Zero Cities Project

Zero Cities Project

In 2017, the City of Grand Rapids was one of twelve cities selected to participate in the Zero Cities Project to develop an actionable and equitable roadmap to achieve a zero net carbon building sector by 2050. The Zero Cities Project was based on having a policy process informed by technical analysis that will include community collaboration and a focus on equity.

In partnership with Architecture 2030, we completed a baseline building assessment of the buildings in Grand Rapids that showed our main areas of focus were single family homes and commercial buildings over 10,000 sq. ft.

The Urban Core Collective was recommended by a national partner and agreed to serve as the City’s equity partner under the Zero Cities Project in early 2019 to address residential homes. The U.S. Green Building Council of West Michigan served as our partner for commercial spaces, engaging the commercial sector through the Grand Rapids 2030 District.

In 2021, when the project was completed the partners agreed to continue this work launching E.H.Zero.

For more information on the work completed in the Zero Cities Project, click below.

Equity Assessment Tool 

Urban Core Collective created a Grand Rapids Specific Equity Assessment Tool(PDF, 2MB) to gather data (such as the burden of energy costs, levels of substandard housing and exposure to health risk). This tool will help our research, how we frame and promote this work, and inform the City as we consider policy and program options for reducing carbon emissions in our community's homes.

 Key takeaways from the assessment:

  • In Kent County, households with incomes below 50% of the federal poverty level spent about a third of their household income on home energy bills whereas households with incomes between 185-200% of the federal poverty level paid almost 7% of their household incomes on energy bills.
  • A report produced by the Economic Policy Institute (2018) revealed that the average income of the top 1% of families in Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI is 25.9 times higher than the average income of the bottom 99% of families in the area, with average incomes of $1,219,262 and $47,150, respectively. Among racial/ethnic groups in Grand Rapids the income gap is evident as the annual median income of White residents is nearly twice that of Black or African American residents.
  • As development continues to boom in Grand Rapids, it’s also been a site of displacement for people of color. In a report titled, “Understanding impacts of development on the cost of living”, local researchers found the population of people of color in all four neighborhoods (John Ball Park, Southwest Area Neighbors (SWAN), West Grand and Westside Connection) sharply decreased from 2012 to 2013. During this time period, 40-50% of people of color moved out of their neighborhoods. Such a large number of people moving out of their neighborhood in a single year suggests that there were circumstances that forced them to leave rather than voluntarily choosing to move out. In the years following this sharp decrease, the populations of people of color have not recovered to the numbers seen in 2012.
  • Among parents participating in the 2017 Kent County Community Health Needs Assessment, 3.3% of white parents reported having a child who was diagnosed with asthma and 5.8% of Black parents, 5.6% of Hispanic or Latino/a parents and 5.7% of Multi-racial parents reported having a child who was diagnosed with asthma.
  • When examining inequities in the urban tree canopy the 2015 Urban Tree Canopy Assessment report revealed that in Grand Rapids residents of many lower-income neighborhoods have less access to the benefits that trees provide than residents of higher-income neighborhoods.

Neighborhood Survey 

One way to address carbon emissions is through energy efficiency measures in homes. To learn more in partnership, Urban Core Collective sent out a Consumer Survey on Residential Energy Services Utilization(PDF, 766KB) to local residents in our Neighborhoods of Focus to identify barriers they were experiencing when working with energy efficiency programs. We learned community awareness of these programs was low, and more education and promotion about energy efficiency programs would help the community know their options.

Key takeaways from the survey:

  • There is a lack of awareness about available programs and services
  • Cost savings programs are the most utilized and of the greatest interest
  • Income qualification requirements, paperwork and provider fees are barriers to participation
  • Building trust is important
  • Homeowners and landlords are investing in their properties 

Potential recommendations for providers based on survey results:

  • Invest in education of programs and services
  • Find out what Home Repair Services and Get the Lead Out are doing right, as these programs are the most well known
  • Design programs around savings first and carbon neutrality second – marketing should reflect that
  • Revisit requirements, reduce paperwork, and provide a navigator to help families through the process
  • Provide support in other languages
  • Create a single point of entry and a single application process for all programs, so residents understand all programs they may qualify for.
  • Partner with other programs to pool resources, adapt to same intake process, and share best practices
  • Be transparent with funds and accountable with data
  • Invest in BIPOC communities, especially if the money for programs you provide comes from fees on their bills
  • Match programs and services residents are interested in to the budget they can afford

Baseline Building Assessment 

In partnership with Architecture 2030, we completed a Baseline Building Assessment(PDF, 3MB) of the buildings in Grand Rapids. 

Key takeaways from the assessment: 

  • Homes account for 51% of our total building square feet (106 million sq ft, 46,065 houses) and 40% of total building energy use/ 37% of building sector carbon emissions.
  • 1,114 buildings over 10,000 square feet (1.8% of all buildings) account for 41% of total building energy use and 42% of building sector carbon emissions.
  • Our most carbon intensive building types are: the food industry (fast food, supermarkets, restaurants), hospitals, colleges, libraries, senior living facilities, and malls (strip malls and enclosed). 

In the News

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


Alison Waske Sutter Presents on Zero Cities Project & E.H.Zero at Committee of the Whole

Sustainability and Performance Management Officer, Alison Waske Sutter, presents the outcomes of the Zero Cities Project and the future of the E.H.Zero initiative at the City of Grand Rapids Committee of the Whole meeting on August 24, 2021. The presentation begins at 2:10:46 in the video. 

USDN Zero Cities Lessons Learned Series - Session 1: Equity Assessment Tools

Grand Rapids (Annabelle Wilkinson) and Urban Core Collective (Sergio Cira-Reyes and Raven Odom) showcased how they contextualized the national tool in local contexts and how these tools are being used with city staff, community-based organizations and residents.

USGBC West Michigan - A Carbon Neutral World: It Takes A Village

Carbon solution opportunities are prevalent in every level of the marketplace. Tune in to chats with local municipalities Grand Rapids & Ann Arbor and utility provider DTE to learn how they are working to achieve a carbon neutral future for Michigan.