ST in the News

Sustainable Tompkins is making waves. Check out our coverage in the local news.

December 21, 2014

Climate Fund Grant Comes Just in Time for Christmas

Dan and Kolleen Fenner

Santa came a little early in 2014 for young Kolleen Fenner and her family, thanks to donors to our Finger Lakes Climate Fund.

The Fenners’ 1920 bungalow home in Newfield suffered from lots of air leaks coming in from the crawlspace and garage door, making their 45-year old furnace labor to keep them warm.  Tompkins Community Action let Daniel Fenner know about the financial assistance they could get through NYSERDA’s programs, but the critical difference came with the Climate Fund grant of $2,247 from Sustainable Tompkins.

Their new high-efficiency propane furnace combined with steps to tighten up the house by sealing rim joists, insulating walls, wrapping pipes, and replacing the garage door will keep 112 tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere.  Donations from the Sustainable Newfield Fund and other community members provided funds for the Fenner award.

This is the eleventh grant from the Climate Fund bringing our total assistance to local households to $20,974.  Thanks to the savings from these energy improvements, the Fenner household budget will have a lot more room for holiday cheer!

October 24, 2014

Children of a Lesser God?

Protest at Crestwood site 10/24/14

Protest at Crestwood site 10/24/14

Sustainable Tompkins stands with the residents of the Finger Lakes Region opposing construction of Crestwood’s methane gas storage in the abandoned salt caverns under Seneca Lake –the heart of a regional economy based on tourism, wine, and farming.  But it seems the citizens of our region are “children of a lesser god.”  At least, employees at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) seem to think so, as they’ve granted a permit to Crestwood for this risky project despite allegations of withholding critical geologic data.

Apparently, a majority of the Schuyler County legislature and Reading town board accept that their constituents don’t have rights to clean air and clean water as they have acquiesced to the interests of out-of-state corporations.  The rail and truck traffic forecast for the depot guarantees significant air pollution in the valley, and the risk of leaks and spills into groundwater or the lake is also very high.  In contrast, four county legislatures and nine municipal boards in the surrounding area have voted against the gas depot because it threatens the quality of life, health, and economic well being of their constituents.

A thorough risk analysis led by Dr. Rob MacKenzie (retired president of Cayuga Medical Center) was done at the request of a Schuyler County legislator.  The risk of a major accident or failure during transport or storage at the facility is estimated at nearly 40% over the next 25 years.  That’s an exceptionally high risk to force upon the residents of any region.  It’s also highly probable that the pressurized gas inside the salt domes will force more dissolved salts through fractures and into the lake bottom and cause rapid increases in the lake’s salinity.  Seneca Lake has already become the saltiest of the Finger Lakes over the past 60 years of salt mining and gas storage, and is the drinking water source for over 100,000 people.

Voters and taxpayers are mobilizing across New York State and declaring that they hold rights that cannot be surrendered to the profit margins of the fossil fuel industry and the political interests of President Obama and Governor Cuomo.  The Seneca gas depot is just part of the many-headed hydra of methane gas infrastructure expansion the Cuomo administration has welcomed into upstate New York. However, methane leakage rates are documented to be so high that its climate impact is as bad as coal. Given the pace of growing climate disruption, we can’t afford to waste money on risky gas infrastructure that will have to be abandoned before the bill for climate damage escalates further. Therefore, methane can no longer be considered a “bridge fuel” during the transition to greater efficiency and renewable-based power generation.

Polls show that many people are ready to make that transition now, and we are seeking political leaders who will help, not hinder, our progress toward true energy democracy.  Until we find those leaders, the people are determined to protect their homes and beloved landscapes from risky ventures that enrich wealthy corporations.  We refuse to be anybody’s sacrifice zone for we are not children of a lesser god.  [This op-ed was published in the Ithaca Journal and Watkins Express/Observer.]

October 20, 2014

Speaking Up Against Fossil Fuel Dependency

The promise of wind energy.

We must transition now!

Sustainable Tompkins submitted the following statement to the Tompkins County Planning, Energy, and Environmental Quality Committee on October 15, and the Lansing Star.  The committee heard from the Chamber of Commerce president that they are in full support of the build-out of gas pipelines in our community.  Gay Nicholson joined 4 other members of the local group opposing the Dryden pipeline in speaking to the committee about our concerns:

In 2008, our Tompkins County legislature adopted a goal of reducing county greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050 as part of its Energy Element amendment to the county comprehensive plan.

For any county goal to be meaningful, we have to make sure there is alignment with our other goal-setting, policymaking, and budgeting activities. We especially need greater coordination between our energy and climate goals and our economic development strategy. Tompkins County needs to insist on full-cost accounting and risk assessment whenever proposals to expand fossil fuel-dependency are brought forth.

