City Climate Corner

Ann Arbor MI: Net Zero by 2030!

Episode Summary

About a year ago Ann Arbor adopted an audacious plan of reaching carbon neutrality by 2030 with a total investment of $1 billion. This is faster than just about any other city in the country. We speak with Missy Stults, Ann Arbor's Sustainability and Innovations Manager, about the plan, how Ann Arbor is doing so far, and how they're going to achieve their goal.

Episode Notes

About a year ago Ann Arbor adopted an audacious plan of reaching carbon neutrality by 2030 with a total investment of $1 billion. This is faster than just about any other city in the country. We speak with Missy Stults, Ann Arbor's Sustainability and Innovations Manager, about the plan, how Ann Arbor is doing so far, and how they're going to achieve their goal.  


Episode Transcription


Abby Finis  00:02

Cities produce more than 60 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Big cities get a lot of attention, but most household emissions in the US actually come from communities outside urban cores, making them critical players in climate mitigation and climate justice. City Climate Corner explores how these small and mid-sized cities are tackling climate change and moving toward an equitable and sustainable future. 

Abby Finis  00:21

I'm Abby Finis.

Larry Kraft  00:23

And I'm Larry Kraft. We're co-hosts for City Climate Corner. 

Abby Finis  00:31

I have been thinking about setting climate goals, the level of ambition that goes behind goals, and what goes into the decisions behind setting some of these goals. You have a goal to be carbon neutral by 2040. What does that mean and where did you come up with that goal?

Larry Kraft  00:31

Hey, Abby!

Larry Kraft  00:50

In terms of what it means is at the highest level by 2040, making sure that St. Louis Park is not contributing anymore to climate change. And, in fact, starts to draw down on and then be a net positive. We came up with that part because the students asked and the reasons they gave were that the science was indicating that the world needed to do it by around 2050. That's an average. To be above average, you had to do it faster than that. To be a leader, we aimed for 2040.

Abby Finis  01:28

The most recent report from the IPCC is basically saying that global emissions need to be reduced by forty-five percent from 2010 levels by 2030, and then that net zero by 2050; that is to avoid a one and a half degree temperature rise in the global temperature. But, we're seeing some of these climate hazards happening a lot faster than they're supposed to be happening like the heat dome out in the Pacific Northwest, which, apparently, is threatening us in a couple of weeks. Do we need to be more aggressive? Is a 2040 goal ambitious enough?

Larry Kraft  02:04

It's interesting because right now we're at about a one degree temperature increase. We're not yet to one and a half. One and a half is going to look a lot worse than it does now. The quicker we can get there, and the lower we can keep it, the better, right? Every bit of temperature we can keep below two or one and a half will save money and save suffering.

Abby Finis  02:30

Today we go to Ann Arbor, where they actually did decide to implement more aggressive climate goals for their community. How did we come up with Ann Arbor?

Larry Kraft  02:42

Back when we did the Albany, California episode, I was connecting with folks around it to try to get the word out. I talked with Kif Scheuer who works in state government and runs a volunteer program with the state government for the governor's office. He said, "Boy, you ought to look at Ann Arbor. They're doing some really interesting things." Then you looked into it and got in touch with Missy.

Abby Finis  03:09

Yep! I did some research around their plan and some of the process that went into developing it and passing it. Now, they are fully into implementation. By the way, if you are listening to this, and you have a great idea for a story that we're not hitting, let us know! Reach out to us. There's info at the end of the episode. We'd love to hear it and we'd love to share more stories. But, let's dig into this one. 

Start of Interview and the Net Zero by 2030 goal

Abby Finis  03:38

Today we are speaking with Missy Stults, the Sustainability and Innovations Manager with the City of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Welcome, Missy! 

Missy Stults  03:46

Thanks so much for having me, Abby! 

Abby Finis  03:48

Yeah! Could you give us a little bit of an introduction about your role with the city?

Missy Stults  03:52

Sure. I am responsible for helping the community achieve what we often call our audacious, but absolutely essential, objective of achieving community wide carbon neutrality in a just and equitable way by the year 2030. Another way to confirm that I often tell people, my job is to help Ann Arbor become the most sustainable and equitable city in America.

