Indianapolis’ sustainability goals have made progress

Indianapolis' sustainability goals have made progress

For the first time since the adoption of its comprehensive sustainability plan in 2019, the city’s sustainability office has released a report updating progress.

The Thrive Indianapolis Plan is 80 pages and contains 59 sustainability goals in eight different areas of interest. This includes protecting and expanding natural resources, saving energy, increasing recycling and much more.

Many of the goals are aimed at reducing the city’s greenhouse gas emissions – Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett has promised to be carbon neutral by 2050 – and preparing the city for the effects of climate change. Indianapolis is expected to see an increase in days with heavy precipitation and days above 95 degrees in the coming decades due to global warming.

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The update report was published a few weeks after the announcement of the new director Morgan Mickelson by the sustainability office.

Read IndyStar’s profile on Mickelson here.

Instead of a breakdown of progress on each goal of the Thrive Plan, the city report updates nine key metrics and highlights policy changes made over the past two years.

Here are the main takeaways:

Certification of buildings for energy efficiency

In 2018, buildings alone accounted for 66% of Indianapolis’ greenhouse gas emissions. By 2025, the city aims to reduce these emissions from buildings by almost 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.

Since 2018, the city has certified 36 additional buildings as “green buildings” – through LEED or Energy Star ratings – for a total of 295. The target for 2025 is 498.

In particular, the city is on the verge of finalizing a benchmarking and transparency regulation that employees hope to cut utility costs and cut emissions by receiving energy usage data from municipal and commercial companies.

The city estimates this ordinance could save $ 16 million annually in utility bills and reduce 27% of the city’s carbon emissions from the built environment.

The regulation was publicly commented on last year and is in its final internal phase.

Ethan Olson, Native Landscapes Director at Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, teaches volunteers how to plant trees at Andrew Ramsey Park in Indianapolis on Thursday, March 18, 2021.

Parks and trees

Recognizing the role natural resources play in managing rainwater, reducing pollution and improving the quality of life for residents, the Thrive Plan sets goals for increasing green space and tree cover in Marion County.

In 2018, it was estimated that the combined benefits of Indianapolis’ urban forests will save the city $ 10 million annually.

The Thrive plan is to plant 30,000 native trees by 2025. As of this year, 16,445 trees have been planted.

Getting kids out and enjoying Indianapolis’ current parks is another focus of the Office of Sustainability. More than 209,000 children and teenagers participated in IndyParks’ summer programs last year, slightly fewer than in 2019 and 4,000 fewer than the Thrive Plan target for 2025.

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Electric vehicles

As part of an effort to reduce emissions from cars on the road, the city aims to have 300 publicly accessible charging points for electric vehicles by 2025.

However, the number of available stations has decreased by 18 since its last count in 2018 to 172 in 2020.

Hoping to encourage Indianapolis residents to think about electric vehicles, sustainability bureau Knozone’s air quality initiative launched a campaign this spring, Highly EVolved, which will include advertising, a website and informational webinars.

Although the number of charging stations has decreased in the past two years, the number of electric vehicles registered in Marion County has tripled at the same time.

Almost 400 electric vehicles were registered in 2017 and 1,058 in 2020. The target set in the Thrive plan is 3,040 by 2025.

Rain gardens

The city increased the area of ​​rain gardens in public spaces to absorb rainwater runoff and mitigate flooding.

A rain garden is a sunken area in a landscape where water from roofs, roads, and other impermeable surfaces is collected so that it can slowly penetrate the ground. They are often covered in native plants and flowers and can provide habitat for insects and wildlife.

In 2020, the city had 148,574 square feet of rain gardens, up 77% from four years earlier.

Planting a rain garden is also one of the suggestions the Thrive Plan has for Indianapolis residents who wish to participate in sustainability efforts. Instructions on how to start a rain garden in your yard can be found online here.

A cyclist rides east on a bike lane on West 10th Street west of the junction with Lynhurst Drive on Monday, May 3, 2021.

