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Dane County Office of Energy & Climate Change

Resources to Reduce Local Government Emissions

Simple Actions with Big Results

 

Walk the Talk

 
How can your local government lead by example?

Understand
Community-Wide Emissions

 
What are your current emissions?

Make a Commitment

 
What is your goal?

Address Equity

 
How can you ensure everyone benefits from action?

Inspire Community-Wide Action

 
How do you involve everyone in climate action?

Additional Resources

 
More resources for
your local efforts.

Walk the Talk

Local leaders have the power to inspire action across communities. Critically though, leadership requires being a model for the actions you are trying to inspire. To lead on sustainability across the community, you need to practice sustainability in your own operations.

So where do you start? Some good first steps include:

  • Understand your baseline and set goals for the future. How much energy is consumed in your buildings? How much fuel do you use in vehicles annually? And how does your usage compare to similar communities? Establishing your baseline usage will enable you to compare your community with your peers, set realistic goals, and then track progress towards those goals.
  • Monitor usage. Once you establish your baseline usage, create a mechanism to track that usage over time. Free tools like ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager can help you track energy and water use in buildings. Monitoring usage enables you to verify savings from your efficiency projects and track your progress against your goals.
  • Make efficiency an official policy. Staff should always choose equipment that delivers the best long-term value. Too often entities focus on the first cost of an item when the operating costs--the energy usage over time--greatly exceeds that first cost. Create a policy that requires a life cycle analysis of purchases so that your staff are always comparing the purchase price with the cost to operate the equipment over its lifetime. 
  • Encourage innovation. The personnel who work in a facility often have the best ideas about how to reduce resource use. Create opportunities for staff to share their thoughts and ideas and celebrate those who have ideas that save resources. Encouraging and celebrating innovation will inspire others to share their ideas as well.
  • Collaborate with other communities. We like to think that our communities are very unique but, in reality, our communities are more similar than different. Other communities are likely struggling with the same resource issue you have--or maybe they have figured out a solution. In Dane County collaboration is easy; the Sustainability Leadership Collaborative (SLC) was created to facilitate cross-community idea sharing and collaboration. Community leaders are encouraged to identify issues the SLC can address.
    • If you have an issue, email us and we'll get it on an upcoming SLC agenda
    • If you are not part of the SLC and want to join, email us
  • Celebrate successes. Making sustainability the new business as usual is hard work. You will be asking people to change how they operate and make changes to their workflows. To encourage participation and generate enthusiasm from staff, sharing feedback about how these efforts are going is critical. Some communities create annual opportunities to talk about key successes, while other communities share successes in an ongoing manner. However you do it, make sure to take time to value contributions of staff so people understand their efforts are contributing to results.

When local governments adopt these practices, they reduce the resource use in government facilities, saving money and reducing emissions. Those activities give local leaders increased credibility to engage citizens and businesses in sustainability efforts. Because you have addressed your own activities first, you can say "we did it and you can too."

 

 

Understand Community-Wide Emissions

As part of developing Dane County's Climate Action Plan, we created a 2017 baseline of Pie chart of Dane County carbon emissions in 2017
carbon and carbon equivalent emissions produced in Dane County. Overall in 2017, Dane County produced about 7.5 million metric tons of carbon equivalent emissions. More than half of emissions were associated with the built environment, such as electricity for buildings as well as natural gas and other fuels that heated those buildings (shown as Residential and Commercial in the chart). More than half of the remaining emissions come from transportation. Industry, agriculture, waste and other activities make up less than a quarter of emissions produced in the County.

Image of area, showing emissions by zip code

 

The County's baseline identifies the total emissions produced in Dane County. Another way to look at emissions is by consumption. Consumption-based emissions are those associated with all activity that takes place in a specific region. Production and consumption emissions vary because items are often made in a different location than they are used, and both contribute to emissions. For example, when you buy a car the emissions associated with making the car (production emissions) occur where the car was produced.

