Indy Leaders in Sustainability: Why does it matter?

I’m one of those people who turned a hobby into a career.


Before I started working at Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, I was a volunteer who did the hard work of picking up litter and planting trees because I believed in helping people and nature thrive. When I tell that story, some people are skeptical. But how can I ask for their support, money, or time unless I’m passionate about the mission?


The truth is I’m an educator at heart. When I talk to people about KIB, I’m not just telling them about native plants, or the benefits of trees or about our youth employment programs. I’m teaching them about a wonderful community organization and showing them why they should love it as much as I do.


In 2020, I didn’t get to do a lot of my normal work – who did? But I did get the time and space to be creative. Over the past year, I connected with an amazingly talented group of people from government, academia, and business. Together we developed Indy Leaders in Sustainability (ILS), a new professional program to help a small cohort of like-minded individuals talk about key issues in sustainability and come up with solutions for their businesses, communities, and households.


Over the next few months, we will spotlight the members of the inaugural ILS cohort and their journeys to create a sustainable future. First, I chatted with the leadership team about the “why” behind Indy Leaders in Sustainability and what sustainability in Indianapolis mean to them. 


Meet Mo McReynolds (the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability), Taylor Hughes (the Indy Chamber), Brenda Freije (IUPUI), and Heather Maurer (KIB):


Michaelyn: Why did your organization get involved with Indy Leaders in Sustainability?


Mo: This is a wonderful opportunity to share the message of sustainability and resilience with the Indianapolis community. Thrive Indianapolis calls for education on many subjects including natural resources, recycling and circular economy, energy efficiency, and how to conserve our air and water quality.


Brenda: And business partners have a crucial role in helping to move cities toward greater sustainability. 


Taylor: Absolutely, we see sustainability as an area of huge growth potential for Indy. Whether from a green jobs, industry innovation, or an environmental equity perspective, there is a building energy to make progress in the sustainability space. And it’s a necessity as we recover from 2020.


Brenda: Exactly, we need more business leaders to understand sustainability challenges and be willing to step in to provide guidance, leadership, and support. Without business partnerships, it's unlikely we can position the city for a thriving future. 


Heather: KIB has been interested in facilitating a program like this for quite some time. Given how broad the term “environment” is, we get questions all the time about action. People want to know what piece of the environment they should focus on and how they can make an impact once they have learned about an issue. So we felt it was important to create a space focused on both learning and action.


Michaelyn: So what outcome is your organization hoping for with this group?


Brenda: I hope that the leaders in this program come away with a vision and commitment for how they will use their influence to build a more sustainable city. 


Taylor: That’s why the Champbers hope to see leaders with a bias towards action get new insights, build new relationships, and forge new solutions to our collective challenges. Whether those solutions are implemented on a company or community level, building the teams that will drive that work is the vital first step.


Heather: We would like to see each representative walk away with clear next steps of how they will build pragmatic solutions to improve environmental equity in Indianapolis. 


Michaelyn: This group clearly loves Indy. What’s your favorite Indianapolis sustainability activity or feature?


Taylor: Indy will never stop surprising you—as a city it continually defies stereotypes and expectations. That’s a little vague, but here’s what I mean: on the surface Indy can look modest, but don’t let the low-key fool you. The people here have a spirit of authenticity and inclusiveness that can almost make you miss just how uniquely creative and compelling they are. In a phrase, the people make the city.   


Mo: Taylor, you’re so right, and I love that Indy has so much potential. We are an untapped market in so many ways and can take advantage of that potential if we work together to accomplish our goals.


Brenda: My favorite sustainability initiative is the efforts of Rethink Coalition to build a better highway system downtown. If Rethink is successful, we will reconnect communities separated by the highway, make the city more amenable for walking, biking, and using public transit, and free up land for more parks, green spaces, and equitable development.


Mo: Speaking of the Rethink Coalition, the Thrive Indianapolis plan is a great example of how many wonderful, engaged stakeholders we have in this city. I hope this group will help us continue to add to that pool of stakeholders and add to the program curriculum. 


Heather: Just listening to everyone’s answers, this team is a perfect example of what can happen in Indy when passionate leaders who care about sustainability come together to make change.


The Indy Leaders in Sustainability cohort meets monthly to hear from guest speakers about a range of environmental topics and to dive into solutions for their businesses, communities, and households. 


Topics for 2021 include Environmental Equity, Native Habitats & Ecology, Recycling, Energy Efficiency, Water Quality, and Air Quality. Guest speakers come from the Kheprw Institute, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, Indiana Recycling Coalition, AES Indiana, Indianapolis Public Schools, White River Alliance, IUPUI, and the City of Indianapolis.


ILS cohort participants represent environmental champions from Eskenazi Health Hospital, Ice Miller LLP, Gershman Partners, Schmidt Associates, Taft, Cummins, Bradley & Montgomery, WSP USA Inc, The Heritage Group, and Salesforce.


If you are interested in learning more or joining the 2022 ILS Cohort as an individual, company, or guest speaker, contact Michaelyn Meave, Senior Director of Development at