Abby Finis  04:13

Let's talk about that. You have a Climate Action Plan with a really big goal of being carbon neutral by 2030, most plans are 2040 or 2050. 2030 is less than nine years away. How are you going to do that?

Missy Stults  04:27

How are we going to do that? We're going to do that by all hands on deck! It, as I said before, we talk about as being audacious, but essential. It is community wide, which is an important framing. We mean institutions, commercial enterprises, residents, our transportation system, etc. and we have a plan called A2ZERO. That's the plan and also the initiatives that fall out of that plan for how we're gonna do that was created with the community, by the community, and for the community. It spans all things you can imagine. 

Missy Stults  04:55

There are seven overarching strategies which are like the scaffolding or the foundation, and those are the pretty immovable things in the plan, the things that we have to do scientifically, politically, and socially. Then there are forty-four actions that support those strategies. Those are the things that are a little bit more movable: politics will change, technology will change, etc. But, those seven strategies are things like powering our grid with one hundred percent renewable energy or doing beneficial electrification and deep energy efficiency work. Reducing vehicle miles traveled and transitioning remaining miles over to electric transportation and certainly walking and biking is central to that work as well. Land use patterns, changing our relationship with materials, what we use, how we use, and what we do when we're done with it, really moving towards a circular economy. And, of course, investing in resilience. 

Missy Stults  05:43

Despite all of that great work on mitigation, climate change is already here. We're already feeling the impacts and we need to invest in our people, in our place, to make sure that we're enhancing the resilience so we don't bounce back, but we bounce forward in the face of disturbances. And then equity. Equity has to be in every single thing that we do to make sure that those who are hurt first and worse by climate change, benefit first and most from the actions we implement.

Abby Finis  06:05

That's a lot. I really like the way you break it down. It makes it feel doable because it's a lot of things that cities do, but it's just doing them better and with climate and with equity in mind. What do you see as the biggest challenge out of that list?

Missy Stults  06:22

I really like this question. The honest answer is that I don't think I have reflected on it in eighteen months since the pandemic started. I'll share what it was pre-pandemic, which was the fifty percent VMT reduction because it's so behavior focused. Talking about land use is really contentious and thinking about who gets to be on the land, who gets access to what that land looks like, how its programmed, and our transportation infrastructure. The idea of getting people out of cars, and walking and biking more, is really tough. 

Missy Stults  06:56

Well, then a pandemic hit, and we showed what was possible with telework. And, we showed how much our transportation infrastructure really is critical for so many people. Telework is super uneven, I want to name that, right? Not all of us have access to it. But, in the pandemic, we hit sixty percent VMT reduction. Now, I actually don't feel so scared because before telework, telework wasn't in our plan, because we did not think we could hit this kind of scale of teleworking. Well, now we know we can. I'm actually more excited about that than I was at the beginning. Gosh, if I were to think about today, as we're emerging from the pandemic, what some of the hardest things are, I don't know that I could tell you that any of it is impossible. All of it feels possible. It's just a different challenge. If it's regulatory, legislative, or social, all of its doable. 

Investment Needed for Plan

Abby Finis  07:45

It does seem like the pandemic has maybe opened up some opportunities that we can really lean into our own public spaces around different commuting behaviors, those kinds of things. This plan gets a lot of attention because of its ambition. It is one of the most ambitious plans that I have seen, if not the most ambitious plan, but also because of its price tag. I saw that the City Council originally had voted the plan down because they wanted to see how much it cost, and staff came back with that it will cost one billion dollars. 

Abby Finis  08:14

How did you estimate the cost for the plan and what was the reaction of the City Council? 

Missy Stults  08:19

Just one correction, Council did not vote the plan down. They accepted the plan and just postponed a vote on it. It was never voted down. 

Abby Finis  08:28

I see, okay.