Looking at consumption-based emissions is helpful to understand the total carbon footprint of an entity or region because it takes into account your activities as well as all the goods and services you purchase. The Cool Climate Network offers a consumption-based emissions map that shows how emissions vary by zip code. The mix of emissions, such as the amount for electricity versus travel, will vary by location. Check out the map to see the typical mix of household emissions in your zip code and then use our Household Carbon Calculator to see how your household compares to the typical. Other entities, including Climate TRACE, are working on additional maps and data associated with greenhouse gas emissions.

Make a Commitment

Setting public goals is critical to achieving results. Share your emission commitments with others who can hold you accountable because when communities set climate and clean energy goals, achieving those results becomes more likely.

Beginning in 2008, more than 140 local governments in Wisconsin passed Energy Independent Community resolutions. Today about 1 in 3 people in Wisconsin live in a community with ambitious climate action goals. Local government generally set one goals relative to their own operations, to their whole community, or both. Within each category, goals might focus on reducing energy use, transitioning to renewable electricity, transitioning to renewable energy (electricity + other forms of energy like transportation fuels), reducing greenhouse gas emissions or some combination of those objectives. Below illustrates the clean energy and climate goals entities have set within Dane County.

Local Governments & School Districts with Goals for Internal Operations
*Per capita reduction in fossil fuel energy use, rather than total energy reduction
Entity Total Energy
Reduction
Renewable
Electricity
Renewable
Energy
GHG
Emissions 
Dane County     100% by 2025 25% by 2025  
Fitchburg 30% by 2030*  
50% by 2050*
 25% by 2025
100% by 2030  
25% by 2025
 
 
Madison    

 25% by 2025
100% by 2030

100% by 2030  
Madison Metropolitan 
School District
    50% by 2030
75% by 2035
100% by 2040
 
Marshall      60% by 2030
 80% by 2035
100% by 2040  
 
Middleton 15% by 2030
50% by 2050
 25% by 2025
 80% by 2030
100% by 2035
 25% by 2025
 66% by 2030
 88% by 2035
100% by 2040
 
Middleton School District     100% by 2035  
Monona 15% by 2030
40% by 2040
50% by 2050
 35% by 2025
100% by 2030
 25% by 2025
 65% by 2030
 85% by 2035
100% by 2040
 
Stoughton     25% by 2025  
Sun Prairie     25% by 2025  
Waunakee     25% by 2025  

     

Local Governments with Community-Wide Climate or Clean Energy Goals
*Per capita reduction in fossil fuel energy use, rather than total energy reduction
Entity Total Energy
Reduction
Renewable
Electricity
Renewable
Energy
GHG
Emissions
Dane County        50% by 2030
100% by 2050  
Fitchburg 30% by 2030*
50% by 2050*  
     
Madison     100% by 2050   100% by 2050
Marshall      33% by 2030
 66% by 2040
100% by 2050  
 
Middleton 10% by 2030
40% by 2050
 20% by 2025
 66% by 2030
 88% by 2035
100% by 2040  
 21% by 2030
 80% by 2040
100% by 2050
 
Monona 10% by 2030 
40% by 2050
 35% by 2025
 66% by 2030
 88% by 2035
100% by 2040
 20% by 2030
 80% by 2040
100% by 2050
 

Here are a few resources available to help communities set climate goals:

Once a community has set goals they can track progress against those goals, just as Dane County is tracking progress on its Climate Action Plan.

 

Address Equity

Climate change exposes some of the systemic inequities in our societies, both locally and globally. Frontline communities that are already struggling to respond to climate change impacts are often communities with lower carbon emissions. Wealthy households tend to have higher emissions than low-income households, while simultaneously possessing the means to escape climate impacts.

In our Climate Action Plan Dane County commits to address equity and social justice because we acknowledge the racism and inequities in the ways we have produced and used fossil fuels historically. We encourage other communities to integrate an equity lens into their climate and clean energy efforts as well.

