Outgoing Sustainability Director Sees 'So Much Untapped Potential' in Milwaukee

Jun 3, 2015

Milwaukee wants to be known as a city that embraces sustainability.

Matt Howard (right)
Credit City of Milwaukee Office of Environmental Sustainability

For five years, as head of Milwaukee's Office of Environmental Sustainability, Matt Howard was the face of those efforts. 

Today marks the end of Howard's tenure. He has taken a new job with the Alliance for Water Stewardship, or AWS. AWS helps tackle water conversation efforts and sustainability issues globally. Based at the Global Water Center in Walker's Point, Howard will become the first director of AWS’s North American division. 

Howard met WUWM environmental reporter Susan Bence at the wind turbine at Milwaukee's Port Authority to explain what his new work will entail. But he first reflected on his tenure as Milwaukee's sustainability director.

Howard says the wind turbine is emblematic of Milwaukee's Office of Environmental Sustainability, or OES.

"(The wind turbine) went from this controversial thing that many people were sort of viscerally opposed to, to something that is quietly accepted and a part of the landscape in this neighborhood and our city," he says.

Howard adds, "If I have a legacy – whatever legacy it is – is that we now view sustainability as a normal course of business, both in terms of what city government does and can provide for businesses and residents and also just in terms of people and accepting that it does have value in their day-in and day-out lives."

Howard says there are great things on the horizon because of the strong track record OES has had. "Hopefully I've been able to work with my team, the mayor and city departments to lay a foundation for future success," he says. "I think we've been able to demonstrate that with some initial upfront cost, you can have a long term benefit, you can have a payback as a result of investing in sustainability programs and initiatives."

"There is just so much untapped potential in terms of what we could be doing." - Matt Howard say about sustainability efforts in Milwaukee

Howard pushed making a business case for sustainability. He says their own return on investment has been tracking 7 to 1. "So, for every dollar I've spent on a program, the community has seen $7 in savings or new investments."

Looking forward, he sees sustainability in Milwaukee having great potential. "We've really just skimmed the surface in terms of programs - focusing on energy efficiency and some renewable energy, storm water management issues and urban food issues and urban agriculture," Howard says. "But there's a greater world out there in terms of sustainability and opportunities. One of the exciting things for the city is the work around water conservation, sustainability and habitat restoration."

Howard thinks that the redevelopment of Milwaukee's inner harbor could be transformative for the City of Milwaukee and the region.