Summer 2023

Milwaukee Sustainability Newsletter

Message from the Director 

When I started my career in government 21 years ago, it seemed most people in Wisconsin were not particularly worried about climate change and global warming. Scientists talked about melting glaciers and sea level rise that would affect coastal cities, but many locally felt that the dangers were distant, and that we had little to worry about; maybe our winters would even be a little warmer! 

What is becoming clear is that global warming is hurting us here in Milwaukee, too. Global warming, which is caused by the excessive burning of fossil fuels, creates drought conditions and more severe storms. The drought and resulting wildfires in Canada polluted our air with smoke, reducing air quality in Milwaukee. Sustained triple-digit temperatures scorched the southern U.S. And, our hearts hurt for the residents of Maui who saw the town of Lahaina destroyed by wildfires and many neighbors killed or displaced. Paradise was lost August 8, 2023.

The good news is leaders in Milwaukee are mobilizing for change. On June 23, 2023, Mayor Cavalier Johnson signed the Climate and Equity Plan into law. The plan was the result of nearly four years of community engagement through the City-County Task Force on Climate and Economic Equity. The Milwaukee Climate and Equity Plan was sponsored by Common Council members Marina Dimitrijevic, José Pérez, Jonathan Brosthoff, Michael Murphy, Robert Bauman, JoCasta Zamarripa, Lamont Westmorland, Mark Chambers, Jr., Russell Stamper, Scott Spiker, Milele Coggs, and Andrea Pratt. The broad support from elected officials was due in part to the strong showing from the public, who spoke powerfully in support of the plan. 

The Climate and Equity Plan is timely; it positions Milwaukee to benefit from new funding opportunities from the federal Inflation Reduction Act. ECO has been coordinating major federal grant applications, and we expect to hear the results later this fall. Proposals include expanding public electric vehicle charging infrastructure, major tree planting initiatives, food waste reduction, coastal resilience, and building efficiency programs for houses of workshop and multi-family properties. This is in addition to ECO’s existing collaborative programs, like the Milwaukee Shines' Solar Group Buy Program. 

As a result of Milwaukee’s leadership on climate change, we were featured on the nationally syndicated On Point Radio program How Cities Can Better Confront Climate Change. Solving climate change requires action at every level of government. The ECO team is working tirelessly to reduce fossil fuels, improve racial equity, and build a new clean energy economy that will help Milwaukee, and our world, prosper.


Erick Shambarger

Director of Environmental Sustainability

City of Milwaukee

Mayor Johnson signing the Climate and Equity Plan
Climate Plan supporters in City Hall Rotunda
Climate Plan supporters with signs

Milwaukee Climate and Equity Plan Signed!

This June, Mayor Cavalier Johnson adopted the Milwaukee Climate and Equity Plan as part of the Citywide Policy Plan contained in the City's Overall Comprehensive Plan. The Climate and Equity Plan provides the vision and foundation for climate action in Milwaukee and includes 10 Big Ideas to reduce greenhouse gas pollution, increase racial equity, and make the City prosperous for the long term. 

The plan has two primary objectives:

  1. Reduce community greenhouse gas emissions: 45% by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
  2. Improve racial and economic equity by creating green jobs that pay at least $40,000 and are focused on recruiting local people of color.

What's Next:

The 10 Big Ideas included in the Climate & Equity Plan can be achieved in collaboration among government agencies, businesses, community-based organizations and other partners. The plan is intended to be financed primarily from new federal resources including the Inflation Reduction Act. After three years of public discussions and planning, the City-County Taskforce on Climate and Economic Equity has transitioned to the City-County Advisory Board on Climate and Economic Equity. The Advisory Board will submit an annual report to the Common Council on the status of the plan’s implementation, with an opportunity for public comment.

