Building a Green Capital City:
The Natural Step to Madison’s Sustainable Design and Energy Future
The City of Madison, WI launched a program in 2004 to become a green capital city and a leader in sustainable design and energy. The city is leading by example and encouraging businesses and residents to follow suit. Madison adopted The Natural Step (TNS) –a scientific, systemwide approach, to create a common understanding of sustainability and is using the TNS framework to inform decisions and foster interdepartmental collaboration.
The city began by greening its own operations. Programs include establishing a fleet fuel efficiency standard, implementing green purchasing and cleaning, installing solar systems on city properties, certifying new and existing buildings to LEED, purchasing electric hybrid buses, improving bus ridership among city employees, and creating baselines, measurement protocols and standards for energy use and CO2 emissions. Madison incorporated sustainability into the hiring and specifications for the zoning code rewrite and a low income housing development project. They are partnering with the County on developing light rail.
The city of Madison is often referred to as 68 square miles surrounded by reality. It’s the state capital and home to the University of Wisconsin. It’s the state’s second largest city, with a population of 220,000 at a density of approximately 3,000 people per square mile. It lies within Dane county with a population approaching half a million. It occupies an isthmus surrounded by three lakes totaling 16 square miles of water. Madison is located at latitude 43.073 and has an elevation of 876 feet. Both the city and the county are experiencing substantial population growth and with it, environmental and social pressures.
The impact of the city government on the environment can be summarized with some of the following statistics: 750 miles of streets; 6,000 acres of parks; 3.7 million square feet of government buildings; 1,000 vehicles and 60,000 tons of garbage and recyclables. Madison’s municipal energy use is 54 million kWh of electricity, 1.3 million therms of natural gas and 2.3 million gallons of fuel for buses & fleet.
Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
Energy efficiency and renewable energy programs in Madison address government operations as well as community energy use. A combination of approaches is used to implement sustainable energy programs including: interagency TNS projects, prioritized energy efficiency upgrades, policy enactment, targeted renewable energy installations, and community outreach in partnership with businesses and not-for-profits. Through this integrated approach, along with staff trainings on commissioning and retrocommissioning, lighting, HVAC and other energy systems, systematic reduction in fossil fuel use is being achieved.
Sustainability Principle 1: “Is the organization/department/project/ process/product economically dependent on fossil fuels? Are any of the mined materials that we depend
upon scarce in nature and, if so, are they safeguarded in ‘tight’ technical cycles or are there substantial leakages anywhere?
• Sustainability Principle 2: “Is the organization/department/project/ process/product economically dependent on substances that are persistent and foreign to nature? Are resources containing chemicals saved throughout the life cycle or are materials used in a dissipative way?”
• Sustainability Principle 3: “Is the organization/department/project/ process/product economically dependent on activities that mismanage productive parts of the biosphere? Is it dependent on transportation infrastructure that requires significant encroachment into large natural areas?
• Sustainability Principle 4: “Does the organization/department/project/ process/product rely on inputs that come from regions or companies where authorities create obstacles for people to meet their needs? Does your organization have any practices itself that do so?
The City of Madison uses The Natural Step to integrate sustainability in a systematic way into decision making, policies, operations and capital improvements in all departments. As energy is a common element across many issue areas city-wide, the city has chosen to approach energy in a whole systems community context in keeping with its sustainable city goals. Applying TNS encourages the City to plan strategically for the most sustainable outcomes. Prior to doing so, the City did not have a whole community approach to energy or a vision of a sustainable energy system and it could not assess its fossil fuel use or determine the impacts of its programs to reduce energy use.
Madison’s sustainable city program illustrates that many key elements must be woven together to result in whole cloth. These include: leadership on energy from the top, along with designated coordinating staff and clear lines of responsibility and accountability across the organization; partnering with key local businesses, organizations and residents; regular meetings with senior staff across agencies to interact and jointly plan and work toward sustainable solutions; education and capacity-building in sustainability (The Natural Step in Madison’s case), energy efficiency, commissioning and retrocommissioing, renewable energy, software, etc.; measurement and reporting, including establishing baselines for city facility energy use, fuel use and CO2 emissions and creating ongoing measurement protocols related to energy and CO2 emissions reductions across agencies; creation of policies and programs that support sustainable planning and development; and telling the story community-wide and eliciting active participation toward reaching goals.
This significant effort requires staff, software, equipment, training, greening of codes and procedures, policy development and time. Madison staff had to be shown and told with regular
reinforcement that sustainability is not an added task but an approach to all their work responsibilities and part of their job.
Working collaboratively and facilitating community involvement throughout has been invaluable in creating the plan (40 people on Mayor’s Energy Task Force) and in implementing the plan (15 members on the Sustainable Design and Energy Committee and 5 on the TNS planning group). Partnering with the utility, with the Wisconsin Focus on Energy program and with local businesses and organizations on MadiSUN Solar City, the Mpowering Madison clean energy challenge and the coal plant conversions brings diverse input, funds and resources, creates shared values and buy-in, and results in superior and more sustainable solutions.