Midwest Cities Leading the Way with Innovative Climate Action Planning

View of Chicago skyline from Evanston, IL

Public policy leaders around the country are striving to find cost-effective and feasible ways to rapidly mitigate and adapt to climate change. Recently, MEEA conducted a review of climate action plans throughout the Midwest to better understand how leaders are approaching climate action, and the degree to which energy efficiency is incorporated. After an analysis of 15 midwestern cities ranging in size from Bloomfield, Iowa with 2,694 people to Chicago with almost 3 million, we identified cities that are employing particularly unique, innovative and thoughtful initiatives into their climate action plans.

While all the cities studied were taking crucial steps towards energy efficiency and climate preparedness, the below cities stand out. Their “standout” aspects include meaningfully incorporating an equity lens, using robust and creative methods of community engagement and designing forward-thinking reporting and monitoring protocols to ensure accountability.

Equity-oriented: Indianapolis, IN; Evanston, IL

While numerous cities had extensive energy efficiency goals, Indianapolis, Indiana and Evanston, Illinois went above and beyond to ensure their policies served all their residents. In drafting their sustainability plans, they both emphasized solutions that are equity centered. Indianapolis provided background research on the demographics of their city that they used to inform policy decisions and prioritize funding. Evanston had guiding principles that emphasized equity and prioritized affordability so their measures would have as wide a reach as possible. Both cities have comprehensive low-income energy efficiency programming as a result.

Evanston, Illinois is a city 12 miles north of downtown Chicago that is home to 74,000 people. Evanston's climate plan, published in 2018, emphasized that communities of color and low-income populations disproportionately experience climate hazards. To address this issue, it employs an equity-centered lens that is implemented by the Office of Equity and Empowerment. They began by surveying current and future vulnerable populations to best understand their needs and assess how the city can meet those needs. With this information, the city then established a protocol that aids populations most susceptible to climate hazards and their financial impacts, to find and provide funding sources to support those populations. Evanston invested in building programs for new and existing buildings that would reduce energy bills by adding insulation, air sealing, passive energy systems and higher-efficiency equipment. Along with other targeted measures to address the needs of Evanston’s vulnerable populations, they adopted an environmental justice ordinance to strengthen the work that Environmental Justice Evanston and the Equity and Empowerment Commission already do.  

Indianapolis is the largest city in Indiana with 876,862 people. Mayor Joe Hogsett launched Thrive Indianapolis in 2017 as their Sustainability Action Plan. In the introduction, they address the inequality of experiences among community members, including how those “living at or below the federal poverty level, experiencing homelessness or being exposed to poor air quality” are more vulnerable to climate change stressors. To address these inequalities, Thrive Indianapolis was created through an equitable engagement process, which involved over 100 community events, online advertisement and outreach to 265,000 people. The impetus was to allow everyone to contribute to the development of this plan, especially those historically underrepresented in climate actions. They prove their commitment to this statement by having concrete action steps to aid these communities. For example, they established a goal to eliminate barriers to participation in the Income-Qualified Weatherization Program and other energy efficiency projects for low-income households. They also established the ECOHouse Project Loan Program, in collaboration with the Indianapolis Neighborhood Partnership, to provide energy efficiency loans to qualified borrowers in the county, hence mitigating a financing barrier. These actions were developed in direct response to community feedback. Indianapolis’ commitment to equitable engagement allowed it to meet the needs of all its community members while still advancing energy efficiency.

Evanston and Indianapolis have two of the most comprehensive plans of the cities studied when it comes to energy efficiency goals. Their emphasis on equity elevates their plans and distinguishes them from the rest.

Community engagement: Bloomington, Indiana

Bloomington, Indiana is home to 84,981 people as well as Indiana University. The City of Bloomington crafted their most recent Sustainability Action Plan in 2018 with mayor John Hamilton leading the way. An advisory board comprised of city staff, citizen commissions and Indiana University representatives was formed to advise the development process and ensure best practices. They convened numerous groups across an eight-month period to create a comprehensive plan addressing eight focus areas, many of which include energy efficiency targets to reduce emissions.   

To ensure they were serving the community’s needs as well as advancing sustainability, the city of Bloomington conducted extensive outreach. They established four working groups to help connect the numerous stakeholders across public, private and non-profit sectors. In addition, the advisory board held open houses to review the planning schedule and allow space for public feedback. To have a wider reach, they also sent out an online survey through their website and social media pages to receive public input on which issues were most pressing in their community. They posted a draft of the plan for public review before finalizing and they had four more in-person events to allow for further feedback before it was complete. Every decision in the plan passed through many voices and stakeholders to allow for high public participation from those who wanted to have a say. This effort during planning resulted in strong relationships with community members to help advance energy efficiency outcomes for the city. Through engagement, they were able to build relationships with private and non-profit lenders to establish low-interest loans for small-scale energy efficiency improvements in homes. They were also able to collaborate with the local business community to disclose energy usage and costs in hopes to drive future energy savings.

By developing the plan through community-oriented outreach, Bloomington was able to establish trust among its residents to build a stronger movement towards energy efficiency.

Monitoring and Reporting: Edina, Minnesota

Edina, Minnesota is a city just outside Minneapolis with 52,490 people. While Edina's Energy Action Plan, published in July of 2016, has numerous energy efficiency attributes that make it stand out in this analysis—including the fact that this plan specifically targets energy—the standout aspects of this plan are its comprehensive monitoring and reporting goals.

To ensure they adhere to their goals, Edina’s planning team set bi-weekly meetings with the Conservation and Sustainability staff and Xcel Energy Partners in Energy staff to coordinate resources and continue to work towards their energy goals. These meetings allow for mutual strategy and implementation as the plan develops at each stage so they can continue to grow their focus areas as needed. These focus areas include benchmarking in commercial buildings as well as energy efficiency upgrades in residential homes. They have a Partners in Energy team that tracks the usage and participation data to monitor their progress and share with the city council and Edina community. The city also mandates reporting throughout the Partners in Energy implementation through a website accessible to all community members. The progress is reported on a quarterly basis from Xcel Energy, which works with a Conservation and Sustainability staff member to ensure it is shared. Finally, they leave space in the plan to allow for adaptions within the first 18 months of the program if something is not working. This means if there is a change that needs to be made, the monitoring and reporting process can identify and implement it.

The flexibility that comes with these reporting and monitoring priorities allows for Edina to tailor their program as they implement it, a unique attribute that makes their plan stand out from the rest.


In closing, cities are taking their own unique and tailored approaches to responding to climate change. However, the Midwest provides more than a couple notable examples of cities incorporating robust energy efficiency provisions and emphasizing equity, community engagement and reporting and monitoring protocols.


MEEA is developing resources to share with Midwest cities embarking on climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies related to energy.


The following cities were analyzed in this study:

 Ames, IA  Chicago, IL  Bloomington, IN  Bemidji, MN  Madison, WI
 Bloomfield, IA  Evanston, IL  Indianapolis, IN  Edina, MN  Milwaukee, WI
 Des Moines, IA  Urbana, IL  West Lafayette, IN  Minneapolis, MN  Sheboygan, WI