Missy Stults  08:30

There was just more information requested. In terms of the cost estimate, every single action was really carefully curated. Looking at what is technically needed like scientific peer reviewed literature and technical advisory committees, we worked with the public to generate ideas and we ran them through a prioritization framework, which in fact, is on our website. Anyone can see how we got to where we got. And, any new idea that comes forward has to go through that framework. We can't just pull it out of the air and say, "This looks really great!" It's got to pass rigor. 

Missy Stults  09:00

In doing that, we had to do a lot of modeling. For instance, like how much Bus Rapid Transit will we need to put in and how many people would ride Bus Rapid Transit? What's the cost per mile? Everything has really detailed cost assumptions behind them based on standard promising practices, I don't think there are best practices. That's just a pet peeve of mine. Best implies finality and there's no finality in our space. We continue to keep learning and growing. We have a cost calculator behind the scenes where we ran every single action through. We modeled number of writers for things, we modeled number of households that we need to participate to hit greenhouse gas production numbers, and then the cost associated with that. We did a detailed assumption. The most expensive thing is transit in there. That's largely because we socialized transit. We all pay for the cost of transit versus if I were going to get solar on my roof, well, that's a benefit that I'm getting. I would would bear that expense. That's why you see this big price tag for the socialization of our infrastructure.

Abby Finis  10:02

How did the City Council react to the price that they heard? Obviously, they adopted the plan.

Missy Stults  10:08

Yeah, it's a big number. It's an intimidating number. But, it also is honest about the cost. It's not meant to imply that all of that money is coming from the City itself. There are federal dollars available, and especially now. Remember eighteen months ago or so? That was a very different world we were living in. Now, we're talking about infrastructure plans and investments that really would help unlock a lot of the initiatives that we're talking about. These are regional initiatives that we're doing: working with the state and working with surrounding municipalities in our county. 

Missy Stults  10:43

There was definitely a deep breath as we looked at the magnitude of what it was going to take. Then almost a challenge of, alright, let's figure it out. Let's figure out how we're going to do this. The other part of this equation is that we did a social cost of carbon calculation too so we attempted to look at the cost of inaction. And now, it's pretty clear that at some point, the cost of action is far less than the cost of inaction. We did a calculation of the last eighteen years well, not last eighteen, but from 2000 to 2018, of what a fifty-five dollar per ton cost of carbon would be based on our community greenhouse gas emissions. We're already responsible for two billion dollars worth of impacts to society. Putting in perspective, the cost of inaction is far greater than the cost of action.

Larry Kraft  11:35

Wow! You said two billion in eighteen years?

Missy Stults  11:40

When you look at community wide greenhouse gas emissions, and it's just under that, it depends what your cost per ton is, right? If you believe it's fifty-five dollars a ton, social cost, we can run that and tell you. But, if you think it's closer to one hundred, or some of the research showing three hundered dollars a ton, we're much, much higher in terms of the impact. We ran that calculation to give some perspective. We picked fifty-five dollars a ton because that was pretty consensus as a floor. Sure, there's research, some people will say it's zero dollars a ton, but that doesn't really carry any water in actual climate circles.

Larry Kraft  12:17

I appreciate the work that you've done on that. I'm a City Council Member in a smaller city, about fifty thousand, and we have a climate goal as well, a net zero goal. Not quite as aggressive, we're at 2040, but we do get a lot of questions like what's it gonna cost? I always like to switch and say, "Well, it's really an investment, right? Because, all these things cause a lot of significant benefits." You already said in answering this, but what is the general breakdown of resources expected to go toward that plan, that billion dollar investment? What do you anticipate coming in federal or state dollars versus city or private investment?

Missy Stults  12:55

I will absolutely answer that, but I do want to pick up the investment piece because we call our financial calculation the Investment Plan for that exact reason. We're making investments in our place, not just for climate, but for health, for safety, for local job creation, and for local economic development opportunities. There's so many co-benefits, or primary benefits, that if you care a lot about local economic development, great! We have space for you in this conversation. I think that's a really important point of the frame. 

