I cringed when I heard the news: Indiana is second to last when it comes to being green.
We're supposed to be America's heartland. But instead of being known for the life sciences, economic initiatives or even our corn fields, we're getting recognized for our dirty air and water.
Last year, Forbes conducted a study to find the greenest states in the country. Vermont, Oregon and Washington topped the list. At the bottom: Alabama, Indiana and West Virginia.
While Indiana may look green when you're rollerblading down the Monon Trail or walking along the canal, according to the stats, we're anything but. The study took into account the impact humans have on the environment, air and water quality, waste and public policy.
We don't fare so well. In fact, places like the congested East Coast are greener than Indiana. This is among a long list of wakeup calls we've been given. It's time we take responsibility for Indiana's environment. That includes embracing green-everything from driving fewer miles and more efficient vehicles to building with green materials.
The Indianapolis City-County Council tabled a proposal (No. 318) last year that would have required all city projects to be LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) certified. The proposal began as an aggressive mandate that all buildings-houses, apartments, condos, offices, museums, etc.-be built using the LEED standards. That quickly was shot down as being too aggressive.
The new version of the proposal would put local government in the leadership position requiring all public facilities be built using LEED guidelines. It would be a good start.
Building according to the national LEED standards is a chance for Indianapolis to prove that green building and green living is important for our future. Perhaps a commitment from city and county government will lead to even more change from residents, builders and designers.
Look at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and Clarian Cancer Center as two examples of how green building can be a success. Both include green rooftops. In recent months, green building has made headlines as new developments are committing to going green.
Building green needs to become the norm for our community, not the anomaly. Green design can mean a lot of different things-from creating energy-efficient buildings, such as the IU forensics lab (which has received LEED certification) to developing a network of trails and pathways for walking or biking, like the Indianapolis Cultural Trail (which will help improve the quality of life for us all). Those are big steps in the right direction.
But being green isn't just about improving our rankings; it's about making sure that future generations have clean air and water.
We can't wait for government to mandate that we build more efficient houses, offices and retail centers. We need to think about not just what's best for today, but also what is going to be best for the future. There are small steps we can all take, including those of us in the building industry:
Choose green building products (bamboo instead of hardwoods, for example).
Plant more trees and select native plants for landscapes at home and at work.
Recycle building materials, including concrete, metal, wood and cardboard.
Carpool to work. Use energy efficient appliances and energy-efficient lighting. Park instead of idling at drive throughs. Mulch, don't burn, yard debris. Walk or bike instead of driving to run an errand. Or take the bus or carpool. Maintain appliances and your vehicles to make sure they're operating as efficiently as possible. Use rain gardens to reduce polluted runoff. Too often we think creating green cities and facilities is about making radical changes. In reality, it's about making different choices. It's about considering options and alternatives that in the end will make the air and water cleaner, use less energy and provide a better community now and for generations to come. And, if we all take small steps in this effort, Indiana can rise up to become America's Green Heartland.
Hempstead is president of the Indianapolis Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and is a LEED-certified architect at Schmidt and Associates. Views expresssed here are the writer's.