40 years with CEE: From post-grad intern to One-Stop veteran

May 22, 2024
Mary Raasch doing community outreach in the 80s

Mary Raasch, senior manager of the One-Stop Efficiency Shop, was an integral part of CEE's early history several years before we were even (officially) CEE. After over 40 years with CEE and its precursor the Minneapolis Energy Office, Mary is closing the book on a storied and successful career in clean energy. Her experience mirrors CEE’s own history and growth, as well as the trajectory of building energy efficiency in Minnesota. It’s thanks to the foresight, exceptional skills, and dedication of people like Mary that Minnesota has become a national leader in building sustainability.

After graduating from the University of Minnesota with a BA in anthropology and sociology in 1983, Mary was hired by the Minneapolis Energy Office as an intern to work on the Neighborhood Energy Workshop (NEW) program, the first iteration of what would become the Home Energy Squad (HES). Mary and her coworkers were tasked with organizing the City of Minneapolis, block by block, to attend workshop series and other community events that instructed residents on how to make their homes more energy efficient. With the help of block captains recruited from each neighborhood, Mary and her cohort taught community members how to seal up leaks in their house and when they should consider bigger insulation projects. They provided homeowners with weatherization materials based on needs they surveyed through these grassroots efforts.

“I don’t know if the Neighborhood Energy Workshop program would have been nearly as successful if it wasn’t for the direct contact we had with the people who lived in those communities. They knew us, and they knew we would give them realistic recommendations to save energy and money.”

Mary Raasch

Reflecting on these early attempts at improving building energy efficiency in the Twin Cities, Mary contributes the program’s success and eventual growth into HES to close community interaction. By becoming familiar faces and working directly with respected members of the neighborhoods, the NEW program staff became trusted partners in lowering utility bills and making homes more resilient and comfortable. The importance of this direct connection and trust building laid the foundation for Mary’s career.

From NEW, the Minneapolis Energy Office developed a program called Operation Insulation, which helped homeowners tackle more intensive recommended energy efficiency work like attic and wall insulation. Mary was a part of this work until 1995, when she transitioned to the sound insulation program for airport zone neighborhoods as a liaison between communities and the program. Over the course of these program developments, CEE came to life, and in 2001 Mary started her over 20 years of work with one of CEE’s most impactful programs: the One-Stop Efficiency Shop.

CEE’s One-Stop Efficiency Shop helps small to midsize businesses in Minnesota dramatically reduce their operating costs with strategic, cost-effective lighting upgrades, guiding them through initial assessment, contractor bids, rebate paperwork, and more. As lighting technology has evolved over the years, the program has had to keep pace. T-8 lamps replaced the less efficient T-12s, which were in turn outpaced by CFLs. Today, LEDs lead the market in customizable and highly efficient lighting, but even greater possibilities are on the horizon thanks to advances in networked lighting controls.

Mary and the One-Stop staff have had to pivot to keep pace with the ever-evolving and advancing technology available, but their core approach to customers has remained consistent and harkens back to Mary’s start at NEW — connecting directly with customers, identifying their unique needs, and providing tailored solutions. Each One-Stop client’s business has different lighting needs for their workplace and energy and cost savings potential. In working with CEE, they receive customized lighting solution recommendations and the confidence that they have a partner that will help them execute that plan as efficiently as possible and with the greatest impact on reducing their overhead costs.

Lighting and commercial energy use will continue to evolve, but Mary has seen the ingenuity and flexibility of the One-Stop staff time and time again. She explains that it’s a group that acts and emphasizes results — whatever iteration it will take in the future, she’s confident it will be successful because the program was built for participation. The trust that One-Stop has built with its clients and with the business community in Minnesota is unrivaled and continues to drive its achievements. It’s a trust that Mary has played no small part in growing over the years, all the way back to a teeny office in City Hall, going door to door with a stack of pamphlets.

Mary retires this year with excitement to see how the next generation of talented clean energy professionals will grow her and CEE’s legacy. Everyone at CEE would like to thank Mary for her many contributions to making Minnesota a more sustainable home for all.