Photograph by Steven Higgs

City Councilman Dave Rollo led the effort to establish the Bloomington Commission on Sustainability. The group is about to release its first annual assessment report.

Sustainability report ready for public

When it comes to community sustainability, things are looking up in Bloomington.

Public transit use? Up. Job market? Up. Greenhouse gas emissions? Up. Way up.

These are among the trends revealed in the Bloomington Sustainability Assessment Report, the first of its kind prepared by the Bloomington Commission on Sustainability.

More than just a review of environmental conditions, the report identifies the city's strengths and weaknesses across what officials call "the 3 E's" of sustainable society: the environment, the economy and social equity.

"This should be a guiding document for policy decisions in areas like economic development," said City Councilman Dave Rollo (D-Fourth), who spearheaded the effort to create the commission and serves as one of its 12 members.

According to Adam Wason, assistant economic development director with the mayor's office, the report will be readily available to the public by Oct. 1. It will be posted to the city's Web site (, and copies will be distributed through local high schools and the county library. Until then, copies will be available from City Hall.


The report, which uses data from a variety of local and federal agencies, does not grade the city's overall performance but instead establishes baselines for measuring future progress.

It offers statistics on 17 indicators, ranging from crime rates to water pollution to the number of hours a Bloomington family must work to afford basic needs.

The report identifies four distinctly negative trends in the city: the continuing rise in greenhouse gas emissions, an increase in residential water use per person, too many residents without health insurance and low voter turnout.

In other areas of sustainability, the report shows progress: the job market is expanding, more people are using public transit, and library patronage is growing steadily.

Rollo said an integrated approach is needed.

"We can't just look at how we help low-income people find jobs," he said. "We need to look at housing, educational opportunities, their health, whether they have the support structure they need."


The report is as much an assessment of sustainability as it is a study of the available information. For some indicators, the commission could not determine whether the future looked bright or bleak.

"There were some things we just couldn't get information about, like the local food issue," said Commission Chairman John Hamilton. "That really intersects all three E's - the environment, the economy and equity. We didn't get much good information about it, but I think it's out there."

For other indicators, information was available but was old or incomplete. The latest data on residents without health insurance, for example, comes from the 2000 federal census.

Data about the percentage of land covered by impervious surfaces, such as roads and rooftops, was provided by the city's engineering department. But the figures don't include things like driveways or walking paths on the IU campus.

Hamilton hopes the report will help "build common purpose around shared objectives" with the public and the City Council.

"I don't want to be the one to pick out the most important indicator," he said. "I hope people will look at this and say, 'Which measures matter?' I think, for example, that energy conservation and local food are areas where most people could say, 'It would be nice to see more of those two things in Bloomington.'"

Hamilton said he hopes the public will offer suggestions on new ways of measuring sustainability as well as ways to get more comprehensive information.

"I'd really encourage people to visit the commission's Web site (and) help us make this better," said Hamilton. "This is our first crack at it."


The report already has a strong history of public participation, said Commissioner Catherine Stafford, who helped shepherd the report's early development.

The commission first sought inspiration from reports issued by other communities before conducting three public forums in February and March 2006, said Stafford.

The forums attracted more than 100 participants from local businesses, community organizations and arts groups across town, who offered suggestions for sustainability measures that would be uniquely relevant to Bloomington.

About 60 indicators were chosen for the report, Stafford said, but that number turned out to be unmanageable for volunteer commissioners with work and family obligations.

"The report is not all that we would love it to be," Stafford admitted. "We had to drastically reduce the scope of the report, so we weren't able to take advantage of as much public involvement as I'd hoped."

Nevertheless, Stafford said, the report is "a fantastic effort." In particular, she praised the report's author, intern Michael Steinhoff, who took charge when it became clear the committee was strapped.

"The burden rested solely on (Steinhoff's) shoulders," said Stafford. "He did a fabulous job of gathering information."

Stafford said she hoped new staffing arrangements at the mayor's office would make it possible to recruit and manage a larger team of volunteers and interns to help produce future reports.

Rollo agreed that more hands are needed and said he'd also like to see more financial support for the commission's work.

"I think the amount of research needed is daunting, beyond the scope of volunteers," he said. "It wouldn't require more than a few thousand more dollars. I think that information is out there and we need to find it."

Charli Wyatt can be reached at