Fort Collins Government makes headway on Climate Action Plan

Julia Trowbridge

Sparking innovation, goals for adopting 100 percent renewable electricity and working with Platte River Power Authority, the City of Fort Collins is working hard to remove its carbon footprint.

According to a 2017 municipal carbon inventory, the City, as an organization with 2,000+ employees, has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 21 percent compared to 2005 levels, which is three years ahead of the City’s Climate Action Plan.


“For us as an organization, we’re … saying, what is our impact?” said Michelle Finchum, lead sustainability specialist for the City of Fort Collins. “Where are we producing greenhouse gasses for the operations of providing all the services that we do for the city, and how do we make sure that we’re leading by example in reducing our own greenhouse gas emissions? That’s where the 21 percent comes in.”

Fort Collins as a community has only cut greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent compared to 2005 levels in 2017, Finchum said.

The press release about this achievement states that obtaining the next goal in the Climate Action Plan, an 80 percent reduction by 2030, is going to take more innovation in renewable energy technology.

“Trying to get to carbon neutral is, of course, the long-range goal,” Finchum said. “There’s a lot of components that go into that … look at the last ten years and how much has changed, and it’s very hard to predict those changes. But, what we can do is, by setting that stake in the ground and trying to get to carbon neutral, we know that we’re making our community better and healthier.”

What we’re really doing is taking an equity lens for how we develop the Climate Action Plan this year and a key best practice when using an equity lens is to co-create the scope with the community.” – Lindsay Ex, climate program manager for the City of Fort Collins

In order to achieve this goal, the city focused its efforts on energy efficiency, Finchum said. In addition to replacing old incandescent as well as halogen street lights with LEDs, the City made old buildings more energy efficient and worked to divert organic waste from landfills. 

In 2017, the City replaced 965 streetlights for a total savings of around 300 MegaWattHours, which is equivalent to 220 tons of carbon emissions, Finchum said.

The City’s end goal is to be carbon neutral. Although carbon neutral allows for the mitigation of a small amount of greenhouse gas emissions, the City of Fort Collins is looking to minimize emissions as much as possible, said Molly Saylor, senior sustainability specialist for the City of Fort Collins.

“So when we’re talking about big picture greenhouse gas emissions, if we talk about (carbon) neutral, often what we talk about is balancing emissions,” Saylor said. “Ideally, we’d have very low emissions, and if there were emissions, we’d be able to balance it out with some sort of carbon sink, like trees. A lot of communities and City organizations that are working in this space are just starting to plan what those balancing strategies will look like in the future.”

To learn more about how to get involved with the development of the Climate Action Plan, sign up for the newsletter at The City will announce additional opportunities to engage with the Climate Action Plan in the coming months.

For the next step towards carbon neutrality, the City is looking for the community’s input for how the goal will be obtained, said Lindsay Ex, climate program manager for the City of Fort Collins.

The City is proposing a new type of engagement during the creating the process, instead of asking the community for input after the process has been created, Ex said. 


“What we’re really doing is taking an equity lens for how we develop the Climate Action Plan this year and a key best practiced when using an equity lens is to co-create the scope with the community,” Ex said. “What exactly that looks like will be dependent on the community input that we get. There isn’t an ‘Oh this technique is brand new that we’re going to test it out,’ it’s more about changing when we have the dialogue with the community.”

Julia Trowbridge can be reached at or on twitter @chapin_jules.