April 29, 2021

New Sustainability Director Highlights Thrive Plan

Morgan Mickelson. (City of Indianapolis)

Morgan Mickelson. (City of Indianapolis)

The City of Indianapolis recently named a new leader for the Office of Sustainability. Morgan Mickelson was appointed Director in March. WFYI’s Jill Sheridan spoke with her about the City’s sustainability plan -- Thrive Indianapolis -- which was launched in 2019.

Mickelson: Looking at that report, it is the city's first sustainability and resilience plan. And it is extremely comprehensive they engaged with, I think the list is well over 30 stakeholders. And it really takes a holistic approach, you'll see the core values listed.

And the overarching goal of the Thrive Indianapolis is actually to embed equity at its core, and that I believe, with taking this whole holistic approach in which you look at public safety even and understand how that links directly to climate change. It was just transformational. You know,

Sheridan: Talk about that. There are things in the plan that you wouldn't necessarily think are sustainability measures and issues. But how everything is linked, you know, health insurance, you know, how does it how does that relate to sustainability? Some things are obvious, but others are not? How important is it to get that awareness?

Mickelson:  Absolutely. I just kind of see that as my job is to draw those connections, between sustainability and climate change to those other pieces of our everyday life that you might not think of as having that that direct.

In fact, one of the words we use a lot is resiliency. And that is kind of the idea of how easy is it for you, yourself and your family to bounce back from a natural disaster, or even the loss of your job, right. And we know with climate change, that are natural disasters are going to be happening more frequently, the White River might flood and your house could get flooded. Well, if you don't have the proper insurance, or if you don't have a security net, you might not be able to recover as easily as someone in a more affluent neighborhood would be able to.

And so we're trying to draw that connection to implement changes that help people recover more easily or help them be more resilient.

Sheridan: This last year, it's obviously been difficult in a number of ways. How has the pandemic impacted sustainability efforts in the city, especially with equity in mind?

Mickelson: I think it's really advanced the conversation. And just a couple of years ago, the words climate justice were not on people's forefront, right? They didn't really hear those two terms together. I told people I was studying climate justice. And they asked me if I was pursuing a law degree.

But now we all understand that's a common term 2020 had a role to play in advancing our understanding of a lot of areas of inequity in our society. It draws the direct parallel in comparison to the hardships that people were facing.

Sheridan: Taking a look at now, a new report of Thrive Indianapolis, what stands out to you as, as some of the important information that we're getting now that we're a little ways into this effort?

Mickelson: Our first ever annual report update is actually looking at the output metrics. So I've Indianapolis has 59 different action items. And then we're going to be tracking our progress through output metrics, and performance indicators. 

The most exciting thing for me with this annual report is creating this conversation, picking it back up from where we left it after thrive was created and trying to continue the conversation but also offering some a bit of transparency on where we are in our progress. 

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