Milwaukee is going green

Green is grabbing our attention like never before. Concerns about global warming and the environment are converging with priorities to regrow our economy and to lower energy costs for businesses and families.

Today, green isn’t just about planting trees, preserving green space and recycling. It’s about green technologies, alternative energies, green buildings and a greener economy. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett believes there are economic opportunities to be realized by growing the green sectors of our regional economy. If you look at the green roofing industry, it has grown nationally by 25 percent last year. Locally, we boast about our energy innovators such as Johnson Controls Inc. and Rockwell Automation Inc. Green-related businesses, from consulting to carpentry, are responsible for one of the fastest growing job sectors.

The health of Lake Michigan will ultimately affect our local economy, as the Great Lakes are the largest source of freshwater in the world. Our image as a "fresh coast" is what can help us attract additional industries and talent to our region but we tarnish our image with each news story about sewer overflows. The City of Milwaukee’s mission is to increase use of green technology to keep stormwater runoff from entering our sewer system, our rivers and Lake Michigan. 

Milwaukee’s green plan is to influence individual actions, lead by example in use of green technologies and steer the actions of the private sector towards greener developments, greener industries.

So how are we doing? Milwaukee ranks No. 16 on a list of "greenest cities" according to SustainLane, an organization that it tracking the greening efforts of cities. Our city is among the top 10 in its use of green roofs, as noted by the industry. The Sierra Club named Highland Gardens, a Milwaukee Housing Authority development, one of America’s Best New Developments. I’d like to share a few additional updates that I believe will raise our ranking next year.

Green buildings

  • Buildings constitute 45 percent of energy consumption worldwide. Green building design maximizes use of natural light, reduces energy consumption and can also absorb stormwater. The City of Milwaukee continues to lead by example by its use of green roofs and green building designs with its own buildings. 
  • The Housing Authority’s Cherry Court celebrates its grand opening this month. This building not only features a green roof, it also includes flooring made from renewable and recycled resources such as bamboo, rubber, recycled fiber carpets, and linoleum that is made with natural products. The building itself is made with locally manufactured and recyclable concrete masonry. Sunshades at corner lounges optimize daylight and solar heat. A heat pump HVAC system will lower energy consumption, as will the Energy Star fixtures and appliances throughout the building. Low-flow toilets were added to the public restrooms to conserve water.
  • This spring, a green roof will be added to the building that houses the Department of City Development and the Development (Permits) Center. 
  • Wisconsin’s first "green street" was opened in the past year in the Josey Heights subdivision, located in a central city neighborhood close to downtown. This street is made of impervious materials and will absorb stormwater runoff. In fact, the street, bioswales and other green features of Josey Heights will absorb 100 percent of stormwater runoff and prevent 1 million gallons of stormwater annually from burdening the sewer system.
  • In the near future, the Development Center will provide information on green building technologies and local green contractors, to raise awareness and steer more building projects into the ‘green.’ 
  • The Department of City Development is working with the Mayor’s Office on environmental sustainability to develop green building standards. When requests for proposals are issued to develop vacant land, the City of Milwaukee places green building proposals higher on the ranking list. A green standard is being developed in conjunction with city-assisted projects as well. 
  • The City of Milwaukee continues to explore options to use its economic development toolbox to encourage more green development.

Green economy, green jobs

  • Consumer demand is growing for green innovations, contractors experienced in green technologies and low-cost green products. Milwaukee’s Johnson Controls developed a new battery for hybrid cars, based on demand. From rain garden landscapers to water quality engineers, there is a local opportunity to grow jobs to meet the growing demands for these services. We’re focused on expanding these industries in strategic locations. 
  • Milwaukee has reclaimed Wisconsin’s largest brownfield, the Menomonee Valley, producing 2,100 new jobs in 557,000 square feet of high performance, energy efficient buildings. A total of 70 acres of wasteland was converted to new greenspace, including the innovative Stormwater Park to absorb and clean runoff from the Valley Business Park. A decade in the making, this success story will continue to fuel job creation in the future.  
  • Mayor Barrett declared the City of Milwaukee will lead a similar long-range effort to renew the 30th Street Industrial Corridor as a "Greenlight District" for jobs. This corridor features many underused sites, presenting an opportunity to expand businesses, especially green businesses. This reinvestment zone could include additional incentives to attract new businesses and fuel growth.

These are just a few of the many green highlights the City of Milwaukee has to share. For more information, please visit

Richard "Rocky" Marcoux is the commissioner for the City of Milwaukee’s Department of City Development.

Editor’s note: See the latest in environmentally friendly technologies and products at the Green Pavilion of the Wisconsin Business & Technology Expo, May 2-3, at Wisconsin State Fair Park. For more information, visit