Missy Stults  13:28

Also, sharing one example, we run a Solarize program, which the Department of Energy has some resources on, and we contextualize for us, which helps offer bulk discounts to people for going with solar. Through that program, we've saved homeowners hundreds of thousands of dollars. We're coming in on one and a half megawatts in eighteen years of rooftop solar installed on private homes. That's a direct savings that people are getting by making an investment in the resilience of their grid, the resilience of their home, and renewable energy generation. They're putting local contractors to work. Lots of good things kind of coming from something like that. 

Missy Stults  14:05

To your question about the investment portfolio broadly, the largest category by cost in A2ZERO is "Strategy For," which is our land use and transportation work. And, that's again, primarily because it's physical infrastructure; it's laying Bus Rapid Transit lines, it's expanding regional transportation systems, and it's the cost of transitioning buses over to electric. There's upfront costs associated with that. Then, of course, there's cascading impacts, positive impacts, that go through the system once you make those initial investments. That's really the bulk. The nice thing about that though is those are also the kinds of investments that federal and state governments really like to help. That's where dollars go into the ground. 

Missy Stults  14:53

The other initiatives are some infrastructure in the renewable energy space that we're investing in, but a lot of it is policy change or education or program creation. People can come in and we can lower upfront costs so more people can access different initiatives or programs or efficiency work, which is, really again, programmatic dollars to help. For example, our Aging in Place Efficiently Program helps low income seniors stay in a place of their choosing for longer by investing in improvements in their home, like aging improvements, like grab bars, or wheelchair ramps or hydraulics. They can get a wheelchair into a cooktop. But, it also invests in energy efficiency because if you're already going in to add something into the wall, that's the time you want to put in more insulation, for example. That's helping someone stay in place longer by making physical improvements in their home and lowering their operating costs at the precise time that things like medical bills are taking over. We're trying all of these different programs that have marginal implementation costs and really significant benefits in terms of health, safety, and quality of life.

Timing of Plan and Values behind it

Larry Kraft  16:00

One thing I wanted to follow up on is that I'm thinking about the timing of when this plan got put together. It must have been during the previous administration that was maybe less friendly towards these kinds of infrastructure, rail investments that are built into your plan. That is even more impressive that you all were thinking about that. It must be encouraging now to see the federal dollars freeing up for the rail. I'm wondering if you have something in process now for the rail portions of the investments.

Missy Stults  16:36

Oh, yeah! Absolutely right. Also, the plan was put together pre-pandemic, but adopted during the pandemic. So a really fascinating experience to go through this, for sure. 

Missy Stults  16:48

We're actively working with our Federal Representatives to make sure that they know everything about the plan and that we're talking to the Department of Transportation, the Department of Energy, and others to let them know our hand is in the air. We are ready to make investments in regional rail and we are ready to make investments in massive energy infrastructure upgrades. By that I don't mean like big central grid, I mean decentralization from a resilient standpoint, solar and storage. What about neighborhood geothermal? We are ready to experiment!

Missy Stults  17:20

That actually takes me to something I didn't talk about, which is that we have three values in this plan, which are equity, sustainability, and transformation. Those are really, really important things in the work that we're doing. Just sitting on the transformation piece for a second, doing things the way that we've always done them, we actually know the outcome, right? It's not what I'm excited about. It's not a world that's really great. We have to be willing on transforming our systems and innovation is a part of that. 

Missy Stults  17:51

Being willing to try new things and thinking about how we lower the costs for people and the barriers to entry and how we remove them where possible. How do you do, I know this is a pontification, but I sit with this a lot, our field talks about energy efficiency, we talk about it a lot. We know it makes complete and total sense. It is unequivocally the peas and the carrots of our work. No one wants it. It is almost impossible to get someone excited about energy efficiency. But, if I run a solar event, I get hundreds of people that show up. I have even got hundreds of people to show up to a heat pump workshop. It's amazing! Because, people are excited about the new shiny thing. How in the world, are we going to make the peas and the carrots of energy efficiency, be embedded in the chickpeas' stake of solar? How are we going to do this? That's part of what we think about and how we tie these things together so that it's really simple for you to do the next right thing in the system.

Current budget

Larry Kraft  18:50

Oh, gosh, I love that! In looking at your City Budget, there's a significant amount that looks like it's allocated towards climate action. Although, I guess you could say everything could be climate action, if you think about it in a certain way. It looked like there was about seven or eight hundred thousand specifically dedicated toward that. What is that going towards?

