Sustainability Newsletter
Spring 2020

Happy Earth Day, Everyone!

Erick Shambarger, Environmental Sustainability Director
For weeks, our strong community has been focused on working together to stay safe and healthy while fighting the spread of COVID 19.  Earth Day gives us a great opportunity to step back and celebrate the Earth around us. 
Milwaukee is blessed to be surrounded by nature. We are on the Fresh Coast of Lake Michigan. We have beautiful rivers, parks, community gardens, and our urban forest of street trees. And we all depend on the Earth for the food we eat, the air we breathe, and everything that is essential for life.  So on Earth Day, we celebrate the importance of the Earth, but also act on our responsibility to protect and sustain it.
COVID 19 has been a fast moving crisis and our community and the world have mobilized quickly to slow the spread of the disease. We have demonstrated the great and dedicated work we can accomplish in the face of a crisis. But what of the slower moving environmental crises like climate change?
In recent weeks, we have all greatly reduced our impact on the environment by driving less, consuming less, and polluting less. While we look forward to getting "back to normal" and resuming our daily activities, could some aspects of our "new normal" be more environmentally sustainable? Could we continue some of the environmentally friendly habits we have developed over the last few weeks and help slow climate change and reduce local pollution?
City government, led by our Environmental Collaboration Office, has been working hard to reduce our impact on the environment and prepare for a brighter future. In March, we announced plans to build the largest solar energy project in the history of the City of Milwaukee. This eight acre clean energy project is located on a closed city landfill, costs the City nothing to build, and will generate new revenue for the City to support additional equitable action on the climate change.
To help prepare for the threats of climate change, like extreme storms and flooding, we're removing excess pavement and adding beautiful, healthy and functional green spaces. I'm particularly excited about our partnership with Milwaukee Public Schools to add green space to 4-5 school yards per year. 
We're working with federal and local partners to clean up our rivers and remove decades of pollution.  Our Complete Streets program is working to make our streets safe for pedestrians and bicyclists, in addition to cars.  We've made a lot of progress in making our City more environmentally sustainable, but we have more work to do.
Over the next two years, we want to work with community stakeholders to update our citywide environmental sustainability plan, with a special focus on climate change and economic equity. We need to speed up our transition to renewable energy, while finding ways to create local jobs for residents of all our neighborhoods. We will look for community input on that plan.  
And we also need our federal government to restore our leadership position. America should step up and again lead the world in our collective responsibility to protect Earth, our common home.
So happy Earth Day, everyone.  Let's celebrate our blessings on this Earth, and work together to protect it for many generations to come.


Erick Shambarger
Environmental Sustainability Director
City of Milwaukee  
It's been 50 years since Wisconsin's Senator Gaylord Nelson organized the first Earth Day, catalyzing
students and community leaders to plan teach-ins all over the country. That day in 1970 inspired some of the most impactful environmental policies of all time including the Clean Air, Water Quality Improvement, and Endangered Species Acts. Since then, we've been proud to continue Senator Nelson's legacy of equitable environmental stewardship here in Milwaukee.
While COVID-19 may have kept us from coming together and celebrating how we usually do with  Riverkeeper's Spring Cleanup and Rock the Green's Earth Day Festival, there are plenty of ways for us all to participate at home! Next time you're spending some time in your yard or taking a walk around the block, bring a bag and gloves to safely pick up the trash in your neighborhood. Or  even better yet, take some time to think of ways to reduce plastic-waste in your life. Are there things you can learn to make from scratch? Food you can grow in a garden or indoor planter? Items around your home you can reuse or repurpose? Check out the Doorstep Cleanup page  for tips on how to make sure you're staying safe while picking up litter.
Unfortunately, we are currently facing additional, unexpected sources of plastic pollution in our environment. Facemasks and gloves have now become a part of our day-to-day life in an unprecedented way,  and need to take care to dispose of them properly. While we encourage the use of proper social-distancing techniques and protective equipment to keep us happy and healthy, it's also important that we keep our environment safe too. This plastic pollution is transported by rainwater to our rivers, storm drains, and Lake Michigan. Do your part and please make sure to properly remove and dispose of your protective gear!


