Maybe it's not easy being green, but

Indianapolis resident Renee Sweany wants to show you that it's easier than you

think.

Sweany, the head of Green Piece Indy and founder

of Rush Hour Recycling, works to promote green habits like recycling, reusing,

and reducing what's thrown away. It's become a personal mission and a full-time

occupation for Sweany, who is trying to make Indy a better place to live

through e-mail tips and programs promoting sustainable practices. Among her

efforts: a haul of 50 tons worth of cardboard and electronics recycling in

2009, which earned an award from the Mayor's Office of Sustainability.

"So many people say they'd like to be more

green, but don't think it's possible," Sweany says. "Our thinking is, 'We can,

so why not others?'"

It's a message Indianapolis needs to heed. In

the last several years, the Circle City has found itself at the bottom of a

number of national rankings for sustainability and other green practices. Of

the 50 largest U.S. cities, Indianapolis was ranked 44th in

sustainability by SustainLane. MSN.com and treehugger.com called Indy a city

that needs help getting green. And the state overall fared worse: Forbes.com

ranked Indiana 49th in its America's Greenest States survey, basing

measurements on air and water quality, waste, consumption, and government

policy. The site reported that Indiana had the sixth highest carbon footprint

of any state.

Green Piece Indy offers this information as

inspiration for change: the tips show how to go about making life a little

greener, from conserving water to turning trash into usable goods like kites

and bags. Green Piece delivers its advice right to a subscriber's inbox, so

even the busiest consumers still can learn how to make changes in their

day-to-day life. Sweany hopes people will be similarly inspired to build on

those little changes and eventually make some big ones.

"I think what makes people more passive is

inconvenience," she says. "Or they need more exposure to have green habits,

which is another focus of Green Piece Indy. We come up with things you can

incorporate where you don't spend a lot of money, and can save you a lot of

money in the long run."

Green Piece Indy launched in January 2008.

Sweany, who graduated from Valparaiso University, works with writer Meghan

McCormick on the e-mail tips. The free e-mail subscription had 300 subscribers

when it first launched: mostly friends and family. Now there are 3,000

subscribers.

"We both have this passion for the environment,"

Sweany says. "The way we've grown has been very grass-roots, through

word-of-mouth and forwarding. We've gotten great feedback. People love Meghan's

writing style. Meghan writes. I'm behind the curtains."

The first tip taught subscribers how to

calculate their carbon footprint to see what type of impact their lifestyles

have on the environment. More recent tips have given readers information about

local events like the late-March Green Fest at the Indiana State Fairgrounds

and the Going Green Festival at the Indiana Historical Society (where Green

Piece Indy sold coupon books and signed up new subscribers to the newsletter),

and Earth Hour, one hour of conservation on March 27. The purpose of Earth Hour

is to turn off the electricity from 8:30-9:30 p.m. to reduce energy

consumption. As Green Piece Indy points out, past Earth Hour participants

included a darkened Eiffel Tower, Las Vegas Strip, and the Empire State

Building.

As far as money-saving tips, Sweany describes

relatively inexpensive retrofit toilets that use less water. Another solution

is taking up space in the tank, whether it's with a brick or some large, empty

juice bottles.

"It's practically free, other than having to buy

a jug of juice and drink it," she says. "These are probably things our

grandparents came up with, and we can do them, too. Like line-drying clothes:

anything you can do outside that cuts electricity and also cuts costs."

Here in Indy, there are now other ways to save

money by going green. In April of 2009, Sweany sought to expand and improve

upon the Green Piece Indy idea, and created a coupon booklet called Green

Savings Indy. The second-annual edition is being released this month in

conjunction with Earth Day.

"I'd formed relationships with cool people in

Indianapolis who were quietly doing amazing things for the environment," she

says. "This was a way to connect those awesome people with consumers."

Some of the vendors in the book include Good

Earth Natural Food Company, Whole Foods, Farm Fresh Delivery, eco-friendly

cleaning service Green Sweep and eco-friendly cleaning products from locally

owned TraceyClean, along with the Indiana State Museum, and Endangered Species

Chocolate. Sweany formerly worked in marketing for Endangered Species

Chocolate, and learned in the spring of 2009 that she was being laid off. She'd

already been planning to launch Green Piece Indy, and that unexpected job

change was the push she needed to devote herself to her new venture on a

full-time basis. In a difficult economy, Sweany merged her passion with her

work and discovered a way to sustain both.