Missy Stults  19:10

It's actually increasing, which is really great, because we're about to go into our next fiscal year here shortly. In terms of the programs that we have so far, we have just over a million dollars that's invested in climate locally. Next year for the next fiscal year, we'll jump to just under four million that will be investing in climate. We are a $440 million a year organization. Perspective, right? In terms of total operating budget, absolute value seems great. But, total operating budget still is pretty marginal. 

Missy Stults  19:38

That said, in terms of the initiatives historically that we've been working on, one is staff, having the buys to actually do the work necessary. Then there has been investments. I get caught because I can never figure out where to start in this one. Where's the on ramp? Let's see. We've transitioned ten percent of our municipal fleet over to electric; we were at zero percent three years ago, so that's really exciting. We're doing massive improvements in energy efficiency in our own buildings. We're gearing up for about 1.3 megawatts of solar on city facilities, which is great. We're working on a landfill solar project, which is twenty-four megawatts of solar that'll go in a landfill site, which is roughly municipal electric usage. We intervene in rate cases and some of our dollars have gone to regulatory intervention, because that's a really important landscape for us. We successfully got to settlement a few weeks ago with our landfill solar project. If it moves forward, we're finishing the final studies right now, but if everything is copacetic and we're able to move, it will be the first community solar program in DTE, our investor owned utilities territory, because in Michigan utilities do not have to offer community solar. We're really excited to have that be a major initiative that moves forward. 

Missy Stults  20:54

Gosh! With our Solarize program, by helping residents access solar, we're working in a neighborhood, one of our low income neighborhoods, that's a beautifully diverse neighborhood; it's about fifty percent renter and fifty percent owner occupied, built by the very same developer, there's only two styles of houses. We're doing a neighborhood where the neighbors are actually designing a Whole Home Health Safety and Decarbonisation Assessment based on their needs. All the money goes to the residents themselves to pay for their time in creating the assessment. Then we're working with our local unions and our local contractors to also figure out how they would collaborate to implement the Assessment. These are some of the initiatives that we've got going on and I'm confident I forgot a million of them.

University of Michigan relationship

Abby Finis  21:37

You mentioned before, that this is a community wide effort, institutions are well involved. And, Ann Arbor is home to the University of Michigan, a pretty large institution, which I imagine probably makes up a significant portion of greenhouse gas emissions. How are you working with the University on reaching these goals?

Missy Stults  21:58

A number of different ways. The University of Michigan is about one third of the community's greenhouse gas emissions, you're absolutely right, a really significant player in the landscape. The University recently convened a commission to help figure out what to propose, a potential goal, a pathway, for the University achieving carbon neutrality. I was lucky enough to serve on that commission with peers across the University and region. We made our recommendations earlier this year. The president accepted those recommendations and has since come out with a goal of carbon neutrality by 2025, using offsets, inclusive of offsets, and then absolute neutrality by 2040, meaning no direct emissions on campus. They're working towards that path, which is obviously really great to have that collaboration. 

Missy Stults  22:44

That's one from a policy standpoint, now we have two major institutions and we also have the county for us that has a carbon neutrality goal too. Three major institutions have carbon neutrality goals. That's one delightful thing. The second is we formed a Carbon Neutrality Coordinating Committee and that includes six major institutions that are essential for achieving our collective goals of carbon neutrality. Certainly the County, the University of Michigan, the City, but also our transit authority, our public schools, and for us, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, which does a lot of policy work at the state and throughout the region. We meet quarterly to help figure out how we can collaborate, where there were strategic opportunities, to really leverage work that's happening or to go in together on a collaborative opportunity. And, that's just emergent. We're going for our third or fourth meeting as a group, we're really building trust and collaboration in that landscape. But, I'm excited to see where that goes because that's real scale. 

