Sterling Heights

'A vital step forward': Sterling Heights launches new Think Sterling Green sustainability initiative

The transition from winter to spring can be marked in any number of ways, and many of them more reliable than the weather itself – at least here in Michigan: the clocks springing forward and daylight extending its reach further and further into the evening; the return of the baseball season. There’s a lot to look forward to.

But in Sterling Heights, the return of spring has become anchored by a tradition unique to these parts of town, one that seems about as reliable as the Detroit Tigers selling out on Opening Day. As the eco-friendly holidays of Earth Day and Arbor Day approach come the second half of April, it’s become like clockwork that the City of Sterling Heights announces it has won yet another Tree City USA Award from the Arbor Day Foundation. The award is a national distinction bestowed upon those communities demonstrating both a commitment to their local environment and quality of life standards for their residents, a set of standards developed by the Arbor Day Foundation and the National Association of State Foresters in 1976.

In November 2022, the city launched an ambitious GIS-assisted tree inventory project, bolstering plans to maintain and grow its already robust tree canopy. At the time, we said that “a 38th consecutive Tree City USA Award is all but guaranteed.”

Both remarkably and unsurprisingly, Sterling Heights has done just that.

Sterling Heights City Council joined Sterling Heights Beautification Commissioners as well as State Representatives Nate Shannon and Denise Mentzer, County Commissioners Joe Romano and Don VanSyckel and Lisa Damon-Brown from Congressman John James’ office to celebrate the City’s 38th consecutive designation as an Arbor Day Foundation “Tree City USA.”

38 and counting

While racking up 38 consecutive Tree City USA Awards is always worth mentioning, Sterling Heights has, in recent years, coupled their celebratory tree plantings with announcing sustainability initiatives that further demonstrate the city’s commitment to the environment and their residents. In April 2022, as the city celebrated their 37th award, Mayor Michael C. Taylor signed the National Wildlife Federation’s Mayors’ Monarch Pledge, a call to action for communities nationwide to take the steps necessary to help restore our monarch butterfly population. What’s more, officials then held a ceremonial ribbon-cutting celebration for a monarch butterfly sculpture made from upcycled metals and materials by artist Kyle Burnett.

Burnett’s sculpture was actually installed outside the Sterling Heights Nature Center in 2020, but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic scuttled any plans for a ribbon-cutting then. The signing of the Mayors’ Monarch Pledge presented an excellent opportunity to celebrate the sculpture. Burnett drove from his studio in Battle Creek to attend the event.

“[O]nce they told me about the ribbon-cutting, I had to get my hands on those giant scissors,” Burnett said at the time. “Those scissors are real. And really sharp.”

So how then would Sterling Heights make an even bigger splash in recognizing its 38th consecutive award? By announcing several new sustainability initiatives and an umbrella brand for all things Green happening in Sterling Heights.

Introducing Think Sterling Green, a concentrated effort to further sustainability efforts throughout the city.

Green machines

Think Sterling Green is the city’s new umbrella brand for all things sustainability happening throughout the community. Rather than solely incorporate, say, tree canopy work coming from city hall, Think Sterling Green includes several initiatives that enable residents and business owners to participate in citywide sustainability efforts themselves – and often reward them for doing so. Several already announced programs are included under Think Sterling Green, and the city introduced two new initiatives with the announcement.

First of the new initiatives is Go Green Grants, a program the city is launching in partnership with nonprofit green bank Michigan Saves. Utilizing private funds and $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, the Go Green Grants offer homeowners opportunities for two different grants and a low-interest loan for clean energy home improvement projects. Level One is an income-based grant that offers up to $7,500 for energy improvements that include everything from installing Energy Star-rated doors to electric vehicle charging stations. Level Two is for those that don’t qualify for the income-based grants, a grant incentive equal to 20 percent of eligible project costs, capped at $5,000. A third level offers a low-interest, unsecured loan from Michigan Saves that can be combined with one of the two grants.

A complete breakdown of the grants and loan program, including income and project eligibility requirements, can be viewed online.

Second is the Rain Barrel Project. Also leveraging ARPA funds, the Rain Barrel project is offering residents free rain barrel kits from MI Rain Barrel. Approximately 400 58-gallon rain barrels and accompanying equipment will be available in this first round of giveaways, with a distribution event scheduled for Friday, June 2. Registration is available online until supplies run out.

Installing a rain barrel at your home eases stress on stormwater infrastructure while also providing residents free water for use on lawns, gardens, and indoor plants.

"Together with the help of the city of Sterling Heights, we are aiming to deploy 400 hundred rain barrels, totaling a yearly average of over two million gallons of water that will be held back from the sewers, reducing stormwater runoff and stress on Sterling Heights’ water infrastructure while also helping residents save money and reduce their carbon footprint,” MI Rain Barrel Founder and CEO Joshua Rubin says in a statement. “The plants, of course, will also love the precious rainwater!"

Sterling Heights City Council and City Administration, Partners from Michigan Saves and MI Rain Barrel, Beautification Commissioners, Sustainability Commissioners, State Representatives Nate Shannon and Denise Mentzer, County Commissioners Joe Romano and Don VanSyckel and Lisa Damon-Brown from Congressman John James’ office show off a new rain barrel.

That's not all

The two new programs announced with the introduction of Think Sterling Green are welcomed by several previously announced programs, or ones that will be announced soon, that also fall under the umbrella of the sustainability initiative. These include the City’s new WaterSmart website, 2,000 new tree plantings over the next two years, participation in the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, a cooperative initiative between the Arts and Sustainability Commissions to stencil street drains, and an upcoming opportunity to add curbside recycling for every resident.

The city’s 38th consecutive Tree City USA Award celebration did not disappoint. Who knows what they have in store for number 39.

Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor.“Think Sterling Green, including these new grants and rain barrels, is a vital step toward creating a sustainable and resilient community,” says Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor. “By working together with residents, businesses and partners like Michigan Saves and MI Rain Barrel, we can make a significant impact in preserving the environment for future generations.”

Visit Think Sterling Green online to learn more about the new sustainability initiatives happening in Sterling Heights.

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Read more articles by MJ Galbraith.

MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.