ERI analysis tool to help Indiana communities evaluate the costs and benefits of cutting emissions

BLOOMINGTON -- Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute (ERI) is launching a new tool to help local governments measure the benefits of carbon-cutting actions to address climate change and evaluate the cost effectiveness of green initiatives.

Designed with input from Indiana local governments participating in the institute’s Resilience Cohort program, the Climate Initiative Value Calculation (CIVIC) Workbook gives communities a validated method for calculating the environmental and economic payoff from investing in projects that reduce emissions.

The first edition of the CIVIC workbook covers 12 common sustainability projects—ranging from electric car share programs to residential composting—enabling local governments to analyze the costs and benefits of each project based on data specific to their needs. Projects span community-wide programs and programs limited to local government operations.

The workbook allows users to experiment with program variables to get a sense of the costs and benefits of initiatives over time. Additionally, the methodology, references, and project co-benefits, such as improved air quality, increased property values, and job creation, are listed on each worksheet.

With ERI’s guidance, the CIVIC Workbook was created by students from the IU Kelley School of Business’s Net Impact chapter and Purdue University’s Environmental and Ecological Engineering program. To help users get the most out of the tool, a webinar is scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday, March 18.

“Many local governments in Indiana and elsewhere want to implement projects that are more sustainable and kinder to the planet, but implementing programs to accomplish this goal must fit within the constraints of tight budgets and limited resources,” ERI Implementation Manager Andrea Webster said. “Our workbook helps ensure that local stakeholders understand the financial implications of climate actions for their communities.”

The idea to create a benefit-cost analysis workbook to help local governments wanting to implement green initiatives came out of the 2020 Resilience Cohort program, in which ERI worked with 11 Indiana cities and towns to develop plans to cut local emissions. Many of those plans will be moving forward for approval this year by local governing bodies, such as city and town councils. The ability to offer a clear picture of the necessary investments and long-term savings of green initiatives will go a long way to gaining support from elected officials and residents, said Aaron Sawatsky-Kingsley, the City of Goshen’s Director of Environmental Resilience.

“When it comes to spending money, we want to see as clearly as possible what the different factors are,” he said.

Currently, Sawatsky-Kingsley is shepherding a plan for Goshen’s local government operations to be carbon neutral by 2035. As city leaders begin to see the benefits of prioritizing greenhouse gas reduction and energy efficiency, he’s hopes Goshen will develop its own community-wide plan.

“Having a tool like this will help us make those arguments,” Sawatsky-Kingsley said. “It also helps that the workbook is produced by respected institutions, with Indiana cities and municipalities in mind. This resource has very much been tailored to our lived experiences.”

Though the tool is preprogrammed with Indiana-specific data where possible, it can be customized to provide reliable projections for any local government in the United States.

“It’s great to see the progression of tools and support available to Indiana communities through the ERI program,” said Angie Fyfe, executive director of ICLEI USA, a nonprofit focused on helping local governments across the United States measure and manage their carbon emissions. “Local governments must weigh both the costs of action and inaction when developing their mid-and-long-range plans. This workbook helps communities determine where to place their investments as well as serving as a list of replicable projects to choose from.”

 This spring, students will be working to add 15 new worksheets to the CIVIC Workbook to further support local government decision-making. An updated version that incorporates more projects and user feedback will be released later in the year.

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.