IU to help Indiana cities enact green projects, cut carbon emissions

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Through a partnership with Indiana University, nine Indiana cities and towns will be carrying out projects in 2021 to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions. The initiative represents the third stage of a program pioneered by IU’s Environmental Resilience Institute (ERI) to help Hoosier communities measure and manage heat-trapping gases that contribute to climate change.

Beginning in February, these Resilience Cohort cities will receive technical assistance, consulting, and training to implement one to three projects that support actions identified in community-wide greenhouse gas reduction plans developed under the program in 2020. Projects will focus on lowering barriers to solar development, creating electric vehicle-friendly communities, and efficiently treating wastewater, commonly one of the largest sources of emissions in local government operations.

Program participants in 2021 are Bloomington, Carmel, Elkhart, Fort Wayne, Gary, Goshen, Richmond, West Lafayette, and Zionsville.

“After a couple years of helping our cohort members gather data and create emissions reduction plans, we are excited to assist these local governments with tangible actions that reduce greenhouse gases,” said ERI Implementation Manager Andrea Webster. “Fully implementing climate action plans will take years of effort and sustained commitment, but some of the benefits, such as green jobs, lower utility bills, and improved air quality, can be realized much sooner. By prioritizing emissions reduction today, our Hoosier towns, cities, and counties are taking critical steps to combat climate change and create more livable, equitable, and resilient communities.”

View a full-size image or an accessible version of this graphic. Graphic by Lauren Gronek, Environmental Resilience Institute

Launched in 2019 through a partnership between Sustain IU and ERI, part of the IU Prepared for Environmental Change Grand Challenge initiative, the Resilience Cohort program matches Indiana local governments with the tools, training, and expertise needed to measure and reduce local greenhouse gas emissions.

Alison Zajdel, a Richmond resident and chair of the city’s Environmental Sustainability Commission, said in just two years the program has played an invaluable role in helping Richmond take steps to address local emissions. The city created a greenhouse gas inventory in 2019 and drafted a climate action plan in 2020. The plan is on track for review and approval by city leaders this year.

“Each step of the way, ERI has encouraged us, provided us with resources, and most importantly, connected us with other communities in Indiana who are on the same sustainability journey,” Zajdel said. “Together, we are making our communities healthier and more resilient against the damaging effects of climate change."

In addition to helping cities enact carbon-cutting projects in 2021, the Resilience Cohort is assisting a new group of communities on the path toward greenhouse gas reduction. These first-year participants include Cedar Lake, Chesterton, East Chicago, Highland, Hobart, Huntington, Indianapolis, Lafayette, Lake County, Lake Station, LaPorte (city), LaPorte County, Merrillville, Munster, New Albany, New Castle, Porter County, Schererville, South Bend, Terre Haute, Tippecanoe County, and Valparaiso.

Local governments from these communities will be conducting greenhouse gas inventories and will receive technical assistance from ICLEI–Local Governments for Sustainability, a nonprofit organization that specializes in emissions management and climate action, as they work their way toward planning and implementation.

Participating local governments in Tippecanoe County, as well as in Lake County, LaPorte County, and Porter County will be collaborating on a regional greenhouse gas management plan, an approach that is growing in popularity across the country. The Northwest Indiana regional inventory will be produced in partnership with the Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission.

By the end of the year, inventories from communities representing 46 percent of the state’s population will have been created through the Resilience Cohort. In the first two years of the program, 17 Indiana cities, towns, and counties completed one or more community-scale greenhouse gas inventories, and 11 communities have used this data to develop climate action plans or other long-range plans aimed at reducing heat-trapping gases.

IU student climate fellows contributed to much of this work, assisting local government staff during the summer months as part of Sustain IU’s Indiana Sustainability Development Program. This year, at least 12 communities will work with student climate fellows to carry out their climate action projects and conduct greenhouse gas inventories.

“More than anything, the Resilience Cohort has been a successful model to provide needed technical capacity and support and to establish relationships that enable Indiana’s local governments to strategically reduce carbon emissions,” said Webster. “The program has successfully partnered with a range of communities, both rural and urban, and cities with elected leadership from both political parties, as well as cities where elected leadership has changed during the course of the program.”

Funding for the 2021 Resilience Cohort program is provided by the McKinney Family Foundation and the Duke Energy Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Great Plains Institute and the national SolSmart program, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

About the Environmental Resilience Institute

Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute brings together a broad, bipartisan coalition of government, business, nonprofit and community leaders to help Indiana better prepare for the challenges that environmental changes bring to our economy, health, and livelihood. Launched in May 2017, ERI is working to deliver tailored and actionable solutions to communities across the state of Indiana.