Defining Sustainability with SustainIndy

Posted on July 23, 2014

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Last time we heard from Beth Otto we learned about sustainability efforts in the City of Hillboro, OR. This time she heads to the Midwest to learn about SustainIndy, the ongoing efforts in Indianapolis. Learn more about SustainIndy on Facebook, Twitter, World Wide Web, and YouTube


Making Indianapolis the Most Sustainable City in the Midwest


by Beth Otto, LinkedIn and Twitter

July 23, 2014

In 2008 Mayor Greg Ballard established the Indianapolis Office of Sustainability, with the ambitious goal of becoming the most sustainable city in the Midwest. The City is taking a holistic approach to implementing their sustainability measures, an effort known as SustainIndy. City staff are focused on improving the quality of life for all residents, an effort at the heart of the sustainability movement.

BStSP_5CQAAfqFlSustainability has many different definitions. For SustainIndy, “Sustainability means using best practices to create lasting environmental, economic and community vitality – enhancing our quality of life now and ensuring that future generations of Indianapolis residents have an equally good quality of life.” – Indianapolis Office of Sustainability.

The 2012 Sustainability Report details the broad range of accomplishments of SustainIndy. The City participated in the pilot of STAR Communities, the nation’s first framework for measuring and improving community sustainability.

The City has made remarkable progress on all fronts. Their accomplishments since 2009 include:

  • Planted more than 20,000 trees
  • Added more than 80 miles of bike lanes
  • Completed energy retrofits on 61 City-facilities, saving $860,000 per year for taxpayers
  • Helped create 117 urban gardens
  • Introduced recycling at more than 130 City facilities, generating revenue of nearly $80,000
  • Become the first City in the US to commit to converting all fleet vehicles to EV, plug-in hybrid or compressed natural gas (CNG)

Welfare of the City


Budgets are tight for cities everywhere. Melody Park, the Director of the Office of Sustainability, is familiar with the challenge of funding sustainability programs with declining tax revenue and a need to fund basic services like police, parks, and city infrastructure. But determining what investments are wise depends on the timeframe that it is considered over.

“Mayor Ballard has emphasized that City staff should make financial and policy decisions based on the welfare of the city 10, 20 even 50 years out,” Melody noted.  When staff make decisions based on the long-term financial and social welfare of the community, sustainability is naturally folded into the everyday functions of City staff.

A Core Focus


“I believe sustainability is a core focus of almost every city—whether they have identified it as a focus or not. What we’ve found in Indy is that people want to locate in, and businesses want to create jobs in, cities that offer a high quality of life. Civic pride and attracting residents, businesses and jobs are concepts understood universally. By focusing on the elements of sustainability—natural environment, built environment, economic development, job growth, climate adaptation, energy efficiency, health and safety, education, equity and empowerment—cities can achieve a very sustainable community and create a highly desirable place to live.

I think it’s critical for leaders of cities to take the time to talk with residents, with business owners, and with community groups to learn what is needed to make the city an attractive place to live, work and raise a family.”

Five Year Progress Report

The City of Indianapolis has been focused on Sustainability for just over five years and they have made incredible strides and have already become one of the most sustainable cities in the Midwest. They have done this by focusing on livability and integrating long-term decision making into the work of City Staff. This is a model for other cities to follow.

Presentation by SustainIndy Office: What on Earth Is Sustainability

Supplemental Reading


Greening of City-County Building

City Launches SustainIndy Community Grant Program

Sustainability in Indy

SustainIndy Marks Fifth Anniversary

Indianapolis – Increasing Sustainability

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard: Cleaning up the Circle City


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