Her business is registered as Green Indy, an

umbrella term that could contain a number of different words in between: Green

Savings Indy, Green Piece Indy, and so on. Sweany also helps organizations do

green fundraisers involving green vendors, though that's been on a smaller

scale so far: about seven or eight last year.

"I'd love to see that program grow," she says.

"If we do more with sustainability, everybody wins."

Rush Hour Recycling

The award-winning Rush Hour Recycling program

began on a whim, as Sweany wondered how to make recycling easier for consumers.

"This was one of my harebrained ideas. I thought, 'I don't know, maybe it'll

work, maybe not.' We partnered with Workforce, Inc. In the first event, we

collected three tons of electrical items and cardboard. In 2009, we collected

more than 50 tons at 10 events."

Sweany likens the cardboard and dead electronics

that fill many Hoosier basements to a kind of never-ending storage: it'll get

recycled one of these days, if we could only find the time and the right way to

do it.

"Generally people want to do the right thing,

but we're not always sure what the right thing is," she says.

She sought to make the right thing easier for

would-be recyclers. Here's how Rush Hour Recycling works: between the morning

rush of 7-9 a.m., commuters can pull up to a designated checkpoint, where

volunteers will unload car trunks and take unwanted items for recycling. At two

events in 2010, Rush Hour Recycling already has amassed 12 tons of recyclable

cardboard and electrical items.

"We're well on our way to blowing last year out

of the water," says Sweany.

"On Saturday mornings, I don't necessarily want

to work, so I tried to figure out a way to work it into the routine. That's one

of the biggest reasons people aren't green: inconvenience."

Sweany's connection to Workforce, Inc. came

about when she was researching businesses and their recycling efforts last

year. She asked to take a tour, and soon after began collaborating on Rush Hour

Recycling. In the process, she learned about Workforce, Inc.'s social mission:

they employ ex-offenders in their factory to disassemble electronics. While

that might've given her pause at one point, working with the group was another

story. She calls her collaborators not only colleagues, but friends.

Rush Hour Recycling was a needed venture, and

the Mayor's Office of Sustainability took note. Established in 2008, this office

seeks to build the economy while improving public life and health. As part of

this enterprise, local individuals and groups were honored this year at a

February luncheon. This is the first year the Mayor's office has recognized

programs that bring sustainability to the city, and Rush Hour Recycling was one

of five award winners. The program won in the "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle"

category.

"My motivation is just the planet," Sweany says.

"Caring for the planet. And how do we communicate to people who don't

necessarily believe in that? Why wouldn't we live that way if it's gentler on

the planet? You don't throw trash on the floor in your home. Why throw it on

the street?"

She keeps an eye out around town. Recently she

noticed that Taco Bell and KFC cups littered the nearby lot of the 24th

and Meridian restaurants' location. She took a cell phone picture and plans to

send it to corporate headquarters.

"Those pieces of trash are marked," she says.

"They say, 'Hi, I came from right over there.'"

The reason broken stereo equipment languishes in

a basement while people recklessly toss soda cans on the side of the road has

to do with the value people assign to objects, Sweany says. Even useless items.

"A soda can doesn't have a perceived value."

Green growth

Locally-owned cafes and coffeehouses are more

Sweany's style. Putting money back in the local economy is a way to keep the

dollars green, too. At Tea's Me Cafe at 22nd and Talbott streets, Sweany orders

an aptly named tea: Perfect World, a blend of chamomile and mint. While Sweany

grew into the green movement, some habits started early. Growing up in Avon she

and her family recycled glass bottles.

"We recycled when I was a kid," she says. "It

was the only green habit I was exposed to. We loaded up the car, and this was

back when you divided up green bottles and brown bottles and clear glass, and

my brother and I would throw them to break them and see who could make the

loudest noise."

"It was fun. It's neat how I can look back and

remember, and I like knowing there was a green element in my life."