Coming soon, sustainability commitments, actions, and carbon reduction will be displayed on the City's website using the ClimateView tracking dashboard, updated at least twice annually. The City's Greenhouse Gas Inventory will be updated semiregularly, including an update in 2024 and 2028. Plus, periodic reporting on action progress will occur through ACCEEE's City Clean Energy Scorecard or similar national reporting efforts.

Explore the Climate and Equity Plan
Go Solar: The Community Makes the Difference Graphic for Solar Group Buy Program

Grow Solar Greater MKE Group Buy Program

The Midwest Renewable Energy Association in partnership with ECO and others launched this year's Grow Solar Greater Milwaukee Group Buy Program designed to bring community members together to learn about residential solar and purchase solar panels in bulk for significant cost savings and incentives not available to individual buyers.

The Grow Solar Program is open to residents and small businesses in Milwaukee County and offers free solar education and financing sessions, solar site assessments, cost estimates for custom designed solar systems, and below market rate costs for a warrantied solar system with a reputable contractor. Solar discounts can be combined with federal incentives to further reduce the cost of solar. The recently enacted Inflation Reduction Act includes a number of measures designed to promote electrification and renewable energy, including expanded tax credits for solar installations.

Solar Power Hours are FREE, 1-hour information sessions on the basics of solar open to the public that will continue to be held virtually and in-person this fall. Immediately following the session, attendees can sign up for a free site assessment from the program installer to see if solar is right for their property.

Upcoming Events:

  • 9/12, 5:30PM: MPL Tippecanoe Branch, 3912 S. Howell Ave.
  • 9/14, 5:30PM: Feeding America Eastern WI, 1700 W. Fond du Lac Ave.
  • 9/19, 2PM: Virtual Meeting via Zoom
  • 9/26, 5:30PM: VIA Community Development Corp., 1545 S. Layton Blvd.
  • 10/2, 5:30PM: MPL Good Hope Branch, 7715 Good Hope Rd.
Read More About the Solar Group Buy Program
Solar panel in front of city landscape

New Resources for Commercial Buildings

Environmentally sustainable buildings save property owners money, increase property values, and provide more comfortable surroundings for their occupants. Reducing energy use from buildings is also a key component of fighting climate change. In the City of Milwaukee, commercial buildings create 22% of community-wide greenhouse gas emissions. There are many readily available and affordable improvements to reduce energy use, including:

  • Air Sealing & Insulation
  • Day Lighting Prioritization & Window Shades
  • Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure
  • High Efficiency LEED Lighting
  • Heat Pump/Heat Pump Water Heater
  • Green Infrastructure Stormwater Controls
  • Lighting Controls
  • Photovoltaic (Solar) Panels

Use the NEW online Sustainable Commercial Buildings Guide to help you on your sustainability journey with just four steps:

People looking at graphs
Men in hard hats looking at computer
Modern building with greenery
Person using calculator

Step 1: Benchmark for Energy Use

Step 2: Energy Assessment

Step 3: Set Sustainability Goals

Step 4: Use Incentives & Financing

*The Milwaukee PACE Financing Program website has been refreshed! Explore past financed projects, available resources, as well as eligible project types, contractors, and lenders to make your sustainability project a reality.

View the Sustainable Commercial Building Guide
Money growing leaves

Inflation Reduction Act Funding Available

In 2022 the federal government passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the single largest climate investment in clean energy solutions for America. The IRA contains key measures to help organizations and households reduce energy bills, electrify their homes and vehicles, and convert to renewable energy. 

For Homeowners:

Tax Credits: 

  • Residential tax credits are available NOW and incentivize electrification by lowering the total cost of qualified upgrades like solar, battery storage, and efficient electric heating/cooling equipment.

Direct Rebates: 

For Commercial Property Owners:

Learn More:

Family in nature

Improving Energy Efficiency & Lead Abatement Coordination in Housing

With a sharpened focus on racial equity, ECO has been 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. 

