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Michigan Green Communities: Strengthening Municipal Sustainability Practices through Statewide Network Building

CSS Publication Number
Full Publication Date
April 2012

The Michigan Green Communities network was formed in 2010 in order to connect communities throughout the state and encourage increased sustainability activity through capacity-building, information sharing, and teamwork among municipalities. Since then, the network has grown to over 100 members and features the Green Communities Challenge activity reporting program, an annual conference, monthly newsletters, and bi-weekly conference calls. The goal of this master’s project team of five graduate students at the School of Natural Resources and Environment and the Ross School of Business was to strengthen Michigan Green Communities’ (MGC) sustainability outcomes through three components: Policy, Economic Energy Analysis, and Outreach. The Policy component strove to incentivize sustainability actions in communities through guidance and friendly competition by revamping the Green Communities Challenge (GCC) to be more accessible, informative, and relevant to municipal needs. The team researched program models nationwide and collaborated with the GCC Advisory Committee and MGC members to develop, review, and launch new program features: Sustainability Action Lists, which are a collection of specific Action Items with comprehensive Action Guides, will direct and support community initiatives. A certification system will recognize differential levels of community achievement. A new web-based design will facilitate implementation, tracking, and updating of the program. The success of these initiatives depends on completion of their implementation, assistance to members transitioning over to the new GCC structure, and continued research into case studies and model programs to strengthen the resources available to GCC members. The Economic Energy Analysis component developed an Excel-based model using the city of Wyandotte as a case study to help communities determine their energy usage and related emissions and expenditures. Serving as an Action Item for the updated Green Communities Challenge, this baseline awareness should motivate municipalities to pursue other actions to reduce their consumption and long-term costs. The Outreach component worked to improve connections and information sharing between communities by developing an online map to illustrate sustainability actions around the state and by organizing three regional workshops. Hosted by regional energy offices, the workshops provided occasions for the team to present its tools to MGC members, a venue for non-profits to share their services, and networking opportunities for communities at the regional level for more targeted sustainability discussions. The enthusiasm of workshop participants illustrated the value of MGC and the master’s project; it was clear that Michigan communities are eager to improve their sustainability practices and appreciate opportunities to gain support and share ideas with their peers. The master’s project thus succeeded in directly strengthening the network by bringing new MGC members together in regional settings. Furthermore, the products created by the three components will serve as lasting tools for MGC and the GCC and function synergistically by providing motivation and information to feed into one another. Future work identified by the project team includes further developing these tools to incorporate new practices and resources, establishing a permanent nonprofit institution to host MGC, and pursuing coalitions with local, state, and regional entities and seeking financial support for network operation and community projects to ensure the growth and longevity of MGC.

Research Areas
Urban Systems and Built Environment

Community Sustainability, Economic Energy Analysis, Green Communities, Sustainability Networks

Publication Type
Master's Thesis
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Full Citation

Bunker, Benajamin, Antonia Chan, Andrew Fang, Seth Federspiel and Courtney Lee. (2012) “Michigan Green Communities: Strengthening Municipal Sustainability Practices through Statewide Network Building.” Master's Project, University of Michigan: Ann Arbor 1-92.