Missy Stults  23:41

Then, I meet monthly with my colleagues at the University of Michigan to talk really programmatically about what are you doing? What is it looking like in facilities? Here's what we're struggling with. What calculation are you using for embodied carbon? Let's use the same calculation for embodied carbon. Just some like really programmatic work that we're trying to align. I think if I had to be far more succinct, I would say we're in trust building and understanding together to get to a point of collaboration. 

Sustainability Office and Collaborators

Abby Finis  24:10

Wow! You have a lot on your plate. How big is the office that you work within? How many staff or when do you sleep?

Missy Stults  24:20

It's really fun! I often tell people, my job is exhilarating, exhausting, tear invoking, both positively and negatively, all the time. But, it's mostly fun. Right now we're an office of seven, which is great. We're the biggest office in Michigan, which is fabulous. And, also totally under staffed for the task right at hand. We have permission to grow to an office of eleven, so we'll be doing that in the near term. We're doing some strategic planning to really figure out where we need to position people in that and this is another component of living office. People move and shift in the office based on community appetite. We're going to be kind of rejiggering a little bit. 

Missy Stults  25:01

We have just incredible collaborators. I know I talked about the Carbon Neutrality Coordinating Committee we have, but we also have A2ZERO collaborating organizations. That's anyone in the community that wants to work with us in some element of A2ZERO, you don't have to love it all. I'm gonna doubt many of our stakeholders love every single thing in that plan, because it's hard, right? It's major change. But, there has to be something in there that aligns with your mission and your purpose. We work with those collaborators to advance various elements of A2ZERO and we have over ninety organizations, nonprofits, for profits, neighborhood associations, our Chamber of Commerce, our Landlord Association, and some non-traditional folks like Meals on Wheels is with us the local NAACP branch. And, again, we don't agree on every single thing, but there's something in there that we agree on. That's where we collaborate. That's how the work really does get done.

Celebration of one year anniversary of plan adoption

Larry Kraft  25:53

Ann Arbor looks like recently celebrated the one year anniversary of the adoption of the plan, with a Week of Climate Action. I'm really interested in that. What was the purpose behind that? What did you do? How did you get the community involved?

Missy Stults  26:08

Thank you for naming that! The purpose of that was multipronged. One, we have A2ZERO, we have this Investment Plan, and we have this prioritization framework I mentioned before, but we also have a governance document that talks about how A2ZERO will be adjusted. One of the things in the governance document is an annual reflection. What we had thought when we wrote that pre-pandemic was that that would be your traditional big convening. You'd bring a lot of people together, you would celebrate, you would reflect, you'd get feedback, and then you'd make revisions. Well, the pandemic made that really tricky. Instead, we chose to do a week long decentralized, self-paced activity where we could get lots and lots of feedback from people in really safe ways. That's one rationale. 

Missy Stults  26:56

The second is making sure people know about A2ZERO and engage with it, and really give us their feedback on how this is working. And, how this isn't working. That was the intent. In terms of the activities, all over. We worked with a local artist who helped us at parts of A2ZERO in the plan creation do some graphic renderings of "What do these things mean?" Visually, if you tell me we're gonna put electricity or we're going to have renewable electricity, what does that mean? She worked with us to do some kind of renderings and we worked with her during the one year anniversary to do a mural. She outlined the mural on, we have a trail system that's right along our river, and she outlined it and volunteers came and filled it in. It was a collaborative kind of process. That mural now exists pretty publicly. 

Missy Stults  27:47

We have A2ZERO ambassadors, which are residents that care a lot about this work. Maybe they're not experts in it, but they care about it. We celebrated them in their projects. We had a celebratory dinner. We were at our farmers market talking to folks. We held special educational events on topics that the public was just interested in broadly. We brought in the Assistant Secretary of Climate Policy from DOT to talk about what's happening at DOT and the collaboration opportunities that exist there. We worked with our local distilling company to launch an A2ZERO drink, which is a very delicious and very potent drink. All the proceeds go to low income tree planting. That was kind of fun. We launched a reusable container pilot with four restaurants that are iconic in Ann Arbor and that's still going so folks get to see the A2ZERO logos as they are ordering their favorite meal. It goes home with them and then they return it and get a discount. We pretty much just said, "What can we do? What do we need to do? How do we draw attention to this?" And, anyone who had an idea we said "Yes" to.