TCAD is our county’s official economic development agency and is supported by county taxpayers. Yet it continues to advocate for “business as usual” fossil-fuel dependent development in our county such as the repowering of the Cayuga plant and the addition of gas pipelines.  This creates a number of risks for county taxpayers and residents, and is in direct conflict with the goals of our county comprehensive plan.

It seems ethically irresponsible to oppose fracking in our county, but embrace an expanding and long-term dependency on fracked gas.  It seems financially irresponsible to force ratepayers to invest in gas-dependent pipelines and power plants when gas prices are forecast to rise in coming years, and become uncompetitive with renewables, efficiency investments, and demand management.  Lastly, it seems ecologically irresponsible to accelerate the pace and scale of climate disruption by procrastinating on the necessary transition away from a dependency on fossil fuels.

County taxpayers face both direct climate impacts and a growing tax bill at the federal, state, and local level to pay for climate damage. The poor and working classes are always the most impacted by severe weather and rising taxes. Let’s focus our policymaking and economic development efforts on reducing their vulnerability and their dependency on fossil fuels. We can develop our local economy in a much more responsible manner.

May 6, 2014

Video and Podcast of People’s Salon on Climate Denial Available

April 17 Final SetupThanks to Cris McConkey and his Crew, we now have the video and a podcast of our first salon in our series on ‘The Climate, the Market, and the Commons’ available.  They’ve done an excellent job of putting our conversation on “Why Are We Stuck in Climate Denial?”  together thanks to Cris’s hard work at editing and filtering the audio.  We hope you will watch it if you had to miss the salon, and share it with others who might be interested.

Thanks to a sponsorship by Home Green Home, we will be able to hire Cris and Company to film our second climate salon this Thursday, May 8, at 7 pm when the topic will be “Can Business and Technology ‘Save’ Us?”.  We’ll follow the same format of hearing from guest speakers (Karl North, Stu Staniford, and Marty Hiller) to help us frame up the discussion on the role of the Market in solving the climate problem.

Then we want to hear from YOU as we explore the topic and our options together.  Join us at the Sustainability Center, 111 N. Albany St., Ithaca from 7-9 pm this Thursday.


April 21, 2014

Climate Denial Salon Attracts Large Crowd

Screen shot 2014-04-21 at 11.48.37 PM


We were delighted to see over 80 people join us for the first conversation salon in our series on The Climate, the Market, and the Commons.  A team of local videographers led by Cris McConkey volunteered to film the event, and we’ll post the link to it once it is edited and uploaded.  Thanks to the Ithaca Journal for covering the event for us!

March 21, 2014

Purity Ice Cream and IC’s Net Impact Club Donate $4000 to Finger Lakes Climate Fund

Purity Ice Cream Donation at IC


Thanks to the generosity of Purity Ice Cream owners Bruce and Heather Lane, and the activism of the students in Ithaca College’s Net Impact Club, we have received a generous donation of $4000 to our Finger Lakes Climate Fund.  The Lanes joined Gay Nicholson of Sustainable Tompkins in the Park Center for Sustainable Enterprise on March 21 to meet with Net Impact students Rebecca Blondin and Lauren Goldberg, President Tom Rochon, Dean Mary Ellen Zuckerman, and Prof Hormoz Movassaghi of the IC Business school.  The story behind the “carrot mob” that resulted in the donation can be learned here.

The donation will be redistributed to the community in the form of Climate Fund grants to lower-income households needing help in making energy efficiency improvements to their homes.  Local energy contractors with clients in the Home Performance or Assisted Home Performance program can apply on behalf of their customers for the grants.  The Climate Fund has awarded 8 grants to a wide variety of households, a nonprofit, and a local business.  Awards are based on the tons of carbon emissions that are reduced through energy efficiency improvements, with a maximum grant of $2500.  Interested applicants are urged to get energy audits from local firms such as Snug Planet, Tompkins Community Action, Halco, and Fair Hands, and find out if they qualify for applying. Find certified contractors here.

The Lanes have been donors to the Climate Fund before – believing it is critical that we take responsibility for our impact on the climate, and that we help others achieve greater energy security in the process.  Thanks again to the Lanes and the IC Net Impact students for their leadership!


March 4, 2014

‘Talk of the Town’ Radio with Sustainable Tompkins

Local radio host Juliana Garcia invited ST’s President Gay Nicholson and Board Chair Tom Shelley to join her on February 15 for her weekly ‘Talk of the Town’ show on WVBR.  Listen here to check out our wide-ranging conversation about living more sustainably.

February 7, 2014

Carbon Offsets Help Rebuild Cayuga Pure Organics

Erick Smith, founder of Cayuga Pure Organics, is looking forward to seeing their team back to work cleaning the 2013 bean harvest in their new super-insulated beanery.

Erick Smith, founder of Cayuga Pure Organics, is looking forward to seeing their team back to work cleaning the 2013 bean harvest in their new super-insulated beanery.

