The Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC) commissioned a class of graduate students from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) at Indiana University Bloomington, as part of their Capstone, to develop a defined set of sustainability metrics and indices. These indices will provide a current status and basis for comparison of various aspects of sustainability between states. The initial focus will be on Indiana, however, the project will result in an index that will be available to other states. The results can be used to identify best practices and policies that can assist a state in achieving a higher degree and standard of sustainability.
The HEC has been Indiana’s preeminent educator and advocate of the environment for over 30 years. It relies on solid data to provide reasoning to bring support for environmental action and change to legislation and regulation. Therefore the client has requested SustainIN to create a sustainability index that can be used to compare Indiana with neighboring states. Additionally, the HEC asked SustainIN to carry out a preliminary analysis that can be used to influence positive change, particularly in terms of environmental public policy, in the state.
Each year, graduating Master of Public Affairs and Master of Environmental Science students complete a semester long Capstone project committed to problem solving in a client organization. The Capstone courses are culminating experiences intended to address topics that integrate public policy, policy analysis, management, and science/technology in an interdisciplinary framework. With faculty oversight, the class coordinates with an external client organization on a project that requires students with very different backgrounds and skills to work together in a collaborative learning format. The course is a capstone for the core curriculum rather than a concentration element and deals with interdisciplinary, interrelated issues that generally arise in the professional positions students will go on to attain.
Over several semesters, separate groups of SPEA graduate students will produce a holistic state level sustainability index and a corresponding state sustainability index website. The SustainIN – Fall 2014 Sustainability Index Capstone Class decided to approach sustainability through the lens of the environmental media of land, air, water, and biota and focused solely on the agricultural impacts on water quality portion of the index for the Fall 2014 semester. The Spring 2015 class expanded on the work of the Fall 2014 class by adding pesticides and aquaculture to the Agriculture section of the Index. Additionally, other portions of the Spring 2015 class focused their efforts on Energy – specifically coal – and on economics and social equity. Future classes will complete the holistic state sustainability index.
In building the sustainability index, both SustainIN classes created a set of metrics that provide a balanced snapshot of a state’s current level of sustainability. Input data for our metrics makes use of both government and academic data sources and include both quantitative and qualitative measures.
The initial application of our index studies ten different states with the primary state of interest being Indiana, in order to provide a sustainability rank reference for the Hoosier Environmental Council and its partners, Indiana citizens, the Indiana General Assembly, Indiana regulatory boards, IDEM, IDNR and local government bodies. Furthermore, SustainIN conducted a review of current policy tools being employed for each of the metrics in order to highlight best practices of government in ensuring water sustainability.
SustainIN’s findings have been presented both in a final report and on the State Sustainability Index website. As part of the project, SustainIN produced this interactive online resource where citizens, activists, and policy makers can see: how their respective states rank, areas for improvement in sustainability, and the efforts that neighboring states are taking to reach sustainable uses of land, air, water, and biota.
© 2016 Hoosier Environmental Council