Spring 2023

Milwaukee Sustainability Newsletter

Message from the Director 

Earth Day 2023 was a great opportunity to refocus on the gift of our natural environment and our responsibility to care, sustain, and restore it. I am grateful for the several thousands of community members who volunteered to clean our neighborhoods and rivers this past Saturday through Milwaukee Riverkeeper’s Annual Spring Cleanup and the Big Clean MKE. Pollution from single-use plastic waste is an ongoing and highly visible problem that detracts from our quality of life. As a society, we need to work together to find better solutions for producers and consumers.

During Earth Day and beyond, ECO brings together the community to adopt better environmental practices so that Milwaukee can become a more sustainable city. ECO is leading efforts to reduce the energy waste and fossil fuel that contribute to climate change. After three years of community engagement, the Milwaukee Climate and Equity Plan is now available online to the public. Our community owes a debt of gratitude to the City-County Task Force on Climate and Economic Equity for their years of commitment to developing this plan. ECO is using this plan to pursue federal funding from the landmark Inflation Reduction Act to bring large-scale climate action to Milwaukee. The federal government is making huge investments in the clean energy economy, and we as a community need to pursue the new resources effectively.

ECO’s current efforts include:

  • Coordinating a regional EPA Climate Pollution Reduction Planning Grant
  • Developing an Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Plan
  • Pursuing other grant initiatives around environmental justice, food waste reduction, urban forestry, energy efficiency, and healthy homes 
  • Building new, affordable, net-zero energy homes
  • Improving residential and commercial energy efficiency and solar improvements in coordination with lead abatement and other housing repair programs, when appropriate
  • Working with We Energies to support the construction of new, large-scale, solar energy systems

Thank you again to our partners. We extend an open invitation to all people of good will to use our educational resources and financial tools to make smart and eco-friendly changes to their homes, businesses, and the community at large. Together, we can make Milwaukee a world class eco-city. 


ECO Director Erick Shambarger

Mayor Johnson signing files

New Ordinance Requires Purchase of Low- and Zero-Emissions City Vehicles

The policy supports the City's efforts to increase the use of vehicles powered by clean energy sources and achieve its climate goals. The updated ordinance applies to the purchase of light-duty and off-road vehicles, as well as medium- and heavy-duty vehicles. When cost-effective, purchases will prioritize hybrid, electric, and alternative-fuel vehicles. The City of Milwaukee Department of Public Works, Police Department, Fire Department, and Port are directed to report annually on the progress of the transition. The police department is already in the practice of purchasing hybrid vehicles for its fleet.

"The new ordinance puts the City on a path toward adopting new technologies while balancing cost-effectiveness and ensuring the department's ability to carry out core functions. Transitioning our fleet to low- and zero-emissions vehicles will save the City money from reduced fuel and maintenance costs," said Mayor Cavalier Johnson. "Integrating sustainability into our purchasing decisions will help Milwaukee achieve our goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 45% by 2030 and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050."

Planning for an Increased Public Electric Vehicle Charging Network in Milwaukee

DPW Electric Parking Vehicle

Planning for greater electric vehicle charging infrastructure in City buildings and for the community, ECO is working with City departments, consultants, and WisDOT. ECO will prepare a Preliminary Electric Vehicle Readiness Plan that outlines the development of public/private partnerships for hosting chargers on both public and private property, which will help with financing the cost of installation, operations, and maintenance of the stations.

The Preliminary Electric Vehicle Readiness Plan will also coordinate with the State's National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Plan to place charging stations in Milwaukee and well-position the City for the new U.S. DOT Charging and Fueling Infrastructure Discretionary Grant Program. If awarded the grant, Milwaukee will complete a final EV readiness plan to enable an 80% cost-share of installation, operations, and maintenance of a minimum of 20 EV charging stations within the city. ECO hopes this plan will further expand and promote equitable access to the local electric vehicle charging network. A schedule for the public input process on this plan will be announced later this year.

