South Bend Climate Efforts

From the Office of Sustainability


Emily Clark, Reporter

South Bend, Indiana, has been recognized for its environmental efforts from Notre Dame’s research and former mayor and current Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg. But the Office of Sustainability in South Bend has been promoting environmental initiatives for over ten years. Since current director Evie Bauman joined in 2021, the office has evolved from focusing on energy efficiency in city-owned buildings to promoting the city’s 2019 Climate Action Plan, which aims for South Bend to become carbon-neutral by 2050. I had the wonderful opportunity to speak to Bauman about her role and the impact of her work. 

“Day-to-day, my job could look like anything from going to check on our electric vehicle charging stations that we own and operate and responding to an issue there or getting help from our electricians to solve any electrical problems that are coming up that are inhibiting folks from being able to use those charging stations,” said Bauman, when asked about what she did as the director of the office of sustainability. “Sometimes it involves education sessions and going to a community organization and talking about our work, actions they can consider taking to help us reach our carbon-neutral goal, hearing their priorities, and letting that inform the programs our office is standing for as well.” 

Bauman and her team of two others led the office, making South Bend one of only two cities in Indiana with a dedicated sustainability office– the other being Indianapolis. 

“In my experience working with local governments, staffing levels often indicate a city’s priorities. The City of South Bend has a long history of investing in sustainability with staffing resources. From the days of the Recovery Act and South Bend’s first Energy Director in 2010 to launching the Office of Sustainability in 2014 with two full-time staff to recently bringing on a fellow as the third full-time staff member, the City has expanded its ability to support programs that help businesses and residents live sustainably and prepare for the challenges of climate. Few other U.S. cities the size of South Bend have been able to provide consistent sustainability staffing, yet South Bend has done so for almost 25 years. Part of what has motivated South Bend to make a somewhat outsized investment in sustainability is the outspoken priorities of community members, institutions, and businesses. The community must continue to support and even demand South Bend’s sustainability efforts so that leaders know that investing in the Sustainability Office is recognized as a valuable city service.” 

– Therese Dorau, former South Bend Sustainability Director (2014) | Assistant Director of Climate Policy & Implementation for IU’s Environmental Resilience Institute

 The team works together to advise and guide community organizations to make climate-conscious decisions and provide grants for said organizations to proceed with those changes. This could include adding solar panels to eligible buildings or replacing windows and insulation so facilities aren’t losing more heat than they’re putting in. 

Bauman says that the Office of Sustainability’s greatest achievement is the nonprofit program they piloted last year: “We called that nonprofit grant program EASSI: Energy Assistance and Solar Savings Initiative. And through that program, seventeen organizations received an energy assessment that is now guiding their decisions around their building for the years to come. And they also built a community around their seven solar projects that happened and really ambitious ones that took place because they received this outside funding. So seeing the community aspect of that program of nonprofit leaders growing awareness of these are things we can do to reduce our carbon emissions and be more sustainable as an organization. And then the actual projects that were carried out through that program, they invested over $700,000 into clean energy projects or energy efficiency projects and over 380 kilowatts of solar.” 

Having an Office of Sustainability is vital, especially consideringIndiana needs a better reputation regarding its climate. Numerous reports have given negative feedback on Indiana’s environment; one news outlet deemed Indiana as having the most polluted rivers and another outlet reporting Indiana’s legislators getting a D+ grade average on green bills. “We have limited power over those making decisions at the State House, but we can mobilize folks through encouraging them to take action. But more specifically, educate folks about the available resources,” says Bauman. “A lot of the inaction in the state also comes from the fact that we see less renewable energy, a beautiful natural environment that’s prioritized and kept, and well-maintained tree canopies that would help reduce our carbon pollution in the atmosphere too. But, unfortunately, we only see a few examples of that. And so it’s part of our office’s job to showcase what it could look like in South Bend.” 

To continue to support the Office of Sustainability, go to their website and click on the “What We Do” tab to find all of their programs and how to sign up as an individual or as a business. Bauman specifically recommends that youth get involved with the Climate Action Ambassadors program, which connects with the community by having participants fill out a climate action survey to co-create an updated Climate Action Plan in the long run.