Working Toward a Green and Sustainable Milwaukee

These six businesses and organizations are committed to a more sustainable future. 

Photo by Getty Images

SUSTAINABILITY is more important now than ever. Here are just a few of the ways local businesses are working toward a brighter future. 

1. Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council 

Since 2020, the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council has seen membership increase dramatically. The council welcomes businesses of all sizes and provides services, including educational programming, networking opportunities, and measurement and certification of environmental, social and governance (ESG) scores. The Green Masters ESG program helps companies determine their top sustainability priorities, such as reducing waste, and provides tools to measure progress toward those goals. By joining the WSBC, companies can publicize their ESG scores to stakeholders and clients to demonstrate their commitment and results.

According to WSBC Managing Director Jessy Ortiz, the most critical aspect of joining the council is being part of a community of businesses working on sustainability challenges. “Sustainability is not just a trend but a movement that benefits businesses by reducing costs and increasing employee engagement,” says Ortiz. All WSBC members are working toward sustainability goals, making the council a valuable resource for businesses looking to make a positive impact. 

2. HGA 

“Sustainability to a designer can differ from what the community or client thinks sustainable design is – so we want to find where those two intentions align,” says Dan Kalkman, an HGA project architect and designer. Many of HGA’s ongoing sustainability efforts include using renewable energy sources in buildings the firm designs, such as solar panels or geothermal heating, as in building integrated photovoltaics currently in design for an addition to Aspirus Wausau Hospital. HGA has also joined the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Healthier Materials Pledge, which commits the firm to avoid certain potentially toxic building materials, and encourages sustainable resources, like mass timber. The firm also signed onto the AIA 2030 Commitment and the SE2050, two nationwide architectural and engineering programs that pledge to lower emissions and reduce carbon impact.

The firm’s goal is to introduce sustainability in an approachable way. For example, the Bronzeville Center for the Arts, a nonprofit organization rooted in the art, culture and history of the African Diaspora, is developing an exciting new museum in the heart of Milwaukee’s Bronzeville neighborhood. The project, led by M&E Architects+Engineers, partnering with HGA, will produce sustainable structures that also meet the needs of the community. “Our approach to holistic design will help the building owner, and the collective Bronzeville project team work together on potential opportunities for sustainable design,” says Mickey Thiry, an HGA mechanical designer. 

3. Urban Ecology Center 

With locations in Washington Park, Riverside Park and the Menomonee Valley, the Urban Ecology Center brings environmental education and outdoor adventure to the heart of the city. You can kayak and paddle the Washington Park lagoon, hike the trails, or participate in one of the many programs the center puts on every year. “Our mission is to connect people in cities to nature and each other,” says Meenal Atre, the UEC’s corporate and foundation relations manager. 

“Adventure Days” and camps fill the spring and summer months with outdoor activities for youngsters, like searching for wildlife or hiking along the Menomonee River. The Riverside Park location also hosts a potluck on the third Thursday of every month, pairing healthy food with presentations about sustainability. For Earth Week, April 22-28, the UEC is hosting a series of events, including early morning bird walks, invasive species removal, planting and more at all three locations. 

You can sign up as an individual or enlist friends and family and sign up as a team for any of the events. 

4. Outpost Natural Foods 

Outpost Natural Foods brings sustainability and environmental responsibility to grocery shopping. The retailer – with locations in northern Milwaukee, Mequon, Wauwatosa and Bay View – sells locally-
produced, organic and healthy food. Co-op owned, Outpost has been working for years toward sustainable goals. 

It incorporates green design into its storefronts, such as the rooftop solar array, porous pavement and reverse osmosis system at its Mequon location. All of the cardboard used at Outpost is recycled, totaling 572,000 pounds in 2021, and the store’s food waste is composted, with over 3 million pounds composted since 2014. Outpost also has in-store water machines for customers, to avoid unnecessary plastic bottle waste. That’s not to mention the chain’s involvement in groups like the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council and the EPA’s Green Power Partner program. Outpost also won the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District’s Green Luminary awards for its implementation of sustainable infrastructure. 

5. The Milwaukee Public Museum BioBlitz 

Every year, the Milwaukee Public Museum hosts one of the most unique environmental education events in Milwaukee – a BioBlitz. This year, the 24-hour event runs June 9-10 at Havenwoods State Forest (6141 N. Hopkins St.). On June 9, surveyors will head to the woods and spend the day and night searching every nook and cranny for plants and wildlife, documenting every species they find. Then, on June 10, Havenwoods will open to the public, and MPM will host a day full of outdoor activities, such as scavenger hunts and nature walks.

“The BioBlitz gives people a new way to look at the natural world around them,” says Julia Colby, the zoology collection manager. “Everyone leaves with a new appreciation for the space, and for the biodiversity that surrounds them.” MPM’s education department will have multiple booths set up for people of all ages to learn more. “We’re excited to inspire a sense of exploration and curiosity,” says Adriana Vazquez, the director of education and programs. “We want to encourage a sense of comfort with being outdoors and engaging with wildlife. 

6. Dream House Dream Kitchens 

When Dream House Dream Kitchens starts any home remodeling project, the team reaches out to Habitat for Humanity. The parts of the house that are being removed – like cabinets and countertops – are given to the nonprofit to be repurposed in other homes. “Instead of ending up in a landfill, they’re upcycled and end up in people’s homes,” says Sara Alswager, a sales director with Dream House Dream Kitchens. 

The team uses solar power in many projects, with the energy-efficient alternative increasing in popularity in recent years. All of the firm’s projects use sustainable LED lighting, unless the homeowner specifies otherwise, and Alswager points to great improvements in LED styles, with new options that offer much warmer light tones than previous iterations. The remodeling firm, originally known for its kitchen and bath work, also started its addition division this past year.  Having a certified architect on staff allows Dream clients and designers to navigate efficiently through the addition process, from concept to completion. “Remodeling, in itself, is a more sustainable option than building new construction, in terms of resources used,” Alswager says. “You’re taking what’s already existing and improving on it.” 



This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine’s April issue.

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