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Zero Cities Project aims to reduce Grand Rapids' carbon footprint to zero by 2050

Steven Depolo
Grand Rapids aims to reduce its carbon footprint to zero by 2050.

The Next Idea

The federal government may not be making climate change action plans a priority, but Grand Rapids is stepping up, despite the various hurdles associated with reducing greenhouse gas emissions. One of these is an energy efficiency standard for buildings. Alison Waske Sutter, the Grand Rapids sustainability manager, is leading the city’s participation in the Zero Cities Project, which aims to reduce net carbon in the city to zero by 2050.

On the meaning of “zero net carbon”

“Zero net carbon is when you have a building that either produces on-site or purchases enough carbon-free renewable energy to meet the building’s energy consumption, so you can install solar panels or you can purchase renewable energy to offset all of the energy that’s being consumed by the building.”

On the immediate goal

“The goal long term is to create a policy road map that will help us work toward achieving a zero carbon building sector. It’s really laid out, kind of in a three year plan, with this first year really focused attention on kind of evaluating our current policies, what type of incentives we have in place, and getting a handle on what is the carbon footprint of Grand Rapids’ building stock, so that’s our immediate focus right now.”

On funding the project

“Well, the idea is really to couple economic incentives as well as some of our own planning and development policies to look at, perhaps, carrot approaches that may not have additional costs associated with them, or are there some opportunities that may include requirements for building owners to look at going beyond existing energy code, or providing some additional tax incentives if they are willing to really look at energy efficiency and move toward this zero net carbon."

"So part of the entire evaluation process is going to be the realm of all policies available, but being mindful of, are those costly, what’s the most affordable, and then what’s the best approach moving forward for all building types in the city?”

On the risk of higher housing and business space costs

“That’s definitely something that we’re going to be working with the Urban Sustainability Directors Network on, and to being able to evaluate. Really, the second phase of this project is focused on engaging the community and being very mindful of disparate impacts on low income communities or communities of color that have historically seen more impacts from some of these changes that are taking place..."

"... Are these types of policies or programs going to increase costs for homeowners? For building owners? For businesses? And how can we ensure that we’re taking that into consideration, and hearing from the community about what can we do? What are some of the best incentives and some of the best planning processes that we can hopefully incentivize those energy efficiencies and renewable energy without having significant financial impact.” 

The Next Idea is Michigan Radio’s project devoted to new innovations and ideas that will change our state. 

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Originally from New Jersey, Lara is a senior at the University of Michigan studying English and Spanish. She's an Online News and Investigative Intern at Michigan Radio and a recent alum of The Michigan Daily, where she's served as Managing Editor of The Statement Magazine and Summer Editor in Chief. When she's not at Michigan Radio, she can be found listening to Bruce Springsteen or exploring a national park.
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