Indy's Sustainable Promise

by Cadyn Waxingmoon, ECI Intern

The very first Indianapolis Sustainability Summit was a success from start to finish. The event was sold out to those who want to see a change in our city. Over a year ago the City-County Council passed our youth-led Climate Recovery Resolution promising to reach carbon neutrality by the year 2050; now, Indianapolis is taking steps towards fulfilling that promise. Thrive, the Indianapolis Sustainability plan, is currently being drafted, and there is no better time to hold a summit about Thrive. 

We started the day off with a warm welcome from the director of the Indianapolis Office of Sustainability, Katie Robinson. After the greeting, we were introduced to our wonderful keynote speaker, Mark Mykleby. An ex-marine who envisions a sustainable county, Mykleby spoke of the definition of sustainability: an organism which is able to be maintained or continued. Truly, he argued, what else could wish for America to be? Mykleby’s speech was exhilarating, thought provoking and all around enjoyable, providing a wonderful start to a fantastic day.

Over the course of the summit there were twelve different breakout sessions over three time slots. The Earth Charter kids decided to split up and go to as many different session as possible. Jim Poyser and another of his interns would be on one of the panels together, the rest of us wished them luck and went to our respective breakouts.  The session I chose first was public health. There was a panel of four people from the Marion County Public Health Department, Eskenazi Health, Health by Design and the Indy Environmental Equity Council, along with a moderator. The discussion revolved around what each organization was doing to mitigate the effects of climate change and pollution on public health.

In the middle of the day the attendees drifted back to event hall for an exposition of posters regarding sustainability and everyone's favorite part of any event, lunch. Settling in for what promised to be a spectacular meal, we all enjoyed a deeply moving performance by Imdianapolis’ own Young Actors Theatre. The skit touched on the misleading way facts regarding climate change are presented to us, as well as the crushing feeling of not being able to stop such a looming threat. In the end, we are reminded that it is never too late to stand up to our problems. After the actors had received a standing ovation, Mayor Hogsett made his way on stage to address the summit as well as to announce award winners. Jim Poyser and Earth Charter Indiana were among these winners and, as always, he insisted the other youth and I come on stage with him. It had been mentioned that today was Jim's birthday and there I stood, dumbfounded, as the entire room started singing happy birthday while Mayor Hogsett handed my boss his award.

Lunch soon ended and we again went our separate ways once more to the breakout sessions. This time I had opted to attend a session discussing the sustainability of Indianapolis’ infrastructure. One of the panelists shared how his architectural firm was working with the environment to create beautiful spaces in Indianapolis. Another showed us the positive impact the cultural trail has had on our city. A man from Indianapolis Power and Light walked us through the building of the airport solar farm and IPL’s plan to add wind energy in the next twenty years. Finally, a sister from Our Lady of Grace Monastery spoke to us about public gardens and how they better a community by bringing it together. I found their words insightful, and soon the session had ended. 

In the three breakout sessions I attended, my personal favorite was number three, local food. This session’s panel was moderated by a local beekeeper and featured an aquaponics farmer, a nutritionist, an urban farmer and the owner of a vegan food truck. They discussed how the food they eat had helped shape their lifestyles, as well as what had inspired them to start working with food. Each shared a memory from their journey in sustainable foodwork. One woman told the group how her children helped her in her garden, and ate healthy because of it. Another said she did not like her outer appearance until she started eating well. The breakout was inspiring and intriguing, prompting members of the group to think harder about where the things we put in on our bodies come from.

Walking through the summit, I was met with many familiar faces, as well as many people I have yet to meet. Everyone was eager to network, to take something we had learned and integrate it into our own lives and organizations. Seeing such enthusiasm to make our town better, from things as seemingly insignificant as the the food we eat at any given meal, to projects so influential they shape the city, is enough to make anyone optimistic about our future. It is uplifting to know that Indianapolis is not backing down from our promise to be sustainable.

Andy Fry