today. 

As seen above, when innovation, sustainability, and community are prioritized, waste management can be transformational. Since the initial cleanup of the river, WLSSD has continued to update waste management infrastructure. This ensures our water is kept clean for future generations, and our wastewater systems work reliably in all conditions.

WLSSD has also been involved in solid waste management since the 1970s, and its services continue to expand. Today, these services include material reclamation, recycling promotion and facilitation, household hazardous waste disposal, and yard and food waste composting. In addition to all these essential disposal services, WLSSD also actively engages the community through education and pollution reduction programs, such as medical sharps safety education, PFAS studies, and the mercury reduction program,

Another way WLSSD demonstrates sustainability leadership is its decades-long history of energy efficiency with the eventual goal of running energy neutral facilities. WLSSD also explores new methods of energy generation, including the development of biogas fuel, and is a key partner on a geothermal planning grant along with the City of Duluth, Ever-Green Energy, and Ecolibrium3. This project researches the feasibility of creating a geothermal energy system in Lincoln Park using the heat from processed wastewater at the WLSSD water treatment plant. Although the initial grant is focused on research and planning, there is momentum behind making the system a reality. In April, the City of Duluth submitted an application to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Pollution Reduction grant program to help fund the eventual buildout of the geothermal system. The City expects to hear about this award in the summer of 2024. 

For all these reasons, WLSSD and Executive Director Marianne Bohren are true leaders in sustainability in Duluth. Ecolibrium3 is proud to partner with WLSSD and to present them with the first annual Eco Award.