Indianapolis Aims to be a Carbon-Neutral City by 2050

Writer / Renée Larr
Photographer / Michael Durr

The city of Indianapolis is prioritizing becoming a carbon-neutral city by 2050. One solution it focuses on is a new program by the Office of Sustainability called Thriving Buildings. The benchmarking program allows organizations to gauge their energy and water data to identify cost savings for utilities while improving air quality for the city.carbon-neutral city

“In 2019, the city of Indianapolis adopted the Thrive Indianapolis action plan,” Lindsay Trameri says, community engagement manager at the Indianapolis Office of Sustainability. “Essentially, it’s a 90-page document outlining our path to becoming a carbon-neutral city by the year 2050 while incorporating equity into all the city’s policy, planning and programming.”

Indianapolis passed the Energy Benchmarking and Transparency Ordinance in 2021. The term benchmarking refers to the tracking of a building’s utility usage. The term transparency refers to reporting the data to the city. Trameri says buildings are the single largest energy user in Indianapolis, accounting for 66% of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions according to the 2016 Community GHG Emissions inventory.

“We want people to think of this as a report card,” Trameri says. “If a teacher never lets you know where you’re at, how can you improve? Many organizations pay their utility bills and move on to the next thing without much thought into where to start saving money and reinvesting that back into the business.”

Thriving Buildings rolls out in several different phases. Beginning in 2023, Thriving Buildings asks buildings over 100,000 square feet to report their energy data. To encourage participation, the Office of Sustainability will ramp up education and outreach, assisting building owners in helping to facilitate this reporting. Previously, participation was voluntary, with many organizations, such as Indianapolis International Airport, The Indianapolis Public Library, Indianapolis Public Schools, Lucas Oil Stadium, The Convention Center and IU Health participating.

“It was great to see some key players in the Indianapolis area paying attention and wanting to be good stewards to the environment by cutting emissions,” Trimeri says. “It was also a great benefit to their organizations, as well. We had a goal of having 50 volunteers, but we ended up with 84 participating by the end.”

carbon-neutral city Organizations input their energy bills for the last year into a software program called EPA ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager. Trameri says the software is free and easy to use. The data collected allows property owners or managers to become more energy efficient by comparing energy uses with other buildings and tracking their progress over time.

“We’ve had a few organizations tell us they’re excited to participate because they’ve been trying to track their utility costs through their means, such as an Excel spreadsheet,” Trameri says. “This process is much simpler and easier for them.”

The Office of Sustainability estimates the program will provide numerous benefits to business owners and residents of Indianapolis. Trameri says Thriving Buildings has the potential to save building owners $16 million in utility costs per year, a 27% reduction in CO2 emissions in the built environment, create 1,400 jobs in the green sector and save $77 million in public health costs due to improved air quality.

In 2024, all non-city-owned buildings 50,000 square feet will be included. City-owned buildings 25,000 square feet and up will benchmark as well. All buildings’ scores will be published in 2026, with the data available to the public. The Office of Sustainability alerts each business of its mandatory participation. It will also assist with workshops and online recordings.

Trameri says while her office isn’t asking homeowners to benchmark their utility usage, she says homeowners can learn from Thriving Buildings. She says most individuals are connected to much larger buildings than they realize. She says they hope this initiative will spur conversations between residents, schools, churches, and other organizations.

“Often I speak with residents who are already composting, driving a hybrid vehicle or recycling, but they want to do more or have more of an appetite for climate change,” Trameri says. “Keeping track of their utility usage can be a step up for them from what they’re already doing to make even more of an impact.”

Trameri says our local utilities also offer resources for residents to monitor their energy consumption and even take advantage of energy efficiency rebates and programs. The Office of Sustainability encourages residents to check out the resources provided through their online utility accounts with the respective utility or call the customer service department to ask about their energy efficiency offerings.

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