Larry Kraft  28:49

Alright, what's in the A2ZERO drink? 

Missy Stults  28:54

Gin! Pretty gin forward. Gin and cucumber. It's all local, which is really, really cool. It's tree based. Yeah, it's pretty delicious! I highly recommend that you choose A2ZERO drink with a little bit of blackberry. That's my secret.

Abby Finis  29:13

Is that the name of it? 

Missy Stults  29:15

It's actually called Easy Treesy. 

Abby Finis  29:16

Easy Treesy. Okay, we're going to Ann Arbor.

Missy Stults  29:25

Anytime, we would love to have you! 

Larry Kraft  29:28

We're going to Fayetteville for biking and we're going to Ann Arbor to drink. 

Abby Finis  29:31

Yeah, right.

Missy Stults  29:33

Oh we'll go biking too. We'll do some renewable energy installs. Oh, we launched a scavenger hunt. We'll take you on the scavenger hunt because we wanted to daylight sustainability. It's really hard to see a lot of it. You can go get a free ice cream at our dairy that has been doing massive energy efficiency work so they get some recognition and you got a delicious ice cream as part of the scavenger hunt.

Abby Finis  29:54

Okay, we really have to visit the City Climate Corner on the road I think.

Missy Stults  29:58

I think you need to. And, to that, I just wanted to share for A2ZERO Week the tagline was "Have some fun, learn something, and do something." Making this really fun and accessible for people is key.

Advice for other cities

Larry Kraft  30:09

Is there anything else you want to share about the plan that could help other cities or any advice for others?

Missy Stults  30:16

If I could reflect back on the process, we had eighty-two working days to create A2ZERO as a plan. That was intense. We ran sixty-eight public events in eighty-two working days. We ran public surveys. It was a lot of work, I don't think I would do it differently. 

Missy Stults  30:34

We can lose ourselves sometimes in planning, because we want to create the perfect plan, and that doesn't exist. I think the piece of advice I would share with someone who was looking to do this work is don't get caught up in perfection, we need to get started. It's okay to be wrong. We have a philosophy in the office of being failure positive. I actually don't even really like that term, because failure implies that you do something that doesn't work, and you don't learn from it. Lots of things don't work in life. As long as you learn from those things and adjust, that's not a failure. That's learning. That's a core part of being a human. I think that's one of the really challenging things, finding a way to create structures that allow us to experiment. We've never done this, we've never decarbonized the community. You have to give yourself some permission to not get it completely right the first time. I would just encourage people, whether that's in the planning process, or the implementation process, that it's okay not to have perfection. That's really tough for local governments, we are not set up to be wrong, ever.

Larry Kraft  31:40

Probably okay to do that both in the implementing something, but also in realizing that you're never going to have the perfect information or enough people to do the job. Best to use what you have and get started.

Missy Stults  31:56

Yeah! And the last piece of advice that I often say more for myself than anyone that ever listens, is every thing that we are challenging, every policy and every program, was made by a human. It's not divine. There's no reason we can't challenge it and change it. That doesn't mean it's easy. And, it's often going to be very, very hard. But, it's a reminder that we are all prone to mistakes. And, it is okay to go in and ask for a policy change and to work hard on that policy change. The system actually isn't working very well for a whole lot of people. We do have to use the privilege that we have to challenge the inequity in the system, and to try to make it better.

Abby Finis  32:40

Well, it has been great talking to you today. Truly, I could talk all day about this. There's so much going on in Ann Arbor. I think it's gonna be a really good example for cities to lean into and start plugging away at their own ambitious plan. Thank you so much, Missy. 

Missy Stults  32:59

Thanks, Larry. Thanks, Abby. It was a pleasure to be with you. 

Abby and Larry debrief

Larry Kraft  33:04

Alright. Abby, what did you think about that? What were your takeaways?

Abby Finis  33:09

Well, first of all, I'm really blown away by the energy and passion that Missy brings to this job, her role there, and how much Ann Arbor is willing to dig in. I believe them. At the end of that episode, she said that they have an ambitious and essential goal that they're working to achieve. She laid out the case for how they're going to make it I felt.