The Finger Lakes Climate Fund has awarded its eighth carbon offset grant to a local business.  Late last spring, a dreadful fire destroyed the barn at Cayuga Pure Organics (CPO) in Brooktondale along with all the equipment they used for cleaning and packaging organic dry beans and grains grown at their farm and by other local farmers.

As the only major supplier of organic beans in the region, CPO had become a key player in efforts to rebuild a secure local food system.  Facing bankruptcy, the company launched a fundraising campaign and its customers, fans, and dozens of local food advocates responded with more than $87,000 in donations to help them rebuild.

Sustainable Tompkins, got involved when Snug Planet, the energy contractor for the building, realized they might be able to eliminate the need for a fossil fuel heating system if they could qualify for a grant from the Finger Lakes Climate Fund to help pay for the insulation upgrades.  By creating a passive, super-insulated processing facility, the beanery will be able to stay within its required temperature range without supplemental heating or cooling.

The additional insulation will prevent 158 tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the next 30 years, which qualified CPO for the maximum Climate Fund grant of $2,500.  This funding was made possible by a generous gift from an anonymous donor whose concern about climate change inspired him to offset several years of carbon emissions through the Finger Lakes Climate Fund.

It’s been a challenging year for the CPO team, but thanks to generous support from the community, the jobs of the young farmers have been saved along with this important component of a healthy local food supply.  All this – plus a lighter carbon footprint in the years ahead.

October 22, 2013

Neighborhood Mini-grants Awarded in September–Next Deadline is December 1


This September 2013 we awarded the following five grants:

In Ithaca, two Coddington Road residents will use their Mini-grant to start a Neighborhood Battery and Plastic Bag Recycling collection spot. In addition to keeping these hard to recycle items out of the landfill, it is their hope that the collection spot will give neighbors an opportunity to get to know one another—building community through sustainability. We’re hoping that this effort will catch on across the county!

A Lansing resident will use his Mini-grant to complete the installation of a home built/economical solar system. When its up and running he’ll hold DIY (Do It Yourself) Solar Power workshops to teach community members how to build and install a system in their own homes. We can’t wait for this one.

In addition, we  are honored to offer Mini-grants in support of three local treasures:

The Cancer Resource Center was awarded a Mini-grant to help complete their Healing Garden. This new garden will be built and maintained by CRC community members and their families and will capitalize on the healing power of gardening and plants. Plan a visit to the Healing Garden next summer.

A Mini-grant went to the Sciencenter for their latest, the Renewable Wind Energy Exhibit. The exhibit promises real time monitoring of a local residential wind farm, demonstrate the feasibility of small-scale wind in our area  and will appeal to both children and adults. We’re betting it will blow you away.

The Mini-grant awarded to the Ithaca Alternative Gift Fair will be used to boost attendance at the Fair through radio, social networking and printed materials. This annual event offers area residents access to 60 plus local non-profit organizations and a chance to make gifts in support of participating groups.  We’ve been fortunate to participate in the Fair for many years and donations to the Neighborhood Mini-grant program have always been a favorite of Fair attendees!

Thanks to the Park Foundation and Suzanne Aigen/Aigen Financial Group for their continued generosity toward Neighborhood Mini-grants. Their support provides us with the ability to make grants quarterly—YOUR support means that we can make grants at a meaningful level. The next deadline is December 1– make your gift to the Neighborhood Mini-grant program today.

For more information see:

For an application contact Karen Jewett-Bennett and Coordinator Chris Donaldson at our new Mini-grant email:



September 26, 2013

New Grant Fund for Newfield Residents Announced

FLCF-LogoResidents of the Town of Newfield have a new source of support for making energy improvements to their homes. Thanks to the impressive generosity of a local donor, Sustainable Tompkins has a pool of funding reserved just for the people of Newfield to help them reduce their fossil fuel consumption.The funding is available as two new grant awards from our Finger Lakes Climate Fund. These grants of up to $2,500 help modest-income households commit to a work scope of energy improvements to their home. Newfield households with less than the county’s median income will qualify for the grant awards, but application must be done through certified contractors for the Home Performance Program of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. Participating local firms include Energy Tec, Snug Planet, and Tompkins Community Action.

Sustainable Tompkins created the Finger Lakes Climate Fund in 2010 to give residents a way to offset their carbon emissions locally. The Climate Fund works to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy projects while strengthening our regional economy and assisting local families in need. Individuals and organizations support the Fund by taking responsibility for their unavoidable carbon emissions and offsetting them locally. Donors calculate the carbon dioxide emissions from their travel or building use, and make a donation equivalent to those emissions at the rate of $20/ton CO2.

Sustainable Tompkins uses those funds to award grants to offset an equivalent amount of CO2 by paying for energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements that would not otherwise be possible in low to moderate-income households in our community. These grants help pay for insulation, air sealing, energy efficient heating equipment, and other upgrades to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. They have awarded five grants to a variety of household types in Dryden, Lansing, Enfield, and the City and Town of Ithaca.

Interested Newfield residents can contact local energy businesses or email to learn more.