U-M survey finds interest among communities in sustainability, energy collaborations

September 30, 2020
Written By:
Jeff Karoub

Overhead of solar panels. Image credit: @umich twitter.

Few local governments in Michigan report collaborating with another community on energy and sustainability issues, yet nearly half expressed interest in teaming up with others to pursue opportunities, according to a new University of Michigan survey.

Results released by the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy at U-M’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy show interest in collaboration varies by topic. Overall, three-quarters of local jurisdictions report current collaboration (38%) and an interest in collaboration (36%) on recycling.

On other topics, relatively few local governments statewide currently report collaborations on nonmotorized or public transportation (17%), green purchasing programs (7%) or shared staffing for energy issues (3%). However, local government officials express considerable interest in pursuing these opportunities, particularly for green purchasing programs (44%).

The survey also found that collaborations are more common in larger jurisdictions, and sheds light on potential intergovernmental collaborations elsewhere.

“Collaboration on energy and sustainability issues is not just for big cities and counties—even in Michigan’s smallest townships and villages, 34% currently report they collaborate on recycling, and only 18% have no interest in doing so,” said Natalie Fitzpatrick, CLOSUP’s research area specialist.

The Michigan Local Energy Survey, which was a special wave of the Michigan Public Policy Survey conducted last fall, is sponsored by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. Its findings allow for a better understanding of local officials’ perceptions of the costs, benefits and likelihood of engaging in sustainability activities.

“We’re fortunate that, because more than 70% of Michigan local governments statewide participate in our surveys, we’re able to map out opportunities for collaboration all the way down to the county level,” said Debra Horner, CLOSUP’s project manager.

Robert Jackson, assistant director of EGLE’s Materials Management Division, said it’s valuable from an energy perspective to hear from local officials on programs in which they participate or potentially collaborate.

“Hearing from local officials on the programs they participate in and collaborate on is valuable information from an energy perspective,” he said. “The survey results will help us to identify areas in which we may foster partnerships with municipal officials to identify opportunities for saving energy and money.”

The communities’ interest in working together on sustainability is encouraging and motivating, according to Sarah Mills, senior project manager of the U-M Graham Sustainability Institute and CLOSUP.

“Through U-M’s ongoing collaboration with EGLE, we look forward to helping make some of those connections between local governments,” she said.

Launched in the wake of the Great Recession in 2009 by CLOSUP, the MPPS is conducted in partnership with the Michigan Association of Counties, Michigan Municipal League and Michigan Townships Association. It is one of several ways the Ford School provides cross-disciplinary expertise at multiple levels of governance.


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