Michigan Green Communities is Moving Community Sustainability Initiatives Forward


Established in 2009, Michigan Green Communities (MGC) is a statewide sustainability assistance program that works to embed sustainability into municipal and county operations. MGC is a collaboration and partnership of the  Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC); the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE); the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS); Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT); the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR); the Michigan Association of Counties (MAC); the Michigan Municipal League (MML); and the Michigan Townships Association (MTA).  It is led by a 15-member steering committee from the partners and local governments, including West Bloomfield Township, Ann Arbor, and Canton Township. SBN Detroit spoke to Danielle Beard, Michigan Green Communities coordinator, to find out more about the work it is doing to impact sustainability initiatives in Southeast Michigan and throughout the state. Q: What is Michigan Green Communities? A: Michigan Green Communities (MGC) is a sustainability benchmarking, networking, and technical assistance program for municipalities and counties in Michigan. The goal is to embed sustainability in local government operations and promote innovative solutions at the local, regional, and state level. The main component of the program is the annual MGC Challenge (that’s the benchmarking piece) where communities track in their online accounts whether they’ve completed or are in progress on a set of action items and log metrics (click here for the full list of action items and metrics). Communities that participate in the MGC Challenge have access to free support and technical assistance programs through the MGC program and EGLE’s Catalyst Communities program. Q: What is the impetus behind MGC? A: There are a lot of benefits to embedding sustainability into municipal and county operations. Cost savings is a big driver for communities as they can slash their energy and water bills, helping them control the cost of their operations. Additionally, Michigan’s weather patterns are changing drastically, and local units of government play a large role in adapting our society to these changes. Local policies and decisions can help to mitigate the effects of heat waves, severe snowstorms, massive rain events, and more. Multiple state agencies interact with communities on different areas of sustainability. The MGC program was designed to bring those agencies together to collaborate on how to best meet the needs of local governments. And because local governments are also on the steering committee, they’re providing feedback to state agencies on the challenges they face to inform the agencies’ work. Q: What areas of sustainability are you focused on? A: The Michigan Green Communities program focuses on embedding sustainability into local government policies, programs, and operations. The MGC Challenge action item categories outline this best: Planning for Inclusive and Lasting Impacts Climate Resilience and Adaptation Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy Responsibly Managing Materials Sustainable Land Use & Economic Development Improving Health Outcomes Protecting & Conserving Water Resources Support Clean & Inclusive Mobility Inspire & Mobilize Residents Q: What examples can you give of the work that’s been done? A: Since it was started in 2009, over 100 communities have participated in various ways and taken steps to advance sustainability in their communities. In our 2021 challenge: 45 communities participated representing 3.6 million Michiganders. MGC awarded 12 bronze certifications, 10 silver certifications, and 23 gold certifications. Over 1,500 sustainability actions were logged as complete, and over 1,000 were logged as in progress. The MGC Challenge added a set of metrics to track data like GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions, community water use, and more. We launched the MGC Accelerator Cohort to advance sustainability practices in bronze & silver MGC Challenge communities. The current challenge is now live, and communities can report on their sustainability actions through the 2023 calendar year. Q: What does the future look like for MGC? A: In short, the future of MGC will involve bringing more technical assistance, resources, and templates to communities to help them expedite resiliency strategies and decarbonize their operations. This will also involve more networking among communities so they can learn from one another and not reinvent the wheel. We launched the MGC Accelerator Cohort in January 2023, which is a group of bronze and silver-certified MGC Challenge communities that come together as a group to address sustainability issues. The first topic that we’re focusing on is green infrastructure. Many communities in Michigan have been dealing with flooding and water runoff causing pollution, fluctuating shoreline water levels, and severe weather events. Green infrastructure solutions can help to address these issues in a way that protects man-made infrastructure and natural features. The group will meet monthly with subject matter experts and consultants that MGC has hired to share ideas, draft ordinance language, and identify potential implementation opportunities and funding for green infrastructure projects. After the green infrastructure module, the cohort will select another topic to work on in a similar style. The cohort is open to any community that has taken the previous Michigan Green Communities Challenge or plans to participate in the current Michigan Green Communities Challenge. This work is being funded by the MEDC.   Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for regular updates on sustainable business practices in and around Detroit.

Actionable Sustainability Initiatives for Businesses from Detroit’s First Director of Sustainability


Joel Howrani Heeres, Detroit’s former, first, sustainability director, shared his thoughts about tangible initiatives businesses can integrate to work toward a cleaner environment.   In his role, Howrani Heeres provides strategic leadership, tactical guidance, and technical skills to drive triple bottom line (environment, equity, & economics) strategy and actions to help Detroiters improve their lives by creating a healthier, greener, more vibrant city for all.  Under Howrani Heere’s leadership, the Office of Sustainability had over 6,800 interactions with Detroiters and fostered partnerships with neighborhoods, businesses, and philanthropic and non-governmental organizations working to make Detroit more equitable, economically thriving, and environmentally healthy.  Before taking this position, Howrani Heeres led sustainability and climate action planning at EcoWorks and served as managing director of the Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office for DTE Energy.   We asked him to share some steps that businesses can take to reduce energy and water usage as well as ensure residents are not experiencing impacts from climate and climate change. Track energy and water usage  You manage what you measure, so start measuring. Data shows that once you begin tracking usage you’ll begin saving 3% in energy costs.   A good opportunity for businesses to begin measuring and reducing energy waste is to join the Detroit Energy Challenge. This was launched in collaboration with the Detroit 2030 District and Michigan Battle of the Buildings, and it’s a free and friendly competition.  Conduct an energy audit  Doing a walk-through with an expert to point out things that can be done to save energy is invaluable. Within the city, we’ve conducted these audits now on 155 buildings and identified conservation measures that we are implementing. There are several audit programs available, such as DTE’s Business Energy Consultation.  Update lighting  A low-hanging fruit initiative is to update to LED. The cost to do so is coming down, and the cost of electricity is rising, so this is a win/win.  Integrate renewables  Integrating renewable or solar energy is a great action to take, especially if the electrical load is high. Companies can get a 26% tax credit for investing in solar.   Check out the Detroit Solar Toolkit to identify your building’s solar potential.  Join the global Race to Zero campaign  Race To Zero participants are committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest. The city of Detroit has joined the campaign.  Race to Zero’s intent is to rally leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions, and investors for a healthy, resilient, zero-carbon recovery that prevents future threats, creates decent jobs, and unlocks inclusive, sustainable growth.  Electrification  To get to net zero we must also think about electrification. We know we can clean the grid and introduce renewables, but we cannot clean natural gas.  When you consider the cost of maintenance, gas, and parts on a gas-run vehicle, the total cost of electric vehicle ownership makes sense economically as well as environmentally.   DTE offers a Charging Forward rebate program, so it pays to be an early adopter.  Make investments in climate resilience  We all remember last year’s flood event, and climate projections tell us that we’ll continue to see more and more extreme storms. Installing things such as backflow preventers, sump pumps, and generators are great considerations.  Engage with neighbors  Being a good corporate citizen and good neighbor reaps great benefits. I think businesses should talk to their communities and ask what things would make the neighborhood better. Also, look around at the land you own. Plant trees. Invest in biodiversity.   Interested in getting assistance in setting up a sustainability program? Howrani Heeres points to DTE as a resource and also B Corp certification, a designation that a business is meeting high standards of social and environmental performance. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for regular updates on sustainable business practices in and around Detroit.