2019 saw a wave of students, activists, and community leaders take a stand against climate change, just like they did in the first Earth Day. While we still have a long way to go, we're proud to say the City of Milwaukee spent the year taking bold actions to reduce our community carbon footprint.
In March of this year, Mayor Barrett announced the City would partner with We Energies to build eight acres of new solar on a City-owned landfill next to General Mitchell In ternational Airport. The project will cost the City nothing to build, support grid resilience at the Air National Guard's 128th Air Refueling Wing, generate about $96,000 in yearly revenue for the City to support additional climate action, and help us take a major step towards our renewable energy goals. 

Another key strategy is to reduce our energy use to begin with. Last year, our office was awarded a grant from the State Office of Energy Innovation to complete a Comprehensive Energy Plan for city operations. The ECO team and other City representatives audited 100+ city-owned buildings, evaluated our current vehicle fleet, and created a roadmap of potential energy saving projects, as part of our Better Buildings Challenge. The findings from these studies are currently being evaluated and will be presented to City leadership with recommendations on how to reduce the City's energy use.
All of these climate actions tie into the community-wide goals established by the new, City-County Task Force on Climate and Economic Equity, where governmental leaders, community advocates, and environmental experts come together to set goals, make plans, leverage resources, and build a cleaner, healthier future for Milwaukee.  

Greener Schools, Greener MilwaukeeGreenSchools

We as a community are learning the value of time spent outdoors, now more than ever. We published the City of Milwaukee Green Infrastructure Plan last year, recognizing the importance of green space for our health, for our communities, and for our environment. The plan prioritizes both our needs to manage water where it falls and to work, learn, and play in nature. From parking lots to playgrounds, our City is covered in pavement and the Green Infrastructure Plan is de-paving the path to our goal of being a world-class ecoCity on America's Fresh Coast.
The City spent the last year transforming parking lots at Milwaukee Public Libraries, creating green streets, and helping small businesses design and implement green infrastructure on private property. But perhaps the most exciting success is our partnership with Milwaukee Public Schools, the Green Schools Consortium, and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. Since it's inception in 2016, the green schoolyard program has removed a groundbreaking 85,000 square feet of asphalt, managed 184,500 gallons of stormwater per rain event, and impacted over 2,000 students!
Check out this project summary to learn more about the program and see the four schools that were transformed in the last six months. Students at these schools have the opportunity to learn about our environment in new and exciting ways, all while playing on playgrounds cool enough to make even adults jealous!
Images from the Green Schools Consortium of Milwaukee
Fresh Food Access for AllFreshFood
Last week, Mayor Barrett and Alderman Khalif Rainey announced the recipients of the Department of City Development's new Fresh Food Access Fund grant program, which allocates $400,000 of matching funds for creative projects that help Milwaukee families gain access to healthy foods and learn about nutrition. The United States Department of Agriculture designated parts of Milwaukee as "food deserts," meaning many residents of the City have limited access to fresh, nutritious, healthy, and affordable foods.
Recent events related to COVID-19 have shown how emergency situations can amplify these food insecurities. Since climate change presents increased risk of future environmental and health related emergencies, solving this problem is more important now than ever. Alderman Rainey estimates it will take approximately $1.2 million to completely solve the problem for Milwaukee, meaning the Healthy Food Access grant program is a major step in the right direction to create a more resilient and equitable community.  
The 24 grant recipients include projects to creatively allocate food that otherwise would have been wasted, urban agriculture and gardening initiatives, and programs to teach local families about proper nutrition. Check out this great article from Urban Milwaukee to see a full list of grant recipients.

Supporting Local Lake Friendly BusinessesLakeFriendly

Supporting local businesses is more important now than ever and we love to support these eco-superstars! The Lake Friendly Pledge with the Plastic-Free MKE movement helps local businesses switch from single-use plastic to more sustainable options. We're proud to be be part of this movement and we hope you'll join us too! Click here to learn more about the Lake Friendly movement and the City's commitment to reducing the consumption of single use plastics in our community. 

City of Milwaukee
Environmental Collaboration Office
200 E. Wells St.
Milwaukee, WI  53202

(414) 286-8556