Sustainable Tompkins is a citizen-based organization working towards the long-term well-being of our communities by integrating social equity, economic vitality, ecological stewardship, and shared responsibility.

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Can Art Shake Us Out of Our Climate Denial?

In the Finger Lakes, it’s been a summer of extreme drought and repeated heat waves. Elsewhere, fires and floods have displaced tens of thousands. No wonder people feel nervous about what will happen next. But it’s also pretty easy to feel overwhelmed by the complex global nature of climate change, and end up in a kind of daily amnesia in terms of doing anything to address the problem.

James settting up tentWorried scientists and activists have been working for years to break through this very human response – trying to find entry into our inner workings to shift the pattern. At the same time there is a growing conversation among artists, sensitive to the many interlocking problems that confront humanity, that this is not a time for object making for galleries and museums. Instead this is a time for being socially engaged, to use art as a means for culture shifting and problem solving – taking advantage of the way art creates shortcuts into our inner consciousness and rearranges the furniture in there.

Sustainable Tompkins recently hosted Brooklyn-based artist James Leonard on the Ithaca Commons with his Tent of Casually Observed Phenologies. James has created a performance installation that is not complete until someone from the community joins him inside the tent to talk about their own climate future. The circular tent is a neutral muslin on the outside, but a rainbow of colors inside where bits of recycled clothing have been sewn together to create a ritualistic space for contemplating one’s own relationship with the planet’s warming. On the outside of the tent, small paintings of familiar plant and animal species affected by climate change are pinned.

Perhaps the most interesting part of his art is the way he has adapted Tarot cards to offer a “divination” or reading in response to the climate-related question of the person joining him in the tent. Read more…

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Natural Investments Joins as Sponsor for Neighborhood Mini-Grants Program



Good news for all the citizen activists in Tompkins County! Natural Investments has joined our team as a sponsor for the Neighborhood Mini-Grants program. Natural Investments has been a leader in socially and environmentally responsible investing for over two decades, actively seeking to balance the need for financial return with the desire to improve life for others and the Earth.

They donate ≥1% to nonprofits of their choice and Greg Pitts of the New York branch picked Sustainable Tompkins mini-grants program to sponsor. Natural Investments is a B Corporation “Best for the World” winner in 2015 and a Green America Certified Green Business.  The latest book by their principals, The Resilient Investor, looks at more than how we use and invest or money – it also focuses on how we direct our time and attention.

The next deadline for applications to our Mini-Grant program is September 1. Thanks to the sponsorship of Natural Investments and Finger Lakes Wealth Management, we will be able to support the good ideas our local residents have for making this community more resilient, just, and sustainable.

Climate Fund Grant Helps Schuyler County Farmer

Mary Wessel sitting


Peace is kept in the barnyard at Wildwood Farms by 5 white nanny goats supervising the dozens of ducks, chickens, guinea hens, and cats rescued by farmer Mary Wessel. After living in Norway for most of her adult life, Mary returned to the States to rejoin her family in upstate NY. She purchased a 6-acre homestead on the ridge above Queen Catherine marsh in Schuyler County and began the hard work of creating a sustainable refuge for humans and animals alike.   Watch Mary Wessel talk about her farm.

Like many rural dwellings, the farmhouse consisted of a series of additions tacked onto the original cabin with its massive stone hearth – none of them insulated or tightly constructed. When Mary’s elderly mother needed to move in with her, the utility bills skyrocketed as Mary tried to keep her mother warm with electric space heaters and DIY attempts to reduce the drafts. Finally she turned to Snug Planet for help. Read more…

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Signs of Sustainability
Natural Gas Pipelines Versus Renewable Energy

Tompkins Weekly    8-22-16

By Marie McRae

In Tompkins County, the legislature has adopted goals for reduced energy use and carbon pollution reduction that involve a “transition away from natural gas”. Achieving the goals rests on a cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent (from 2008 levels) by 2050.

In our region, as well as in many other areas of the country, new infrastructure designed to carry methane (a.k.a. “natural” gas) is one of the most insidious forms of resistance to that transition. For example, one relatively small pipeline proposed for Dryden has the potential to increase carbon emissions in the county by a volume equal to 30 percent of current levels.

Read more…

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Ithaca Establishes First 2030 District in New York

Tompkins Weekly       8-15-16

By Peter Bardaglio

Earlier this summer, 17 local building owners, community partners, and professional stakeholders came together to launch the Ithaca 2030 District. In doing so, Ithaca joined the ranks of 12 other forward-thinking cities in the United States and Canada that are working toward the goal of cleaner and greener commercial buildings.

2030 Districts, initiated by the non-profit research organization Architecture 2030, are unique private and public partnerships bringing together property owners and managers to meet the energy and resource reduction targets of the 2030 Challenge for Planning. Through collaboration, leveraged financing, and shared resources, they benchmark, develop and implement creative strategies, and establish best practices and verification methods for measuring progress towards a common goal.
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CommonBound Conference Inspires Thinking

Tompkins Weekly         8-8-16

By Maribeth Rubenstein

There is a thought that has been in my head for the last month or so from Movement Generation’s Strategy Framework for a Just Transition – “If it’s the right thing to do, we have every right to do it.” Once I heard the words, the idea seemed obvious, yet I had never really thought of systems change in that way before. Where did I hear this idea that has been resonating so deeply with me? At the CommonBound conference in Buffalo.

From July 8-10, the Board of the Green Resource Hub of the Finger Lakes (the HUB) attended CommonBound where we de-colonized our minds and considered a world that puts people and the planet in the center. Here’s a spoiler: it’s a pretty great world. But what is CommonBound (
Read more…

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Older Posts

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Sustainability is a Society of Systems Thinkers
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Energy and Equity Go Hand in Hand


Extreme income inequality, persistent racism, and increasing climate disruption are undeniable plagues of our time. We are fortunate that many people in Tompkins County are working on these issues. Some are advocates for racial and economic justice, such as creating living-wage jobs, removing barriers to reentry from the prison system, and ensuring affordable housing for all. Many others are involved in initiatives to reduce carbon emissions, such as, stopping gas infrastructure development, switching from fossil fuels to renewable sources, and conserving energy in housing, transportation, food, water, and waste. Read more…

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Home Rule and the Greater Good

After hours of discussion at the June 16th county legislative meeting, the vote on the fate of the Old Library ended in a stalemate of 6 in favor of a large apartment complex for seniors (TravisHyde), and 6 in favor of a smaller adaptive reuse condo project (Franklin Properties) which had hundreds of petition supporters and inspired dozens of citizens to show up and speak in favor of the Franklin proposal. Read more…

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How to Get Active on Climate? Even More Locally

By Miranda Phillips

With artic ice melting at great speed, and climate disruption happening a hundred years sooner than expected, climate change is promising to be the biggest challenge of the 21st century.  Not often talked about, at least in mainstream media, are the psychological and spiritual aspects of this challenge – among them, fear, guilt, and grief that make it difficult for us to act and act fast. Read more…

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