More on Electric Vehicles in Milwaukee
Modular home construction

All-Electric, Affordable Net-Zero Energy Homes Project Moving Forward

Housing is a critical piece of Milwaukee’s infrastructure, with impacts on our economy, environmental sustainability, human health, and quality of life. ECO, in collaboration with other City housing agencies, aims to develop a new model for efficiently and affordably producing new net-zero energy homes in the City of Milwaukee as a part of the forthcoming Climate and Equity Plan. These homes will be a significant contributor to reducing overall carbon in Milwaukee, and a key strategy in meeting climate action targets.

The City of Milwaukee recently closed its Request for Proposals for qualified teams to design and build net-zero energy homes using Advanced Building Construction (ABC) methods, such as modular or panelized construction. In addition to building model homes that will be sold to the public (one single-family and one duplex), the project aims to also attract an ABC manufacturer to the City of Milwaukee.

  Learn More:

Arial view of Milwaukee homes and trees

Collaboration for Green and Healthy Homes

Financing is an important resource to help homeowners afford the upfront cost of home energy improvements and enjoy long-term savings on their energy bills. Since 2010, ECO has helped over 1,500 Milwaukee homeowners make energy efficiency improvements with home financing through the Milwaukee Energy Efficiency Program (Me2). The program continues to provide affordable loans through a partnership with Summit Credit Union. Loans for solar energy improvements are also available through the Milwaukee Shines Solar Program. These loans can be paired with:

The variety of currently available funding sources adds up to a great opportunity to improve your home and contribute to a healthier planet.

With a sharpened focus on racial equity, ECO is also working closely with partners to support energy efficiency improvements in lower income neighborhoods and communities of color that experience high energy bills due to poor housing conditions. As guided by the Climate and Equity Plan, ECO is using ARPA funding and philanthropic support through the Urban Sustainability Directors Network to coordinate energy efficiency work with lead abatement projects using a holistic healthy homes approach. Healthier homes lead to healthier families and healthy neighborhoods.

The Common Council allocated $25 million to the Milwaukee Health Department to address childhood lead poising from paint sources and $2 million to ECO for energy efficiency improvements. Contractor Green and Healthy Homes, Inc is advising ECO, Weatherization Assistance Program providers, the Milwaukee Health Department, and other housing repair agencies on how to better coordinate service delivery. Through the collaboration, ECO aims to help customers navigate the programs that are available to help them while creating streamlined processes for residents, contractors, and service providers. As a result of careful planning, ECO expects to deploy ARPA funds into the community this coming quarter.

Family in nature

Milwaukee Climate & Equity Plan Live Online

ECO completed the final draft of the Milwaukee Climate and Equity Plan with consultant GRAEF. The public can now read the entirety of the Plan using an online Story Map and see how the following 10 Big Ideas will benefit our community:

  1. Green Jobs Accelerator
  2. Healthy Home Energy Upgrades
  3. New Net-Zero Energy Homes
  4. Commercial Energy Benchmarking & Building Performance Standards
  5. People Centered Transportation & Urban Design
  6. Electrify Transportation
  7. Greening the Electric Grid
  8. Nature in the City
  9. Waste Reduction & Sustainable Consumption
  10. Resilience Ambassadors
Explore the Climate and Equity Plan
Aerial View of Milwaukee Buildings_Photo Credit Visit Milwaukee

Milwaukee Ranks 8th Among Mid-Sized Cities on the Annual ENERGY STAR 'Top Cities' List

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized Milwaukee for ranking eighth among mid-sized cities on the annual ENERGY STAR ‘Top Cities' list. Milwaukee earned its spot with 31 certified ENERGY STAR commercial and multi-family buildings in 2022.

Commercial buildings are responsible for 16% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions and spend more than $190 billion per year on energy. In many cities, buildings are the largest contributor of emissions—responsible for 30-70% of a city’s total emissions. On average, ENERGY STAR buildings use 35% less energy and cut carbon dioxide emissions by 35% compared to typical buildings.

In 2022, more than 7,000 commercial buildings earned EPA’s ENERGY STAR certification bringing the nation’s total to nearly 41,000. Together, these buildings have saved $5.4 billion on energy bills and prevented more than 22 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions—equal to the annual emissions from more than 2.7 million homes. 

