Replicating a Groundbreaking Idea to Couple Building Sustainability and Public Health

Walk around a targeted neighborhood. Left to right: Claire Oleksiak, Sustain Dane; John Viner, Elevate; Kelly Hilyard, City of Middleton; Emily Kuhn, District 4 Alder; Daphne Xu, City of Middleton.

The Mayors Innovation Project, in partnership with Healthy Babies Bright Futures, provided grants to cities across the country to work toward better health outcomes for children. We are excited to share the story of one of our grant recipients, Middleton, WI.

By Kelly Hilyard | Sustainability Coordinator  City of Middleton, WI

Regular stakeholder meetings with community organizations are key to making inclusive decisions that meet residents’ needs. Project partners crafted eligibility criteria, outreach materials, and the application together and secured final approval through the City’s Common Council. 

The Project Team also took a guided walk in a target neighborhood. The District Alderperson and local building owners shared challenges they face with high energy bills, flooding, and home improvement financing.

A key goal of the program in Middleton is to establish best practices for integrating public health into energy efficiency work. There are many co-benefits and overlapping strategies for both decarbonization and healthy homes. In March, Middleton is hosting a half day Summit with public health officials, integrated pest management (IPM) specialists, and project partners to co-create program design that combines energy and public health work in affordable housing. Based on this learning, city staff will create a case study to provide information about how the pilot worked and to suggest steps forward when presented with any number of challenges.

The application process is open in Middleton. Our goal is to complete six to eight detailed building energy efficiency retrofits, and energy assessments for at least 10 buildings before early summer 2023. Assessments for lead, mold, and IPM will also be a part of this process.

How can my city replicate this program?

Middleton learned that building relationships between trusted community partners and organizations, public health departments, and city officials is a necessary first step. Energy efficiency work, housing issues, and public health are all connected but complex. It takes a team to bring it all together. Engaging that team early in the process will help the program succeed and obtain buy-in from building owners, residents, and the expertise needed to complete a building project.

There will be new opportunities for scaling up energy efficiency work because of historic funding from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) over the next few years. Now is the time to start collaborating and educating elected officials, community organizations, and residents about the co-benefits of addressing both energy efficiency and public health to improve overall well-being.