The Green Column #22

City’s Sustainability Coordinator Loves Green Challenge

March 11, 2010—This is an interview with Milo Mumgaard, sustainability coordinator for the City of Lincoln.

You have had success in working with the law and public policy revisions for people in need and social services. What attracted you to the role of sustainability coordination for the City of Lincoln?

Lincoln is my home and I love it here. I am just one of many, many people who spend a lot of time telling friends around the country about how nice we have it. We have such a high quality of life, but that’s no accident. It’s because Lincoln residents have long committed themselves to insuring we have beautiful parks, clean air and water and healthy neighborhoods. Helping my city to continue the tradition of working together for the common good—by insuring our children and grandchildren will have this same high quality of life—is why I was excited to work on sustainability for Mayor Beutler. After all, sustainability includes making sure we have good jobs for all, healthy families and economic opportunities in the “new energy economy” that includes everyone. It’s an exciting time.

How will the city persuade homeowners, landlords and commercial property owners to reduce buildings’ energy use? Will monetary incentives be devised?

Most people don’t realize buildings are the biggest energy users and wasters out there, but I suppose this cold winter was a pretty good reminder of that. The city will be providing lots of incentives for building owners to “save green by going green.” Through funding from the Recovery Act stimulus funds, we plan to have neighborhood door-to-door campaigns, small business outreach and nonprofit upgrade programs. And the city is also doing its part, retrofitting at least five buildings with more to come (saving thousands of taxpayer dollars in the process).

How will you, as the mayor’s representative, work with LES and Black Hills Energy to implement major energy efficiency and conservation programs for Lincoln?

This is absolutely critical, as everyone will save money if we lower our electric and natural gas use in the long term (and reduce the need for new electric generation plants, for example) while at the same time meeting our growing economic needs. Our utilities are strong proponents of conservation. For example, the Sustainable Energy Program at LES has now, I think, become an expected service to electric ratepayers, and this is all about local dollars being invested to help local families and businesses save. The utilities are also doing more to eliminate barriers to realizing energy efficiencies, such as free energy auditing and follow-up, and the city will be assisting as well.

What do you say to those who point out that the mayor’s per capita goal allows the city as a whole to continue increasing greenhouse gas emissions?

Mayor Beutler’s environmental policy he signed in 2008 really put our whole community on a “no turn back now” path to lowering greenhouse gas emissions locally, and one of my jobs is to help find the right mix of policies and incentives that help meet these goals. Lincoln is growing by leaps and bounds, and we’re going to see increasing carbon emissions no matter what. The per capita goal will help flatten that curve, though, and it gets individuals thinking about what they can do personally to lower our overall energy use and carbon emissions. Hey, if I recycle regularly, I’m directly helping; if I use 10 percent less electricity, I’m really making a dent; if I ride the bus more, wow, I just met my per capita goal. The City of Lincoln has these same expectations of itself, and you will see thousands of dollars of taxpayer savings and millions of tons of reduced carbon from the city’s actions in the years to come.

Does the mayor feel his green program has already been announced and implemented, or can we expect future programs and publicity?

Absolutely, we’re just getting started. With stimulus funding, we are launching not only residential and commercial energy efficiency projects, but also tree planting, parking garage lighting makeovers, boosting our landfill gas program, promoting green building practices, supporting “green” job training and entrepreneurship, creating a “green energy zone” through central and downtown Lincoln, trying new ideas in transportation, installing new street lighting and generally branding Lincoln, as Mayor Beutler has put it, the “green capital city of the Great Plains.” Our web site will be an open door to all this great activity in the months to come.

What is the biggest obstacle in transforming the way the city operates?

Actually, I would say the City of Lincoln is chock full of employees who want to see local government be even more sustainable, in all aspects of its work. The real obstacle we have is giving everyone the resources they need to take these positives and significantly speed them up.

Do you think the public will voluntarily get behind green initiatives and sustainability programs?

It is a fact of life: there is a “new energy economy” that we must be centrally involved in if we don’t want to miss out on the next wave of jobs and economic opportunity. Lincoln already has developers seizing upon LEED standards and net-zero houses as just part of what they do. Corporations are creating “green teams” that go way beyond recycling and turning off lights. Lincoln Green by Design is fostering community understanding that is really taking off, and UNL is making sustainability part of its new growth. The City of Lincoln is clearly a critical partner in fostering a more sustainable community, but here it’s almost about not getting in the way.

What will be the measures of your success in this new public service role?

On the one hand, we’ll have very specific goals (energy savings, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, number of homes retrofitted, new jobs, etc.). On the other hand, I want to be able to say in a couple years that once again the people of Lincoln rose to today’s energy and climate challenge and continues to be, through cost-effective, practical and meaningful ways, the kind of community we want to pass down to our children.