Indiana Daily Student

Bloomington's sustainability, climate action plans progress amid pandemic-related uncertainties

<p>Kirkwood Avenue is seen on Oct. 26, 2021.<strong> </strong>Bloomington-owned solar installations have generated the equivalent of removing 1,541 cars off the road for a year.</p>

Kirkwood Avenue is seen on Oct. 26, 2021. Bloomington-owned solar installations have generated the equivalent of removing 1,541 cars off the road for a year.

City of Bloomington officials have said the city is making progress regarding its climate and sustainability goals despite uncertainties caused by the pandemic.

The city has two plans regarding sustainability improvements and climate action. In 2018, the city released a five-year Sustainability Action Plan in coordination with Gnarly Tree Sustainability Institute to address issues concerning climate change, ecological health, local food, water and waste. 

In April 2021, the city created a dedicated Climate Action Plan, which shares many goals with the Sustainability Action Plan, but specifically targets cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decade.

Both Alex Crowley, the director of economic and sustainable development, and Lauren Clemens, assistant director of sustainability, gave a presentation during a city council meeting Oct. 20 outlining the progress the city has made regarding these two plans.

Clemens outlined the larger sources of carbon emissions of the city, the largest being buildings and energy. This is followed by transportation, waste and wastewater. She said 81% of the reductions of emissions will need to come from buildings and energy.

"City-owned solar installations have generated the equivalent of taking 1,541 cars off the road for a whole year,” Clemens said. “This generation is equivalent to 70% of city building electricity consumption excluding water and wastewater processing."

Although the city now has more than 600 solar installations, Clemens said solar and energy efficiency improvement will need to progress at a higher rate in order to meet the 2030 city objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25%. She said replacing nonrenewable energy sources with renewable energy and becoming more efficient in conserving energy are the two best actions that will bring the city closer to its climate goals.

Crowley suggested the council meet no less than once each quarter with the City Council Climate and Resilience Committee. He also suggested the council encourage engagement with the public through developing a climate action dashboard and public engagement platform.

Crowley said the council should foster external partnerships by supporting Mayor Hamilton’s development and funding of a Green Ribbon Panel, a collaboration between the private sector, non-profit sector, educational community and other groups outside of government to collectively combat climate change.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unexpected and an unprecedented change in behavior which means we need to remain nimble, creative and disciplined in our approach to pursuing our sustainability and climate goals," Crowley said. "These plans contain many potential actions and the prioritization of actions needs to adjust according to the situation we face at any given time."

During the council meeting, both council members Sue Sgambelluri and Dave Rollo asked questions regarding how to more frequently measure the progress of the climate and sustainability plans. Rollo was specifically interested in understanding which areas would yield greater reduction in emissions so the city can allocate funding efficiently in support of those goals.

“In terms of investment, it’s really important to be able to determine specifically what the return on investment is for each of those categories,” Rollo said.

Crowley said for some initiatives it’s more difficult to quantify what these returns might be. He continued saying other areas such as solar installation development make it easier to track the investment to return ratio. He suggested the city consistently track progress in the sectors that are more easily assessed since some of these initiatives span multiple years.

“It’s also important to recognize that sustainability and climate action is not a one and done situation,” Crowley said. “The community’s goals are long-term efforts, the actions are often multi-year actions and in some cases decades-long efforts for our community to undertake.”

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