Screen shot of EJ Screen, showing risk of lead pain in Madison area.To better understand environmental inequities in your community check out EJScreen, a mapping tool from the Environmental Protection Agency. EJScreen enables you to look at how a variety of environmental risks map onto potentially vulnerable communities.

As you begin to think about how to address equity, check out these resources:

Also, take a look at what other communities around the US are doing on equity. Both Providence, RI and Portland, OR have received recognition for integrating climate justice into their efforts.

 

 

Inspire Community-Wide Action

Are you ready to inspire businesses and residents to adopt sustainable practices in their own lives? Are you already thinking about how key institutions such as local houses of worship or beloved landmarks can take action that inspires others?

Ultimately, government has a critical role in helping prepare, educate, and inspire citizens to make sustainability the 'new normal,' and to engage citizens in sharing a commitment to reducing energy usage. But influencing long-term change is difficult. By beginning with your internal government operations, you will gain credibility while building a community that is willing and prepared to take action.

And if you take time to understand local emissions and equity concerns you will be better prepared for questions. Learn from existing research about what works--and doesn't--to influence practices. Some important rules of thumb as you think about inspiring change:

  • Reinforce the positive. Research shows that shaming people is not effective. Instead, celebrate successes, which serves to inspire others to strive for recognition and prompt those you've recognized to do even more. So take time to recognize leaders in your community. Dane County's Clean Energy Map is an example of how we are recognizing leaders. Think about ways you can recognize leaders locally too.
  • Leverage social norms. Humans are social creatures--we take cues from the people around us all the time. Use this to your advantage! For example, talk about the increase in local bike commuting because when residents hear that their neighbors are biking it will inspire some of them to bike too. Be careful, though, to only reinforce norms you want to grow. For example, if you talk about an increase in littering, littering becomes more likely.
  • Focus. When presented with too many options most of us choose to do nothing. If you want action, provide two or three specific suggestions. Once adopted, you can suggest a few more actions. To do this, think thematically. For example, focus on water issues in the summer and then talk about energy actions in the fall. 
  • Make it easy to be sustainable. Remove the barriers to the practices you want people to adopt. If you want more recycling, make it easier to recycle by putting a recycling bin next to every trash bin and make clear what goes in which bin. Local governments have a lot of ability to make sustainable choices easier. Think, for example, about your permiting process for solar electric systems. Is it set up to make it easy for residents and businesses to get solar? 

As you inspire action be sure to celebrate milestones and share successes widely. As residents and businesses hear about the efforts of their peers that will inspire more action too. Plus talking about your sustainability efforts can help you attract new residents and new businesses to your community. So as you become greener, share the news of your successes widely!

 

 

Resources

Below are some resources available to help local governments take action on climate change:

  • Energy on Wisconsin, a partnership between UW-Extention and the Wisconsin State Office of Energy Innovation, provides resource lists, case studies and updates on funding opportunities. Subscribe to their e-newsletter for monthly updates.
  • The Clean Energy Toolkit is a resource guide for Wisconsin's cities, towns and villages that are interested in creating a clean energy plan.
  • Focus on Energy, Wisconsin's statewide energy efficiency and renewable energy program, offers technical assistance and incentives for eneregy efficiency and renewable energy projects.
  • Wisconsin's Office of Energy Innovation is the state energy office. In past years OEI has supported community-scale initiatives with technical support and competitive funding opportunities. OEI also publishes the state energy statistics, which are a handy source of data.
  • Governor's Task Force on Climate Change is charting a path to meet our goal of 100% carbon-free energy by 2050 and welcomes input from local communities.
  • Madison Area Technical College has published a Solar Toolkit. The toolkit is full of advice and real-world examples. Although aimed at schools, the resources and advice are applicable to all local governments, including schools. 

Additionally, you might want to learn from what others are doing.

Finally, many national resources are also available: