See more of the story

DULUTH — Mayor Emily Larson's vision of a greener city is about to come to life, literally, as the city prepares to hire a sustainability officer.

"This is a position that we've been building toward really since taking office," said Larson, first elected in 2015. "This is an area of work that really resonates with residents."

The new eco-minded bureaucrat would lead sustainability initiatives across city operations and "improvement of city policies, programs, and initiatives that promote local environmental, energy, economic, and social sustainability," according to the job posting, which closes Sunday. The position would pay from $79,000 to $115,000 annually.

For folks who would say that's money better spent on streets or other city priorities, Larson said residents have made it clear sustainability is a priority.

"I get so much consistent feedback that our community wants to do more and move faster," she said.

The city wants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, which would require reducing carbon emissions by about 4,000 tons every year. That's the equivalent of taking 770 passenger vehicles off the road every year, according to federal estimates.

While similar-sized cities in Minnesota such as Rochester and Bloomington have made similar carbon-reduction goals, Duluth appears to be the only one to hire a full-time sustainability staffer, which will work with the Energy Plan Commission that was created earlier this year.

The largest source of carbon emissions the city controls is the Duluth Energy Systems steam plant, which burns a mix of coal and natural gas and, in the future, biomass. Though the plant has seen a downturn in sales in the past decade, according to city financial filings, both Essentia Health and St. Luke's have signed on to get heat from the system for years to come. Unless biomass becomes a much larger share of the plant's fuel mix, that could challenge the city's carbon reduction goals.

The largest energy bill the city faces is for pumping water from Lake Superior up the hill, and Larson said it's her "dream" to find a long-term solution to lower that cost. She's hoping the sustainability officer, who should be on the job by the beginning of the year, will bring ideas beyond "one-off projects and changing light bulbs."

Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496