The Natural Step – Monona and the Nelson Institute at the University of Wisconsin presented their findings from a survey distributed to every house in Monona Thursday, May 5, at the Community Center. About 50 residents filled the room and shared their thoughts and ideas about what sustainability means to the city at the Sustainable Monona 2025 event.

“This is great to bring to fruition all the efforts so many people put forth in the last four years,” said Monona Mayor Bob Miller. The Natural Step – Monona is a charitable organization with the goal to make the community more sustainable through effective education, community action and collaboration.

Dadit Hidayat, a teaching assistant at the University of Wisconsin Nelson Institute has been involved with The Natural Step – Monona since its beginning in 2007, and found that the Nelson Institute funded a teaching assistantship program with a community partner. He worked with Heather Gates from The Natural Step – Monona to create the outlines for the survey and presented it to Randy Stoecker, professor at the Neslon Institute.

“The Natural Step – Monona worked amazingly hard – holding monthly meetings – asking what do they want to know, how do they want to know it,” Stoecker said. “I’ve never worked with a group who was so involved in the research.”

Twelve students then signed up for a capstone class, which was tasked with collecting and analyzing data on what sustainability in Monona looks like.

The students hit the streets of Monona during February distributing about 3,100 surveys door-to-door. “It really became a community project,” Stoecker said because 14 residents went out with the students to distribute surveys.

“They were incredibly successful,” Miller said, noting that 580 surveys were returned to the students. “They had to put an end to collecting data because they had so much and needed to be ready for tonight.”

Students at the Nelson Institute created poster boards and set booths around the main hall to show residents the results from the community survey, and talk to residents about what the data means.

“What we found is that a lot of Mononans are engaging in sustainable behaviors on their own,” Stoecker said. “People are acting on their own or with The Natural Step – Monona.”

According to the survey, two of the most important issues for Mononans are clean drinking water and clean lakes. “Some say the environmental issues are taking a back seat, but the top two in Monona that stand out are clean water and clean lakes. That was surprising.”

The capstone class comes to an end in May, but Hidayat and Stoecker will continue to work with The Natural Step – Monona through the summer presenting the data throughout the community and determining community priorities. A second capstone class will start up in the fall to help implement the programs developed during the summer.

“I do a lot of these,” Stoecker said. “This is one of the smoothest I’ve ever worked with. The really important thing, this was led by the community. It was The Natural Step’s idea and they led all the way through. That’s why this was successful.”

“Our goal is to determine if sustainability is taking hold in Monona, are our efforts making a difference and how do we reach those people who don’t  know about sustainability,” said Heather Gates, one of the original members of The Natural Step – Monona. “It’s all about engagement. We want to develop strategies to move forward. The change we want to do is not one way. It’s  not a spectator sport. You can come and listen  and learn, but you have to give back. We need to share ideas, kick them around, shoot holes in them, abuse them as much as possible and see which ones are left standing.”

Gates also encouraged community members to sign up for programs conducted by The Natural Step – Monona to learn more about sustainability. “I want you to go beyond your comfort zone and sign up for anything and everything you can,” she said.

She said she was surprised by the number of people who aren’t engaged in the community. “I was surprised at how many people said they didn’t know how to find out about things,” Gates said. “The city and The Natural Step have to work on that.”

While the data was being collected and analyzed, the City of Monona Sustainability Committee worked with Brian Driscoll of the Department for Energy Independence to review all the buildings, infrastructure and vehicles to figure out how much the city was consuming.

“You created a baseline, so once you have that information, you’re able to make informed decisions on energy efficiency,” Driscoll said.

The next step for the city is to take action on some of Driscoll’s suggestions, thanks to an energy efficiency block grant.

“There will be more of these opportunities. The government will say we’re trying to do best we can but need your help to move forward,” Driscoll said. “The group Monona was in was a special group. One of 11 communities across the state – from communities as large as Waukesha and to communities that are lot smaller than that. They had opportunity to learn from one another through the year. People are doing this all over the state and it’s really going to take efforts of citizens working with local governments to make change happen. I hope and really want to encourage you to engage in these conversations. The City of Monona is going to continue to do great things, but even greater things with all of your help.”

The residents who attended the event Thursday night not only had the opportunity to share with each other and the UW students what they learned and what they would like to see in terms of sustainability.

The university students took notes, which will be used by The Natural Step – Monona and the City of Monona in order to create plans and programs based on community needs to move towards a more sustainable Monona.

For more information about The Natural Step – Monona, visit

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