Learn More about ENERGY STAR Buildings
Earth Month: Celebrate in April

Earth Month Recap

ECO had a busy Earth Month this April! Here's a quick overview of events:

  • March 29: Clean Economy Coalition of Wisconsin Kick-Off
  • April 8: Green Fest MKE
  • April 22: Milwaukee Riverkeeper 28th Annual Spring Cleanup
  • April 22: Rock the Green 12th Annual Earth Day Celebration
  • April 26: Marquette University Soup with Substance

Clean Economy Coalition of Wisconsin Announced

ECO staff joined Governor Tony Evers, Mayor Cavalier Johnson, County Executive David Crowley, and other climate, energy, environmental justice and conservation organizations, businesses, and allies for the launch of the Clean Economy Coalition of Wisconsin at Lakefront Brewery on March 29.

The Clean Economy Coalition of Wisconsin envisions a people-centered, economy-wide transformation to a clean energy economy by championing policies that create jobs, build healthier communities, and protect Wisconsin's natural resources. Together, the coalition advocates for solutions that work for all of Wisconsin’s diverse cultures, communities, and geographies.

ECO Joins First-Ever Green Fest MKE Event

El Conquistador Latino Newspaper hosted the first-ever Green Fest MKE on April 8 at Flores Hall. The event had a special focus on Milwaukee's Latino/x community and offered sustainability demonstrations, resources, and entertainment. ECO staff spoke to the community about their environmental concerns and interests, and presented information about what the City and residents can do to create a more climate-resilient Milwaukee.

Mayor Johnson and group at Milwaukee River Cleanup

Mayor Johnson Joins Milwaukee Riverkeeper Spring Cleanup at American Family Field

In celebration of Earth Day, Mayor Johnson joined the thousands of volunteers across the city collecting litter from our waterways. The Mayor was joined by his daughters at the American Family Field cleanup site, where he spoke about the importance of reducing waste, in particular single-use plastics. 100,000 pounds of trash is removed from the river and surrounding lands during this one-day, large-scale cleanup event. Of it, 90% of the trash is plastic takeout containers, food wrappers, cigarette butts, and bottles.

ECO has partnered with Plastic-Free MKE to to increase adoption of the City's 2020 Straw Law prohibiting single-use plastic straws at food establishments. Outreach is being done through the Consumer Health and License divisions to educate local bars and restaurants about the issue of plastic pollution.

A great resource for business owners is Plastic-Free MKE's Lake Friendly Business Program, which pairs a trained volunteer with a local business to audit current practices and offer guidance on switching away from plastic. Nearly 30 businesses have already taken part! New this year, the program is working with Plastic-Free Restaurants to pay the difference in the cost between current plastic materials and reusable alternatives.

Cleanups continue well past Earth Day. Milwaukee Riverkeeper offers the Adopt-A-River Program for groups of residents to commit to cleaning up a section of the river at least twice a year. Or, residents can host their own neighborhood cleanup by requesting a dumpster from Sanitation Services and supplies from Keep Greater Milwaukee Beautiful.

Find More Spring Cleanup Resources

Rock the Green at the Harley-Davidson Museum

Following river cleanup, ECO joined hundreds of volunteers in celebrating at the 12th Annual Rock the Green Earth Day Celebration. This year's event featured music by Klassik and Sistastrings on the pedal-powered stage, food and drinks, and environmental education by community organizations. Although the weather did not hold out, the event was moved indoors where guests could enjoy the bash while staying dry and warm.

ECO staff tabled alongside other environmental organizations and discussed resources for homeowners, resource guides, community partnerships, and the City's collective efforts on sustainability. New this year, ECO provided Kids Coloring and Activity Pages about solar, water, energy efficiency, and community action. They were a hit! Feel free to download the pages for your children and share their artwork with us on social media.

Take a Listen: Wisconsin Drunken History Podcast's 12th Annual Rock the Green "Earth Day Celebration" episode featuring music by Sistastrings with Klassik and interviews with ECO Director Erick Shambarger, Milwaukee Riverkeeper Executive Director Jennifer Bolger, and Rock the Green Founder & Executive Director Lindsay Stevens.

Listen on Soundcloud

Follow us on Social Media for Updates!

ECO posts daily news, resources, and events on on social media. Follow us on the below social media channels using the handle @ecocitymke:





City of Milwaukee

Environmental Collaboration Office

200 E. Wells St., Room #603

Milwaukee, WI 53202