By Jeff Sherman Staff Writer Published Dec 04, 2015 at 10:16 AM

To help highlight MMSD Green Luminaries awards, we're focusing on the winners by asking about their practices and new environmental approaches.

MMSD's goal is to create enough green infrastructure in the region to capture 740 million gallons of water every time it rains, to reduce water pollution and improve Lake Michigan and our rivers.

Last time, we talked to UW-Milwaukee

Today, it's Mandel Group, which has already installed (or is currently working on installing) three acres of green roofs, and this is just a portion of its commitment. Development Associate John O’Neill talked to me about his company's green strategy and more. 

OnMilwaukee: What does green infrastructure mean to Mandel Group?

John O'Neill: We have a lot of different options in how buildings are constructed these days.  At Mandel Group we like to consider sustainability in terms of design, construction, operations and longevity of our assets.  Green Infrastructure  can mean many different things at different levels of owning and operating real estate, but essentially it focuses on reducing our carbon footprint through an ideology of where and how to build. First and foremost, we choose walkable sites and incorporate energy efficient systems, materials, and features.

We look for sites that add density to urban settings, and have undertaken redevelopment of multiple brownfield sites in the Downtown area. We look for unique opportunities that are environmentally sensitive yet which add value for residents, such as green roofs.  We own and operate more private green roofs than any other private property owner in Milwaukee, and nearly all of that area is available for use by our residents.

Inside our apartment homes we design and engineer low-infiltration wall systems incorporating energy efficient windows. Appliances are Energy Star rated, including individual high-efficiency gas furnaces.  Focus on Energy has been a great partner for us, providing technical advice and financial incentives that help offset the added cost of higher quality construction.

OnMilwaukee: How, specifically, are you "doing green" at your North End development?

O'Neill: The North End is a great case study in green development.  It is a brownfield redevelopment of one of Downtown Milwaukee’s nastier tannery sites, the old US Leather operation. We set out to create what we coined as "A Neighborhood by Design," in other words a development that through its design, placement of buildings and public open spaces conveys the feel, look and function of a true neighborhood.

We teamed up with MMSD to create a variety of water quality features throughout the development.  We will have installed in excess of 100 trees in stormwater-absorbing planting beds, several bioswales and over 50,000 square feet of green roofs with more to come in future phases. We are located along several major MCTS bus lines.

Mandel Group is a huge financial supporter of Bublr Bikes; we’re looking forward to the installation of our first North End Bublr Bike Station in front of Fresh Thyme Farmers Market in 2016. We’ve added nearly one-quarter mile to the Riverwalk, a vital Downtown pedestrian amenity.  By creating a walkable, transit-oriented community on the north end of Downtown Milwaukee we are offering our residents walk-to-work opportunities and immediate connectivity to downtown destinations and diversions.  Feet on the street instead of car-hopping lets people better appreciate and enjoy the incredible environment in downtown Milwaukee.

OnMilwaukee: What can your residents, renters and condo owners do to further the company’s sustainable approaches? 

O'Neill: Residents are already helping by using their fully programmable thermostats and Energy Star-rated appliances. They’re getting out and walking and biking more often, and leaving their cars in the garage. We’re excited to see them using our on-site bike repair stations and electric vehicle charging stations. If there’s a lifestyle trend that promotes energy-consciousness, we appreciate hearing about it from our residents. We receive lots of ideas directly from our residents, and love getting their feedback on enhancing the lifestyle at a Mandel property.

OnMilwaukee: Are there any development initiatives, ideas or programs that you’d like see expanded in the area?

O'Neill: We’d love to see a concerted effort by all parties to make "green building" a more conscious consumer decision and a more visible part of what we as a City should be promoting.  Other cities – Austin comes to mind – go the extra mile to identify and reward builders who build to certain quality and energy-conscious standards. There is a lot of "green-washing" in the consumer market these days, and we feel that a public-private consortium could cut through the hype and provide the public with a real service by implementing a system that gives consumers a truer comparison of "green."  

Another initiative that doesn’t get enough attention is the way in which we complete our streets, sidewalks and public spaces around the buildings that are built.  Simple things like street trees and permeable paving surfaces would help improve our pedestrian experience.  A system of linear urban greenways, similar to Minneapolis, is vital to making our neighborhoods livable. 

Finally, making sure that our infrastructure is thought out as a system that connects neighborhoods to one another, as some of our bike paths now do, would go a long way to breaking down barriers that currently separate parts of our city.  The more neighborhood retail and green spaces we can create in the city, the more we can encourage people to live in their communities and not in their cars.

OnMilwaukee: What are your thoughts on the micro housing trend? Could it work in Milwaukee?

O'Neill: Micro housing appears to be a real trend in hyper-expensive, gateway markets such as New York, San Francisco and Boston.  It is the only way that people can live near their place of employment given their income and the cost of living in these markets.

To justify these types of units there needs to be substantial pressure on housing affordability, which we just don’t see in Milwaukee. Fortunately, we live in a fundamentally affordable and spacious city with diverse and affordable housing stock. For the foreseeable future we believe that people will find better housing values in Milwaukee without compromising living space. 

Jeff Sherman Staff Writer

A life-long and passionate community leader and Milwaukeean, Jeff Sherman is a co-founder of OnMilwaukee.

He grew up in Wauwatosa and graduated from Marquette University, as a Warrior. He holds an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University, and is the founding president of Young Professionals of Milwaukee (YPM)/Fuel Milwaukee.

Early in his career, Sherman was one of youngest members of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, and currently is involved in numerous civic and community groups - including board positions at The Wisconsin Center District, Wisconsin Club and Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.  He's honored to have been named to The Business Journal's "30 under 30" and Milwaukee Magazine's "35 under 35" lists.  

He owns a condo in Downtown and lives in greater Milwaukee with his wife Stephanie, his son, Jake, and daughter Pierce. He's a political, music, sports and news junkie and thinks, for what it's worth, that all new movies should be released in theaters, on demand, online and on DVD simultaneously.

He also thinks you should read OnMilwaukee each and every day.