Larry Kraft  33:37

I love the ambitious and essential. I was thinking, "Wow, we have this goal of 2040," and I think, "Oh my gosh, that's aggressive." After spending some time with Missy, wow! Her mind just moves at a faster pace than the rest of us. If she can get Ann Arbor moving the same way, 2030 is definitely doable.

Abby Finis  33:59

You all listened to a half an hour interview that was an hour of content, easily. Another thing I think that stood out and maybe in the same vein is the optimism and the sense of it feeling achievable. Even the areas where she didn't necessarily feel like they're going to be able to hit it. The pandemic changed that.

Larry Kraft  34:25

VMT, that was one where when you asked her about her biggest challenge, she said VMT before the pandemic, but then they actually saw the reduction that they were looking for during the pandemic. And, while it was abnormal, it provides a roadmap for how you can get there. That certainly is the positive side of seeing what happened as a result of the pandemic. I was then impressed when she was saying, "Look, none of it seems impossible!"

Abby Finis  34:52

It's a really interesting thought on VMT. And, of course, there's essential workers, there's people whose jobs, you can't work remote, it's not practical. But, when you take away a good portion of the people who go into city centers or urban inner ring suburbs, and they can work from home more, they can have that flexibility, we don't need these highway systems, going through people's neighborhoods. We don't need this massive infrastructure that is designed for cars. We can start to think about what are some different ways that we can give that land back to the people who live in those communities and create safer spaces for them? Give people better experiences walking and biking and enjoying their neighborhoods. I think it's a really cool connection and thinking about the possibilities that become available to us when we think about more creative ways to reducing the vehicle miles traveled, VMT.

Larry Kraft  35:53

She mentioned one thing of their three values: equity, sustainability and transformation. This is definitely in the transformation side, right? Being willing to try new things, we have to because the way we've been doing things doesn't lead to the outcomes that we want. I really appreciated that thought.

Abby Finis  36:10

Exactly! If we're not willing to be transformative then we're not going to get there.

Larry Kraft  36:14

Another thing that I found interesting was the fact that a good chunk of this planning happened during the previous administration, which certainly wasn't friendly to these kinds of comprehensive...

Abby Finis  36:26

It wasn't??

Larry Kraft  36:32

Wasn't so friendly to these kinds of investments. But, what you see is by having done the planning, when the winds change and when there's a possibility, they're ready.

Abby Finis  36:43

Yeah, I think that there's a lot of anticipation and a huge amount of money coming to communities, assuming that the Federal Government can get its act together and get it out the door. I appreciated her comment toward the end there. There's a lot of cities that say, "Where do I start? What do I need to do? What needs to be in my plan?" And she says, "It doesn't have to be perfect. Put something together. Get started. Get moving. That's the biggest thing that you can do."

Larry Kraft  37:13

Yeah! Get started, learn, and make a mistake or two, but you learn along the way.

Abby Finis  37:17


Larry Kraft  37:18

The other thing I haven't heard anyone do this before, at a city level, is the cost of inaction by attaching a social cost of carbon and saying, "Hey, look!" We've already just at the fifty-five dollar level, which is not a crazy high level, there was two billion dollars of cost to the community.

Abby Finis  37:38

Right!? And that's a city of...

Larry Kraft  37:42

130,000 or so.

Abby Finis  37:43

130,000 or so. A decent sized city, but not a really large city. We covered a lot of ground in this episode. I'm just very impressed by all that Missy has on her plate and is driving that change. 

Abby Finis  38:04

We hope you enjoyed this episode of City Climate Corner. If you like what you're hearing, make sure to subscribe and give us a review. If you're able, become a monthly supporter through Patreon. As always, you can find more information on this topic and resources from each episode's guests on our webpage If you have an idea for the show, send us an email at or find us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Larry Kraft  38:28

City Climate Corner is produced by Abby Finis and me, Larry Kraft. Edited by me. Music by

Abby Finis  38:34

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.

Larry Kraft  38:36

Thanks for listening and we'll see you next time.