Gusties on the Go: Mobilizing clean energy and climate action in southern Minnesota

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The Gusties on the Go setup at the Recharge Mankato event in early April 2022. Jeff Jeremiason stands second from right.

With a few years of entirely virtual events under our belt, Fresh Energy has welcomed the chance to safely and responsibly relaunch our presence at in-person events when we can and when COVID-19 precautions allow, especially when those events involve getting Minnesotans amped up about electric vehicles (EVs)!

Most recently, Fresh Energy staff attended the Recharge Mankato Electric Vehicle Test Drive and Showcase in early April, which gave us a chance to connect with many of our partners and supporters in southern Minnesota. In particular, we had the opportunity to welcome two student volunteers from Gustavus Adolphus College to help us out at the event—let’s dive into what made it possible for them to join us!

A community of changemakers

It’s no secret that top companies, schools, civic leaders, and other organizations across Minnesota are driving our state towards a clean energy future via clean transportation. A key part of that progress revolves around electric vehicles—the cars, trucks, bikes, buses, and scooters—as well as various forms of active transportation—walking, rolling, traditional biking—that we use to get us from place to place.

Recharge Minnesota, who hosted the recent Mankato EV Test Drive and Showcase, is a program built to recognize public and private ambition for zero-emission vehicles. And thanks in part to a grant from Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs), members of the Gustavus Adolphus College community, based in St. Peter, Minnesota, are part of that ambition and progress—with students playing a key role.

“We’re trying to connect some of our sustainability efforts at Gustavus with the larger local community,” says Jeff Jeremiason. Professor of Environmental Studies and Chemistry and Co-Director of the Johnson Center for Environmental Innovation, Jeff wears many hats at Gustavus. He’s an environmental advocate working toward ensuring Gustavus reflects the environmental values that it teaches in the Environmental Studies program; he’s a scientist with a passion for studying the environment; and he’s a teacher, doing his best to, in his words, “connect learning about environmental processes with a social and ethical responsibility to the earth and its inhabitants.”

From left to right, a male and female student pose with a black bicycle in the middle of them, against a backdrop of bare spring trees and bright blue sky. The bike is up a bike stand to showcase its electric motor kit that gives it electric bike properties.
From left to right, student volunteers Jos Bhandari and Lindsay James pose in front of a bike with an electric motor kit, part of the Gusties on the Go program at Gustavus.

But he’s not doing the work alone. Some of the clean energy and climate advocacy that Jeff and students are connected to at Gustavus stems from a partnership with the Southcentral Minnesota Clean Energy Council (SMCEC). Jeff and a student, Lindsay James ‘24, are both on SMCEC’s Board of Directors. The SMCEC group is comprised of loyal area residents, and Jeff admits they’ve been able to be much more actively involved in local and regional climate and clean energy decisions recently, for example via working with the Mankato City Council—including signing onto the Cities Climate Caucus, a group of cities across Minnesota dedicated to addressing the climate crisis—to co-create at-scale climate solutions that make sense for people in their area and that benefit all Minnesotans.

Charging up the next generation of clean energy and climate leaders

In addition to amping up sustainability efforts in the St. Peter and Mankato communities, Jeff notes, “We wanted to get younger people involved in that work and have some student involvement.” And that’s where the CERTs grant came in. “The CERTs grant has helped us get students involved in alternative energy and energy efficiency, particularly within the diverse community that Gustavus presents us with.”

But the community impact of this initiative extends further. Folded into the wider climate and clean energy advocacy efforts at Gustavus is something called “Gusties on the Go,” a bikeshare program that’s been a part of Gustavus for nearly seven years. “It originally started off with six bikes for the campus,” Jeff says. “Then we started adding e-bikes to our fleet.” Jeff jokes, “I don’t know what folks know about the Gustavus campus, but there’s a big hill that runs up College Avenue leading you into campus. So, part of it is encouraging students to use the e-bikes to conquer the hill instead of driving their vehicles across campus from their apartments to class.”

Besides hill conquering, Jeff admits that the bikeshare program is a great way to not only spark interest and get more students on bikes, but also to reclaim bikes that are left on campus over the summer. He adds, “It’s great for our international students especially, many of whom don’t have a license and are stuck on campus if they don’t have any other means of transportation.”

Opportunities abound for climate and clean energy action across Minnesota, and we’re thrilled to be able to connect with and shine a spotlight on some of the folks making it happen in our state! Fresh Energy looks forward to continuing to highlight local and regional climate and clean energy action that moves us ever closer to our co-created clean energy future.

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