Bike paths and greenways

A year before the Thrive Plan was passed, the city released a transportation plan called Indy Moves, which outlined key destinations for bike lanes, greenways, and pedestrian walkways.

Since then, the city has added 11 miles of bike paths and 11 miles of hiking trails and greenways for a total of 115 miles and 110 miles, respectively.

During the same period, the number of Indiana Pacers Bikeshare bikes that can be rented and dropped off at various docking stations in the city rose from 251 to 525. The number of docking stations rose from 29 to 50.

More than 82% of the people in Indianapolis drive to work alone – more than residents of Nashville, Columbus, or Minneapolis – and city traffic emissions have increased over the past decade. To counter this, the Thrive Plan includes goals to improve public transport and reduce the percentage of commuters who travel alone to 75% by 2025.

Providing a route to work

While this may not be related to climate change, economic stability is key to achieving sustainability goals and improving the quality of life for residents.

The Thrive Plan contains several goals to improve the Indianapolis economy, such as: For example, piloting a green job training program and reducing the proportion of people living in poverty from 20% in 2016 to 12% in 2025.

The city’s update report does not address economic goals related to poverty, but highlights the city’s “Path to Employment” program, which helps people with homelessness find work. In 2019, 52 people participating in the program switched to full-time jobs, and 80 people did so in 2020.

Since the start of the program, 132 of a total of 246 participants have switched to full-time work.

Saving energy with street lights

As part of a Mayor’s Office initiative, street lights in Indianapolis are being converted into LED lights that save both energy and money.

The city then uses the savings from these conversions to build more street lights in needy areas around Indianapolis.

Since 2018, the city has added nearly 2,000 new street lights. According to the city’s Thrive update, the reduced energy consumption will be almost 17 million fewer kilowatt hours consumed in 2020.

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Improving access to nutritious food

In 2015, 20% of Indianapolis children were food unsafe, meaning they did not have access to healthy, affordable food. In 2016, nearly 70% of Indianapolis Public School students were eligible for free or reduced lunch.

The Thrive Plan aims to reduce the number of people in the city who are food unsafe to 15% by 2025 by removing barriers for grocers to accept federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program coupons or SNAP benefits and to increase the number of community farms and gardens.

Indianapolis currently has four SNAP-certified grocers and 129 urban farms and community gardens. This emerges from the city’s current report.

In January of this year, the city council also passed a proposal to expand the city’s efforts to reduce food insecurity and create a department to inform city policy and coordinate food-related initiatives.

Health insured

Environmental hazards such as pollution and heat can have significant public health effects. Therefore, the Thrive Plan envisages a number of public health goals, from improving public awareness of climate-related diseases to increasing the number of residents with emergency training.

In 2016, nearly 14% of Marion County’s residents had no health insurance. In the four years since then, that number has dropped to 11%.

Public health came to the fore in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic closed businesses and killed more than 13,000 Hoosiers. In response, the city launched a mask initiative that posted posters across the city and distributed more than 825,000 masks.

A member of staff signals to stop the conveyor belt as staff sort items and select those that cannot be recycled at the Republic Recycling facility in Indianapolis on Wednesday, September 9, 2020.


An ambitious goal of the Thrive Plan is to have universal roadside recycling for Indianapolis residents by 2025. However, the city is still in the early stages of implementing this change. By then, the city will have more than a dozen municipal recycling drop-off points for people who want to dispose of recyclable materials.

In 2020, local recycling services collected 16,345 tons of recycled material, compared to 13,336 tons in 2018. This is only 300 tons less than Thrive’s 2025 target of 16,696.

To read the Thrive Plan and Update Report, or to see a list of ways you can help the city meet its sustainability goals, click online here.

Contact IndyStar reporter London Gibson at 317-419-1912 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @londongibson.

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IndyStar’s environmental reporting project is made possible through the generous support of the non-profit Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust.