Missoula, MT: The City Boosts Its Economy and Community with Green Goals and Initiatives

For our third stop on the Green Spaces Tour, we had the opportunity to meet with Chase Jones, who heads up the sustainability initiatives at the City of Missoula.  We met with Chase in Missoula’s new mixed use parking facility.  This facility embodies how Missoula will be building going forward, with a very cool local deli on the first floor and solar-powered parking facilities above.   

Chase has an exciting story that is closely linked with Missoula’s green development.

Jennie and Chase at the mixed use solar powered parking garage in downtown Missoula

Jennie and Chase at the mixed use solar powered parking garage in downtown Missoula

 

Early programs focus on transportation and infrastructure

Chase got his start at Missoula in Motion over 10 years ago. Missoula in Motion was one of the early green initiatives that represented Missoula’s core values: Encourage actions that simultaneously improve the health and resilience of Missoula’s environment, economy and people  The program was aimed at, minimizing single occupant cars, encouraging biking, walking, and and public transit and developing the infrastructure to support those objectives. As Missoula in Motion’s programs grew like the Way To Go! Club an individual commuter club with rewards; and Momentum,  a program aimed at engaging local businesses around sustainable and active transportation culture and infrastructure ,  similar programs and services grew in tandem, such as Mountain Line, Missoula’s zero fare bus system which is now breaking ridership records year after year.

Missoula moves forward with government grants

In 2009, Missoula elected to receive Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant funds from the Department of Energy.. This grant allowed local governments to invest in projects from a list of  12 different activities, and Chase was hired as an administer the Missoula’s mix chosen by Mayor John Engen and city leaders. One of their first projects was in partnership with Northwestern Energy. 300 individual homes got free energy audits, and based on those energy audits, they received retrofits to make their homes more energy efficient.

Another resulting initiative was the creation of a Climate Action Plan. With the help of a Climate Action Planning citizen volunteer task force, they first determined a baseline for carbon emissions,  then set their goals from the baseline. In order to achieve the goals, the task force defined three focus areas for action. These categories included buildings and transportation, internal policies and practices (such as purchasing strategy and waste practices), and renewable energy and carbon offsets.  Their goal is to be carbon neutral by 2025 -- an impressive and exciting target.  

Missoula didn’t stop there. The city also created Solarize Missoula, a one-stop-shop for bringing solar power to their town. This entailed pre-qualifying local contractors to install solar at a set price, putting together  available financing packages, and including federal and local rebates into the cost of installing solar. The workshops received an overwhelming response, and the city realized that creating easy-to-implement “one-stop-shop” packages overcame a big barrier to individuals installing solar power on their homes, especially with price of solar becoming much more cost effective. The contractors loved it as well as the program was intentionally conducted during a traditionally slow time. Participating contractors reported that business was elevated to levels they would normally experience at their busiest time of year.

The city and community continue their commitment to sustainability

In 2013, the federal block grant funding ended and was not renewed, but the city continued its commitment to sustainability. 2013 brought unanimous city council approval to move forward with the projects and goals outlined in  theClimate Action Plan, and to hire Chase full time to manage the additional community programs in flight. These included:

  • Climate Smart Missoula a new community outreach group that is independent from the local government but was created out of the local government’s annual Sustainability Summit led by the Mayor of Missoula. The organization helps empower the broader community to implement sustainability practices to move towards the goals of being a carbon neutral and zero waste city.

  • Western Mountain Growers Coop, a local CSA that partners with the City of Missoula to coordinate drop-offs for employees to make green, healthy eating more convenient and affordable.

  • The Missoula Community Wildlife Habitat Initiative, a program that creates local wildlife habitats throughout their community.

This year, the city voted unanimously to become zero waste (90% diversion from the landfill by 2050). They are moving forward with their aggressive goals to become carbon neutral by 2025. They have found that focusing on these initiatives helps their economy and people thrive, building a sustainable future for future generations. Yes, it is difficult, but by setting the goals and making the conscious decision to move Missoula toward those goals, they are starting to find the solutions. .

Missoula’s work to integrate green values has been contagious and the as businesses and community events  have joined in the effort, too. Companies like Bayern Brewery now take back their bottles and have installed bottle washing equipment so they can reuse them in their brewery. Draught Works brewery started an annual event, Chain Reaction, for the community to bike to the Bitterroot Valley, pick up the hops, bike it back and process it by peddling. The River City Roots Festival programs in sustainability with their “Greening the Roots” effort, and the Western Montana Fair will be the next exhibition of Missoula’s Open Air Art Show using art to spark a conversation about climate resiliency.

The City of Missoula and leaders like Chase Jones have been on quite the sustainability journey. From talking to Chase, it’s clear that their commitment, focus, and programs are meeting all of their goals: a thriving economy, pristine natural surroundings and environment, and a healthy, happy, and fit community with an exceptional quality of life.