A Sustainable Challenge – Small Steps Toward a Big Goal

A Sustainable Challenge – Small Steps Toward a Big Goal

Every community in Indiana has been thinking more and more about becoming sustainable. For many, it’s not an easy transition to make. Limited resources and other pressing issues can make sustainability feel like a lofty goal. But positive changes don’t always have to start out with big plans. Sometimes great things can be achieved one small step at a time. That’s what Indiana is currently experimenting with under a newly revised pilot program aimed at helping cities and towns become greener on their own terms and at their own pace.


Six Communities to Start

This summer, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) announced that six communities will be the first to pilot updates to the agency’s Clean Community Challenge.

The challenge has been around for over 20 years now as a free and voluntary program aimed at challenging and rewarding Indiana communities for launching projects that address environmental and health issues. The new expanded project offerings being piloted this year include things like community gardens, curbside recycling, composting, and more. There are also new steps to streamline the process, making it easier for many communities to participate.

For example, the program now accepts a broader range of projects and uses a population-based system to determine the number of projects a community must implement for membership. Also, much of the paperwork has been eliminated, and a new level system was introduced to allow communities to manage the challenge’s requirements at their own speed.

The 2021 pilot communities are:

  • Beech Grove,
  • Brown County,
  • Fishers,
  • Merrillville,
  • Richmond,
  • And Zionsville.

According to officials, the new changes allow cities and towns to focus on implementing projects and entering the program sooner. The changes also encourage cooperation between residents and businesses to identify and implement projects that are important to the community.


Extra Helpers

In partnership with the IU Office of Sustainability, some pilot communities will receive a Fellow, or extern, at no cost to assist with implementation of sustainable best practices. IDEM is planning to offer externs to five pilot communities at no cost to the community during 2021 and 2022. These externs will provide the capacity to conduct research and implementation of specific projects on the community’s behalf. In addition, the externs will gather, and report results of the implemented projects.


What’s the Cost?

There is no cost – actually, in some ways, IDEM will be helping communities connect with funds for their projects. The program has a membership channel that allows IDEM to notify participants of grant funding opportunities and educational resources like technical assistance webinars, conferences, and meetings.

Each community will be assigned an IDEM Office of Program Support contact to serve as an ambassador throughout their participation in the program. Communities will have free, confidential, on-site assistance available for identifying project opportunities and researching implementation strategies.


Statewide Soon

Right now, the updated challenge is in the testing phase, but IDEM has plans to take this statewide soon. At the end of the pilot, the challenge will be open to all Indiana municipalities, including cities, towns, and county levels of government. IDEM expects to open membership to all Hoosier communities in 2022. Communities will progress through the levels of membership from Bronze, Silver, and Gold at their own pace.

Multiple entities are providing input on the recent changes to the Clean Community Challenge. IDEM is working closely with an advisory committee comprised of representatives from Accelerate Indiana Municipalities, the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs, the IU Environmental Resiliency Institute, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, local municipalities, and Earth Charter Indiana to implement the improvements to the program.


One Step at a Time

Each individual project that Indiana cities or towns undertake to become more sustainable puts our state one step closer to a much greener future. This will have numerous exciting benefits like enhancing quality of place, attracting more talented people to move and invest here, and providing the type of local sustainability efforts that align with major companies. No matter how small these initial steps may seem, they are the start of goals that will reshape Indiana into a healthier, less wasteful place where people and businesses can thrive.


By Nick Dmitrovich with details from IDEM. 

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