An eye-opening moment came for Sweany about

eight years ago, when she read a book about diet being used for healing.

Incorporated in the book was a message she took to heart: If you take care of

the Earth, the Earth gives you what you need to survive. Eating organic food is

a starting point. Sweany was once a vegetarian, but now calls herself a

locavore: at the farmer's market, she chats with vendors to learn whether the

meat was raised sustainably.

"I choose not to eat fish, because it's hard to

get sustainably," she says. "There are lots of environmental concerns there."

"Some of my motivation is that Indiana is ranked

49th of 50 states in green habits. We're definitely behind the

curve. Change for those numbers needs support from downtown and big business.

And I truly believe individuals can have an impact," she says.

"I want to empower people to make better choices

for the planet. My goal is to have 10,000 subscribers (to Green Piece Indy) in

2010. It's a big goal. But I know there are 10,000 people in this city that

care about this. I don't think it's a problem all that unique to Indianapolis.

And there are a lot of people doing really amazing things in this city."

Sweany notes the initiatives of Keep

Indianapolis Beautiful, the Indiana Recycling Coalition, the Hoosier

Environmental Council, and the Mayor's Office of Sustainability as ones to

watch.

"There's so much room to grow," she says.

And plenty of Indy businesses are ahead of the

pack. Did you know the Hilton Garden Inn downtown uses solar panels for energy?

So does the Broad Ripple Brew Pub, an establishment that also uses sustainable

and compostable materials at its restaurant and pub – not to mention

having one of the best vegan and vegetarian menus in town, according to Sweany.

"People are starting to look for those things to

make decisions about how to spend their money," she says. "That information

seems to find me."

Spring is the perfect time for greening up.

Green Piece Indy participated in the late March Green Fest at the Indiana State

Fairgrounds, where business was somewhat slow. The organization hopes for a

stronger turnout at the upcoming Earth Day celebrations at White River State

Park. And Sweany is looking forward to farmer's market season, which is right

around the corner.

"There's almost a farmer's market every day,"

she says. "There are natural soap makers galore," Sweany added. "There are so

many unique things you don't expect out of Indianapolis."

Gardening is another way to be green. Many

coffee shops offer free coffee grounds for gardeners who like to use the waste

for compost. Sweany takes it even further: she has worms.

Not just your garden-variety, either. Hers are

contained in a VermiComposter and fed kitchen scraps, which they turn into

nutrient-rich material for Sweany's small city garden. She first planted a

garden last year and is planning on a second. She's using rain barrels to water

her vegetables.

She's also planning her May wedding – a

green wedding, of course. Her engagement ring is made of reclaimed metals and

recycled diamonds. Her mother is making her wedding dress from the material of

Sweany's grandmother's dress. On her wedding day, she'll be gathering her own

bouquet rather than enlisting a florist's help.

"I decided I wanted to be outside that morning,

cutting flowers," she says.

Sweany recently filled the trunk of her Toyota

Prius with cases of organic wine for the wedding – the bottler uses less

packaging, she notes. And of course all the bottles will be recycled after the

reception.

Her fiance, Christopher Sublett, owns an

appliance-repair business. "He wasn't green at all when I met him," Sweany

says. "But now he's learned a lot of waste is recyclable."

Attached to a building near her parked Prius one

day, a poorly-connected hose leaked a steady stream of water onto the ground.

Sweany tsk-tsked. "I noticed that earlier," she says, "and it pissed me off."

From her business venture to a green wedding to

seemingly little things like a hose wasting water or a flock of soda cups

littering the ground, Sweany is convinced each action is important.

"It becomes a way of thinking," she says. "And

that makes such a difference."

Simply put, small things make a difference in

Sweany's newfound occupation, even something like refraining from using a straw

with your drink. "It's interesting how you see that light bulb go on with

people," she says. "They'll reply to our e-mails, or I'll run into them, and

they'll say they never even thought about doing something like that."

Sweany also recommends ordering a draft beverage

rather than drinking from a bottle or can. If your favorite watering hole

doesn't have your brew of choice on tap, why not try something new?

