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The City of Madison—breaking new territory in sustainability planning

Sustainability is an issue that is on many people’s minds, but not everyone is certain how to tackle this rather amorphous concept. One group that is tackling it is cities, and not just the usual suspects like large, coastal cities. Other cities, like my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, are recognizing that sustainability is important to deliver a higher living standard to its citizens. I was recently involved in the Sustainable Madison Committee, where I worked with representatives from the city and community to develop the Energy and Carbon Work plan, a roadmap to lead Madison to its ultimate goal: minimal to zero greenhouse gas emissions.

The most significant outcome of this effort was the creation of a permanent staff position for sustainability- a green czar, if you will. Before this position was created, sustainability was generally under the jurisdiction of the engineering department, and considered yet another thing on a long list of priorities. Inevitably, fixing crucial infrastructure would take precedence over sustainability activities. With one individual tasked with sustainability, it becomes a major priority for the city and is less likely to get overlooked or overtaken by other issues.

To help ensure that the ‘green czar’ has traction with departments – departments that have other competing goals and priorities – Madison will also be developing a market within city operations.  The market will be set up as an internal “tax,” where individual departments have emissions goals that they need to meet. If, for example, the fire department exceeds their goal, they will have to pay into a sustainability fund that will be available for advancing sustainability efforts within city operations. This has a two-fold effect: first, it provides money for the city to fund sustainability activities and second, it provides motivation for city departments to meet their goals and avoid this “tax.”

The plan brings together a number of different programs to achieve this goal, uniting programs like energy efficiency efforts with renewable energy generated by solar panels throughout the city. Moving forward, they will start to implement property assessed clean energy (PACE) financing programs. The plan also includes elements to address carbon impacts from transportation, upgrade existing buildings and make new buildings more efficient, encourage public engagement in energy efficiency and sustainability, and increase the use of clean energy throughout the city.

Learn more about how DNV GL can help cities and regional governments prepare for climate impacts and improve sustainability and resilience.

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