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By Kate Bell, Program Manager, NextEnergy

Community climate planning, equitable decarbonization efforts, and how to develop promising partnerships for advancing sustainability practices took center stage at the 2022 Michigan Sustainability Conference (MISCON), a two-day convening sponsored by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).

Municipal and county officials; industry representatives; EGLE leadership; and other key climate, sustainability, and technology stakeholders gathered in Lansing to discuss how communities can leverage an unprecedented amount of federal and state funding opportunities and build on the groundswell of enthusiasm to tackle key climate, infrastructure, and workforce readiness issues to usher in a just and equitable transition for all Michiganders.

Key themes included the importance of establishing strong partnerships with trusted community organizations for sustainability programming; the need to engage with utility providers early and often to prepare the grid for building and fleet electrification; and a keen desire among stakeholders for clear communication and direction from the state so communities know what is needed to reach Michigan’s healthy climate goals and how they can make changes that will resonate with their residents.

Michigan Clean Cities coalition director Maggie Striz Calnin and MiNextCities program manager Kate Bell made an early trek to the state capital to lead table talks on mobility and community resilience during the preconference Catalyst Community Workshop. In this session, local leaders shared about their pain points and had the opportunity to brainstorm solutions to their unique climate and energy challenges. As the full conference kicked off, NextEnergy technical program manager Lauren Mattar also joined to learn about upcoming alternative fuels funding opportunities, cheer Maggie on as she participated in a fleet electrification panel, and network with attendees interested in advancing smarter and cleaner practices for their communities.

Here’s a brief run-down of some notable discussions at MISCON:

Abundant Funding Opportunities

With the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, an unprecedented amount of climate and sustainability funding will be available for Michigan communities. EGLE Assistant Division Director Robert Jackson presented energy-related formula funding the State expects to receive to help reach some of the goals listed in the MI Healthy Climate Plan. This formula funding includes $110 million from the national electric vehicle formula program for advancing a statewide electric vehicle charging network; $190 million for energy efficiency and weatherization assistance programming; and $250 million toward climate pollution reduction grants.

Attendees also learned about opportunities through EGLE’s Fuel Transformation Program, which encourages the adoption of alternative fuel and zero-emission technologies for a variety of transportation modes and equipment types. Additionally, information on point-of-sale discounts through Inflation Reduction Act incentives was available for residents interested in adopting new electrified appliances, like air-source heat pumps, for their homes.

Demystifying Sustainability

In several sessions, attendees remarked that sustainability is a nebulous concept within their respective organizations. There often is no clear understanding of how (or even if) staffers can advance sustainability in their daily tasks. How can team members contribute to sustainability goals while balancing their existing workloads? What synergies exist, and how can we uncover them?

Attendees heard examples of how organizations of all sizes—from small townships to multinational corporations—have made steps to ingrain sustainability into all levels of their strategy and staffing. Keynote speaker Natalia Hahn of Balanced Impact Global shared lessons from her time as a sustainability manager with IKEA. From her interviews with staff members across departments and continents, she quickly learned that simply assigning a new checklist of “sustainability” tasks to employees was less resonant than learning how each group currently operated and could assist in achieving company-wide goals. Without a deep understanding of current operations at all levels, team members were left feeling that sustainability initiatives were unclear and out of their purview.

One suggestion for demystifying sustainability is to communicate the “why” for staffers at every level. Why is sustainability important for your daily work? How does your existing role connect to sustainability concepts? By engaging with these questions, organizations can embed sustainability values into daily tasks. This approach doesn’t just ensure that all employees have skin in the sustainability game; rather, it actively empowers staff members at all experience and seniority levels to positively contribute to meeting – and even exceeding – an organization’s climate, energy, and sustainability goals.

Did you attend MISCON this year? What were some of your key takeaways? Share your thoughts with our MiNextCities program manager and fellow attendee Kate Bell by emailing her at [email protected]

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