Askov Finlayson Gives $250K to National Parks ‘Decarbonizing’ Plan
The proposal calls for eliminating greenhouse gas emissions at five National Parks along Lake Superior, including Isle Royale Shutterstock

Askov Finlayson Gives $250K to National Parks ‘Decarbonizing’ Plan

The Minneapolis-based outerwear brand funded a study on eliminating greenhouse gas emissions at the five National Parks on Lake Superior.

When it comes to the world’s polluters, the United States’ National Park Service probably isn’t the first thing to come to mind. Yet the nation’s parks do have their own carbon footprint. Many park facilities and vehicles still rely on carbon-based energy for day-to-day operations, for instance. If our park system went carbon free, could that persuade other institutions to do the same?

That’s the line of thinking behind a recently announced plan to “decarbonize” five National Parks properties on Lake Superior. On Saturday, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith and other local dignitaries gathered at the American Swedish Institute to formally announce the proposal. The event was part of the annual Great Northern Festival, which has returned this year with a marked focus on climate. Minneapolis-based outerwear brand Askov Finlayson is among the plan’s chief promoters, and has even chipped in to help study the feasibility of the plan.

Eric Dayton, CEO of Askov Finlayson, said that the company donated $250,000 for an engineering and feasibility study on making Lake Superior’s National Parks entirely carbon-free operations. According to the study’s findings, it would cost about $15 million to decarbonize all five parks. It’s not a small pricetag, but the study’s authors point to two recent federal funding packages that could help pay for the plan.

“Funding opportunities through the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provide affordable options to achieve the plan,” they wrote. “Implementation of this Decarbonization Plan can also serve as a demonstration of solutions that can be implemented in other parks and regions across the United States.”

The plan calls for eliminating emissions at five parks across Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan: the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Grand Portage National Monument, Isle Royale National Park, Keweenaw National Historic Park, and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

The decarbonizing proposal came about through a conversation that Dayton had with Tom Irvine, executive director of the National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation, a nonprofit entity formed to help preserve the parks. The two knew each other back when Irvine was CEO of Faribault Woolen Mill Co. Askov Finlayson used to sell Faribault’s products at its retail store before Askov flipped to a direct-to-consumer model.

Dayton said that Irvine’s team had been mulling plans to reduce emissions at at least one Lake Superior park. But Dayton floated the idea of not simply reducing, but entirely eliminating, greenhouse gas emissions at all of the parks. Those discussions eventually led to the feasibility study. Dayton said the study shows it’s entirely possible “with off the-shelf, ready-to-go technology.”

The plan’s total cost also “ended up coming in at a budget significantly lower than what we imagined it might be,” Dayton added.

If the Lake Superior parks plan comes to fruition, Dayton said it can serve “as a blueprint that can be followed by other parks.”

Not to mention, it may persuade some of the park’s visitors to consider greener technology in their own lives. “These five parks are going to be showcases for the technology that’s employed to eliminate emissions,” Dayton said. “If we can solve heating with new heat pumps on Isle Royale – if it can hold up to those conditions and be effective – certainly it’s ready to deploy in your own home.”

Duluth mayor Emily Larson said that Askov Finlayson’s donation is “game changing money.” Though she wasn’t involved in this particular proposal, she applauded the public-private partnership. “I do think we will see more of this,” said Larson, who also spoke at the Great Northern event on Saturday.

Dayton, meanwhile, hopes that his donation will spur other corporate entities to step up their climate commitments, too. He noted that his company’s donation was “by far the largest philanthropic investment we’ve ever made.” Fighting climate change is, of course, baked into Askov Finlayson’s ethos. The company’s main slogan is “Keep the North Cold,” emblazoned on zippers and hats. But Dayton believes that it’s imperative for all companies to take a hard look at climate change these days. Carbon offsets simply aren’t enough, in his view.

“We can’t offset our way out of this problem,” he said. “I would argue that we are at a point now where every company, regardless of whether they have a climate mission or not, needs to start thinking about taking accountability for their carbon footprint.”