The Challenge

Shelter and heat are life and death issues in cold Midwestern states. But not all of our buildings offer equal protection or quality of life. Many residents are faced with unaffordable rent and utility bills, particularly in low-income and under-resourced neighborhoods and communities of color. The fossil fuels that provide much of the energy to Midwestern buildings also harm residents with dangerous indoor air pollution and major carbon emissions.

The US is turning a corner in electricity production, cutting carbon steadily for years. Meanwhile, commercial, and residential building emissions continue to increase. Burning natural gas and propane in buildings is about 14% of greenhouse gases released in the Midwest. In the region’s urban areas, these fuels can be 30% or more of greenhouse gas emissions. To respond to the climate crisis, we must bend the curve of building emissions dramatically, as we have with power generation.

Building Decarbonization:

Converting appliances like furnaces, water heaters, and stoves from fossil fuels to clean, carbon-free electricity.

Includes energy efficiency & weatherization. But without electrification, efficiency can only reduce emissions, not eliminate them.

Building decarbonization is urgent. We must reduce the health, safety, and economic impacts of climate change and air pollution. Equally important is how we get there. We must collaborate equitably to center Environmental Justice communities who have been ignored, polluted, and pushed into unaffordable housing and debt. We must grow relationships and capacity to embody the principles of Environmental Justice while transforming policies, markets, and buildings in the Midwest.


The Opportunity

Transitioning Midwestern buildings to carbon-free, renewable electricity has the potential to reduce utility costs, increase housing affordability, improve residents’ health and safety, and help state and local governments achieve climate goals. Sponsored by Fresh Energy and supported by many allies, the Midwest Building Decarbonization Coalition (Midwest BDC) supports equitable deep decarbonization strategies to address the regional challenges of cold climates and purple state politics. The Coalition engages in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin.


Equity First and Carbon-Free

The energy transition is inevitable. Justice is not. The Coalition is developing equity commitments for every area of our work. Our leadership and working groups are representative of and accountable to members and organizations representing Environmental Justice communities.

The Coalition will facilitate the move to carbon-free building systems and appliances. Equity is not a separate goal from decarbonization. In fact, we believe that without centering the needs of the most marginalized people and communities, our efforts to achieve carbon-free buildings will be counterproductive.

We recognize major opportunities like heat pumps, district energy, induction cooking, and high-performance building design. However, we are invested in equity and carbon elimination, not advancing one carbon-free technology over another.


Areas of Work

The MWBDC currently conceives of work in five areas. The Coalition’s work is Equity First, incorporating equity concerns and prioritization into all other workstreams.

  1. Equity: Engage state advocates, affordable housing and renters’ rights groups, and environmental and climate justice communities to ensure that the Coalition’s work benefits communities most harmed and left out by environmental and economic racism. Create accountability to equity commitments in every area of work.
  2. Market Transformation: Support electrification of space and water heating and cooking through strategic engagement with utilities, rural electric cooperatives, building developers and contractors, appliance and furnace manufacturers, financial institutions, and other partners.
  3. Consumer Inspiration: Catalyze consumer education, engagement, and excitement around electrification, heat pumps, and induction cooking.
  4. Public Policy: Assist in developing policy proposals and evidence for action in State legislatures, regulatory venues, and local governments.
  5. Research: Identify and support short- and long-term research needs to address building decarbonization challenges and unanswered questions.

History

The Midwest BDC was founded in 2019 by Fresh Energy to play a leadership role convening stakeholders and allies around a regional decarbonization strategy. The Energy Foundation generously provided our seed funding. Fresh Energy serves as the fiscal agent and primary support organization. Learn more about Fresh Energy.  


Get Involved

We host a Coalition orientation the 4th Tuesday of every month. Register here to get involved!