"Indianapolis-area restaurants are so behind

about recycling," says Sweany. "That's an area that could really use some

improvement. We've all heard that clink of bottles going into a trash can when

we're out socializing. We just don't have those recycling options in place

yet."

It's something individual consumers could ask

for. If people base their decisions about where to spend their money based on a

business's green practices, their dollars – or lack thereof – could

make an impact. And getting individual consumers to start changing long-held

mindsets is a move in the right direction, according to Sweany.

"Once you start to incorporate some of those

small, simple steps, I do think it changes the way you think about things. I

haven't always been green, but now I do use less, and think about how to use

less."

A day in the life of Renee Sweany

  1. Get up – preferably with the sun;

    sometimes with the alarm

  2. 20 minutes of yoga to start the day or a trip

    to the Y for Step Aerobics

  3. Feed the cats
  4. Make a green smoothie with fresh, organic

    fruits and veggies from my Farm Fresh Delivery

    1. Toss produce scraps to the worms
  5. Wash dishes from yesterday
    1. Refillable bottle of dish soap

      from Georgetown Market

  6. 5-7 minute shower (I've never been one for

    long showers) using low-flow showerhead (turning off water flow while

    lathering)

    1. Refillable shampoo and

      conditioner bottles from Georgetown Market

    2. Use bar soap – less

      packaging.

  7. Brush teeth using recycled Preserve toothbrush
  8. Get dressed – some of my favorite

    organic clothing comes from Sierra Trading Post (find a link at www.greensavingsindy.com/web)

  9. Hop on the bus to a meeting downtown
    1. Fill a water bottle and grab an

      apple

    2. Think longingly of the coming

      days when I can finally ride my bike or scooter (I'm a wimp when it's

      chilly)

  10. Head home for lunch
    1. Fave lunch: local cottage cheese

      with homemade pickled beets, a small salad with whatever toppings I can

      find, chips and salsa, and a little something sweet (sometimes even a

      stroll down to Goose the Market for gelato!)

  11. An afternoon of work
    1. Create a Green Piece Indy email

      using Meghan's witty words of wisdom

    2. Respond to GPI emails – we

      get lots of great ideas and questions from subscribers

    3. Proofread Green Savings Indy

      (getting ready to launch at Earth Day Indiana Festival on April 24.)

    4. Post Rush Hour Recycling stats

      and dates to Facebook

  12. Join a group of local foodie friends for

    dinner at Trader's Point Creamery

  13. Relax on the couch with my fiancee
    1. Guilty pleasure: Law & Order
    2. Favorite evening pastime:

      popcorn on the stove with Cabot Creamery Cheddar Powder

Renee's Top 5 Green Tips

  1. Use reusable grocery bags.
    1. It's easy and has a big impact.
    2. In the U.S. we use approximately

      380 billion plastic bags in one year.

    3. You can even take them into the

      mall, or Goodwill, or wherever you like to shop.

  2. Shop at farmer's markets.
    1. Produce travels an average of

      2,000 miles to get to the grocery store.

    2. There's more than corn in

      Indiana! Find everything from cleaning products to handmade wooden

      spoons, breads and cheeses to coffee and wine.

  3. Take a reusable mug/bottle.
    1. It's estimated the US will use

      23 billion paper cups in 2010. That's equivalent to 9.4 million trees and

      363 million lbs. of solid waste.

    2. How do you remember to take it?

      If you forget your mug, then no coffee. Trust me, you'll soon start

      remembering your mug every time.

  4. Use green cleaning products.
    1. Do it for the planet and your

      own health.

    2. It's cheaper too – you

      don't need to have 12 bottles of various cleaners under the sink. One jug

      of vinegar and some essential oils can do a lot.

    3. Locally-made TraceyClean is

      green and works great.

  5. Be engaged.
    1. Participate. There are public

      forums where you can insert your opinion on how we can make the world a

      better place.

    2. Learn. There are lots of

      opportunities (many of them free) like Earth Day festivals, community

      dinners and how-to seminars. Earth House Collective is an all-organic

      coffee shop at the corner of East and New York streets that has regular

      film nights where they screen eco-documentaries.

    3. And don't forget to subscribe to

      Green Piece Indy!

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