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 has been advising ECO, Weatherization Assistance Program providers, the Milwaukee Health Department, and other housing repair agencies on how to better coordinate service delivery. ECO has reviewed these recommendations and executed a contract with the Social Development Commission to begin offering a holistic retrofit program this fall.

Sun with rays

Summertime Recap

Warmer weather calls for greater time spent outdoors in the community!

  • May 20: Sherman Park Earth Day in May
  • June 6-8: Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative Annual Meeting in Chicago
  • Plastic-Free July!
  • August 2: Green & Healthy Schools Conference
Folks at a community event

Sherman Park Earth Day in May

Sherman Park was designated as the City's second ECO Neighborhood in 2020. The ECO Neighborhood Team stays committed to their sustainability goals by coordinating tree plantings, monthly informational webinars, and neighborhood clean ups. They also maintain strong partnerships with organizations like Plastic-Free MKE—who recently designated Sherman Park as the first Lake-Friendly Neighborhood!

Sherman Park has also established an annual Earth Day in May. This year's event was spent sharing resources and sunshine with residents and community partners alongside the City's Bloom and Groom event. Between the plant sale, raffles, Plastic-Free MKE’s Stuff Swap, MilWALKee Walks’ crosswalk actions and more, it was a satisfyingly full day.

Learn About Milwaukee's ECO Neighborhoods
Group photo of Mayors
Mayor Johnson accepting award

Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative Annual Meeting in Chicago

Mayor Cavalier Johnson joined Canadian and U.S. leaders for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative annual meeting to discuss how Milwaukee is leading on climate action with the Milwaukee Climate and Equity Plan. The Mayor emphasized the opportunity to create local, green jobs and build resiliency.

On the final day of the meeting, Mayor Johnson was awarded the U.S. Member of the Year Award for his work promoting access to clean, safe, and affordable water as Co-Chair of the Mayors Commission on Water Equity. As Co-Chair, he presented five disadvantaged communities with the first-ever Richard M. Daley Water Equity Community Award during the last day of the annual meeting. Recipients will receive support to apply for grants and obtain federal funding for lead service line replacement and other water infrastructure projects under the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Learn about the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative
Plastic Monster costume
Plastic Monster costume

Plastic-Free July in Milwaukee

ECO summer intern Nicole has been working with Plastic-Free MKE on outreach to the community. In celebration of Plastic-Free July, Nicole joined the organization at Sherman Park Grocery, Third Street Market Hall, Pulaski Park, and Jackson Park to share how plastic pollution impacts the environment.

Plastic pollution is a major problem. The amount of plastic that enters Lake Michigan alone each year is equivalent to 100 Olympic-sized pools full of plastic bottles! These plastic pieces eventually end up in our air, water, food, and bodies. Protect our lake's health and yours by switching to reusable and biodegradable alternatives.

Resources to be Plastic-Free:

Learn about the Plastic-Free MKE Coalition
Presentation in front a crowd of people

7th Annual Green & Healthy Schools Conference at Milwaukee County Zoo

ECO learned from educators and community partners about the work being done to advance green infrastructure, improve air quality, and create better student experiences at Milwaukee area schools. We also had the opportunity to share that the Milwaukee Climate and Equity Plan calls for the expansion of the green schoolyard program and creating workforce pathways to green careers.

The Milwaukee Green Infrastructure Plan was adopted in 2019 to help adapt to climate change while creating a healthier, more resilient city. Our goal? 36 million gallons of stormwater capture by 2030. By reaching our goal, we will install the equivalent of 143 acres of green space.

Field of native flowers in a stormwater capture system called a bioswale at Fondy Park

We are over halfway there!

Since 2019, Milwaukee has added 19 million gallons of stormwater capture with green infrastructure through the installation of stormwater trees, green alleys, green roofs, green schoolyards, bioswales, rain gardens, cisterns, rain barrels, porous pavement, and depaving projects.

Read the Milwaukee Green Infrastructure Plan

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

[email protected]