Leadership Team

Marnese Jackson
Pontiac, Michigan

Marnese Jackson is an Environmental and Climate Justice activist, advocate, trainer and educator from Pontiac, Michigan where she is a mother of two children London and Dawson. Marnese was previously with the Mothers Out Front in December 2018 as the Frontline Organizing Program Manager where she focused on building the base of Mothers in Frontline communities. During this time, Marnese was the staff liaison to US Climate Action Network, staff Equity Team and BIPOC Affinity Team member. Marnese also managed the Youth Global Climate Strike (2019) and Earth Day Live (2020). She is the former Midwest and Great Plain States Regional Organizer for the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program. She was the Weatherization Coordinator for Oakland Livingston Human Services Agency and Energy Outreach Specialist for the Southeast Michigan Regional Energy Office.

Marnese holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Interdisciplinary in Public Relations, Communications, Journalism and African American Studies from Eastern Michigan University and Masters of Arts Degree from Marygrove College in Social Justice specializing in Environmental, Economic and Racial Justice. Marnese is a board member of the USCAN, she is the membership chairperson of the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, a Environmental and Climate Justice chairperson of the NAACP Northern Oakland County Branch. Marnese is a 2020 Michigan Clean Energy Leaders Cohort member and a 350.org BIPOC Cohort member. Marnese was appointed in 2021 to the Governor Whitmer’s Michigan Council on Climate Solutions.

Margaret Cherne-Hendrick
Minneapolis, Minnesota

As Fresh Energy’s director of beneficial electrification, Margaret leads Fresh Energy’s strategic imperative to decarbonize fossil fuel-dependent sectors of Minnesota’s economy and advances policy aimed at enhancing carbon sequestration potential across the state. Margaret joined Fresh Energy’s staff in 2018. She previously worked as a senior policy associate at the Institute for Sustainable Energy at Boston University. Margaret’s multidisciplinary background in climate science and energy policy – including work with the Environmental Protection Agency, Conservation Law Foundation, Barr Foundation, and Home Energy Efficiency Team (HEET) – informs her approach to developing efficient, cost-effective, and inclusive decarbonization strategies. Margaret holds a PhD in Geography from Boston University, a MS in Organismal Biology and Ecology from the University of Montana, and a BA in Biology from Reed College. Her doctoral research explored the environmental and political impacts of continued investment in and consumption of natural gas fuels. Margaret is a member of the Minneapolis Energy Vision Advisory Committee. In her spare time, she enjoys gardening, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors as well as spending time with her wife and dog.

Jacob Serfling
Des Moines, Iowa

Jacob joined the Midwest Building Decarbonization Coalition in the fall of 2021 after 8 years working as a commercial building energy efficiency program implementer. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Iowa State University and is a licensed professional engineer in the state of Iowa. Jacob serves as the Vice-Chair of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Iowa Market Leadership Advisory Board and has previously been a member of the City of Des Moines Energy Benchmarking Task Force and the Iowa Association for Energy Efficiency’s planning committee. Jacob resides in Des Moines, Iowa with his wife and two children. In his spare time he enjoys reading, pretending he knows how to garden, and getting out for long walks with the family dogs.


Staff

Eric Fowler
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Eric Fowler joined Fresh Energy in the Spring of 2021 to help grow the Midwest Building Decarbonization Coalition (Midwest BDC) and support Fresh Energy’s Public Affairs team. Eric manages the growing communications work of the Midwest BDC, supports Coalition meetings and operations, and helps make the case for an equitable transition to carbon free buildings that include communities most impacted by pollution and climate change.

Before Fresh Energy, Eric worked at the Chicago Jobs Council for 6 years managing external communications, and leading advocacy to reduce transportation barriers to employment. Founding and convening the Transit Table coalition, Eric advocated for public transit on behalf of community based organizations, and helped pass legislation ending driver’s license suspension as a collection tool for ticket debts in Illinois. Eric has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Gustavus Adolphus College. Outside of Fresh Energy, Eric enjoys baking, voiceover work, audio editing, and downhill skiing. He and his spouse have one dog, three cats, and way too many pictures of all of them.