Woman holds paper titled "Sustain(A2)ble" with State Street in the background.
Design by Arunika Shee.

In 2013, the city of Ann Arbor designed the Ann Arbor Sustainability Framework to outline goals on climate, energy, land use and resource management. The framework project began in January 2011 and was fully funded by the Home Depot Foundation. Now, a decade after the framework was released, The Michigan Daily is reviewing updates and progress toward the city’s environmental goals. 

In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor said the city has made significant progress toward increasing sustainability thanks to an increase in funding from the city’s Community Action Climate Millage, which was passed in November 2022 with 71.07% of the vote. 

“We have made substantial progress over the past decade in terms of sustainability,” Taylor said. “The funding for sustainability in the past has been limited, but with the Community Climate Action Millage being passed in November of last year, we are able to increase funding by almost 700%.” 

Rising Engineering junior Katie Watson is the president of the Students for Clean Energy club at the University of Michigan. In an interview with The Daily, Watson said she has observed student frustration with the University in regards to U-M and citywide sustainability goals. 

“The biggest pushback we have received is a disinterest and reluctance for the U-M administration to invest in city projects because they do not feel accountable,” Watson said. “The more people who actively and vocally support clean energy and sustainability on campus and in the city, the more likely it is for administration and public representatives to listen and start acting on their promises.”                        

Climate and energy

According to the Sustainability Framework, climate and energy goals aim to reduce gas emissions, seek sustainable sources of energy and lower consumption community-wide. A key element in this area is the city’s A2Zero plan, which was adopted in 2019 and aims to achieve community-wide carbon neutrality by 2030. Also in pursuit of these energy goals, the City Council proposed the Sustainable Energy Utility in the spring of 2021, which would provide Ann Arbor homes and businesses with clean, reliable and affordable energy from local solar and battery storage systems. It would be installed throughout the city using microgrids, which allow small groups of individuals to generate, share and manage power together. 

Taylor told The Daily the city is confident the Sustainable Energy Utility will increase the accessibility of renewable energy, but that city officials are still determining how best to implement the program.

“We are still in the process of developing the SEU plan in regards to some aspects of the structures,” Taylor said. “Bottom line is that the SEU plan will enable people to have locally generated renewable energy at an appropriate price.” 

Ann Arbor also offers Ann Arbor Solarize, which aims to help community members purchase and install residential solar at discounted rates. Councilmember Lisa Disch, D-Ward 1, told The Daily the Solarize program will help Ann Arbor residents save on energy costs in addition to benefiting the environment..

“Through the Solarize program, which uses neighbor-to-neighbor organizing to facilitate community bulk buys of residential solar, the Office of Sustainability has added almost three megawatts of solar installed, representing more than $1 million in savings on the upfront cost of solar. and well over $12 million in energy savings over the 25-year warrantied period for solar panels,” Disch said. 

As another part of the city’s plan for carbon neutrality, they have begun constructing local solar installations in public spaces, including Fire Station 6, the Ann Arbor Farmers Market and the Landfill Solar Project. The landfill solar installation generates an estimated 24 megawatts of energy, equivalent to the energy usage of 5,000 homes. 

The A2Zero plan also proposes that any new construction projects from 2022 to 2030 generate net-zero emissions, suggesting that new properties will only use electric energy and be able to generate renewable energy onsite. Taylor said while the city is unable to enforce requirements on the type of energy property owners use, they are working to encourage renewable energy sources. 

“We are unable, as a matter of law, to implement the obligation due to a matter of the building code,” Taylor said. “We do, however, encourage particular property owners that come in requesting a rezoning or the development of a unity to follow these sustainable metrics.” 

Some recent construction proposals work toward these sustainability goals, including a  quadplex being developed by Doug Selby, founder and CEO of Volta Homes. Selby is planning to tear down a local rental house to build the quadplex using the same original materials while adding solar panels as well as high-efficiency appliances and other green features. The city has also received a proposal for an 82-unit apartment building in northwest Ann Arbor that will rely solely on electric energy and geothermal heating. 


According to the Sustainability Framework, the community goals aim to provide residents with a high quality of life by “ensuring access to basic needs and services while empowering community members to continually foster and steward improvements to our community and to our environment.”

With organizations and programs focused on addressing ongoing social issues in the community and providing relevant services, the framework aims to recognize how the city’s sustainability goals are connected to social justice. For example, the Ann Arbor Community Partnership and Outreach Team is working to provide residents with opportunities to get involved in sustainability efforts. 

The Ann Arbor 2022 Hazard Mitigation Plan lays out the city’s risks for environmental hazards and potential mitigation strategies, including strengthening physical infrastructure and implementing sound land policies. The 2022 plan marks the third update to the Ann Arbor Mitigation Plan. Since its last update in 2017, the city has adopted a Floodplain Management Overlay District to further enhance floodplain management in the city and updated the evacuation plan for residents living near Barton Dam in the event of a flood.

Land use and access 

The Sustainability Framework says its goals around land use and access focus on “our community’s need for integrated and sustainable systems that preserve and enhance our natural environment.”

This aspect of the framework seeks to shift transportation usage toward more sustainable options, improve infrastructure planning and encourage integrated land use to help address the impacts of climate change. For transportation specifically, the city hopes to encourage environmentally-friendly transportation, like walking and biking, while maintaining safety in line with the city’s Vision Zero plan, which aims to eliminate all deaths and serious injuries from motor vehicle accidents by 2025. 

In an interview with The Daily, Disch said U-M students play a key role in advancing these sustainability initiatives, especially in regards to transportation. 

“I am beyond impressed by the interest and energy that U-M students show in sustainability initiatives on campus, and supporting city initiatives like alternative modes of transit and opening up new housing opportunities, so that more people can live and play where they work,” Disch said. 

Resource management

The city’s resource management goals focus largely on monitoring the consumption and reuse of natural materials and resources.  

The major sources of air pollutants in Ann Arbor are emissions from combustion engines, emissions from power plants and emissions from indoor and outdoor appliances. The city’s Office of Sustainability and Innovations is working to install solar-powered air quality measuring tools around the city. So far, there are four monitors installed around Ann Arbor: one at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market in Kerrytown, one at the intersection of Main Street and Washington Street, one at the Bryant Community Center and one at the Veteran’s Memorial Park. 

Future directions

Watson told The Daily she hopes to see the University increase its collaboration with the city of Ann Arbor to achieve their shared environmental goals.

“The University also needs to be more progressive and willing to invest in clean energy initiatives in order to meet both Ann Arbor’s and U-M’s carbon neutrality goals,” Watson said. “There seems to be good community support for cleaner and more sustainable community projects and I am optimistic about Ann Arbor’s future of sustainability, although it will take plenty of time and persistence to get there.”  

Taylor recognized that the framework’s goals are ambitious, and said achieving them will require contributions from both local and statewide elected officials. 

“Our goals are ambitious, and we can do a lot, but we are also merely a city within a state within a country,” Taylor said. “We are looking to our superior levels of government to take action and to move us along. We look to the legislature to be aggressive in this area to hold the existing utilities’ feet to the fire and demand of them the change that is necessary and to give local jurisdictions the ability to be flexible.”

Daily Staff Reporter Emma Lapp can be reached at emmalapp@umich.edu.