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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Neighborhood Mini-Grant Funds Trail Renovation in Dryden

Tompkins County contains a wealth of trails, but some have fallen into disrepair and disuse without the care they need. A wooded trail in the Town of Dryden, between the Varna Community Center and the adjacent Hillside Acres Mobile Home Park, went many years without maintenance and became overgrown to the point of near-impassability. In 2019, Jonathyn Thornton took on renovation of the trail as an Eagle Scout project, leading a team of volunteers who cleared it, covered it with wood chips, and added benches, kiosks, erosion control bars in areas impacted by runoff, a bridge over a washed-out culvert, and a “Nature Nook” with benches and a table. Sustainable Tompkins awarded Jonathyn a Neighborhood Mini-Grant in October 2019 to pay for the bridge and the table. 

Now the trail is four feet wide and frequently used, offering pedestrians a scenic alternative to walking along a busy roadway between the community center and the mobile home park. The Varna After School Program at the community center uses the Nature Nook as an outdoor enrichment space. Future plans include supplying the kiosks with pamphlets on the surrounding flora and fauna.

Varna residents attest to the trail’s value:

“Having that trail open connects the Center much better to Hillside Acres.  We’ve seen people using it for walking and jogging. Especially in a time when outdoor activities are much safer, it’s wonderful to have it. Working on the trail was a great way to get closer to Varna’s natural beauty, and find out just how much is back there!”

“The outdoor Nature Nook has been a wonderful place for learning and exploring. We utilize this space for our students in the after school program to get them outdoors. The kids really enjoy being in the space and have stated it is cool to listen to the birds and seeing the deer walk across the trail when they are quiet enough. We have incorporated many new nature programs into our afterschool program now that we have this new space and the wonderful trail to walk.”

Read more…
Green Your Holidays with Alternative Gifts

Season’s “Greenings” from Sustainable Tompkins! 

One lesson that we can take from 2020 is that a culture of resiliency and strong community is vital to overcoming the major issues we are facing: the pandemic, systemic racism, climate change, and a divided nation. Now, it’s time to use this lesson to help shape 2021 and the years to come.  

That’s why Sustainable Tompkins is happy to participate in the annual Ithaca Alternative Gift Fair! This virtual event is a fun way to bypass the annual stress of holiday shopping and accumulation of “stuff” while honoring friends and relatives with donations to causes that fit their values. Since it began in 2004, more than $300,000 has been donated to local non-profit organizations, and tons of waste has been prevented from forgoing material gifts; and Sustainable Tompkins has been there from the start! 

When you make a donation in a loved one’s name, you will receive a holiday card that you can give to them, letting them know that you made a donation in their honor.

We are offering a range of small gift options to make it easy for everyone to show their love by supporting others in our community.

$5 to provide seeds and tools for a community garden
$10 to help a local family make their home climate-smart
$15 to promote sustainable enterprises across the region
$20 to support grassroots sustainability projects
$25 to offset ONE TON of carbon emissions from holiday travel
$Any amount:  to train the next generation of sustainability stewards

When you make donations in any of these amounts during December, we will send you the appropriate gift cards to bestow upon the recipients. If you prefer to make one donation for several gifts, just email with a list of the gifts you are buying and she will email you the gift cards to print or send digitally.

Just visit to make your gift, and visit our instagram and facebook pages to have fun with us!

Giving Tuesday is December 1!

Join us on December 1 for the annual Giving Tuesday celebration of your favorite local nonprofits that protect our quality of life, our democracy, and our environment. We’ll be hosting a live Q&A session on our Instagram page at 1:00 pm EST (sustainable_tc) if you are curious about our programs and all the things our team is working on this fall. 

You can also join us for Sustainability Bingo on our facebook and Instagram pages!  Choose which actions and offsets you want to support and make your donation either to our website donations page or via Facebook to Sustainable Tompkins Inc.

You can help us keep our Neighborhood MiniGrants funded with donations at the $5, $10, $25 or $40 level. Since 2008, we’ve supported 196 citizen-driven initiatives with $77,478 in small grants. Dozens of these projects were just dreams when we provided seed money to get started, and now they are some of our leading sustainability initiatives such as Dish Truck, Finger Lakes Toy Library, Ithaca Murals and the local Sunrise chapter. Our movement is growing thanks to your support for these minigrants!

Or help us keep the Climate Fund solvent by offsetting all kinds of your own carbon emissions – from charging your smartphone to all those home deliveries during the shutdown to your home energy emissions for a year.  We certainly need your offset dollars right now – we’ve been incredibly busy giving away grants to help lower-income families get off fossil fuels and we’re running on empty now!

We’ve worked hard over the past 16 years to provide both leadership and support to our local movement. Often on the pioneering edge of sustainability thought, we are now working to help our Finger Lakes Region weave more resilience, stewardship, and equity into the fabric of our communities. We can’t do this alone – can’t even attempt it without your support! 

Signs of Sustainability
Food, Social, Climate Justice for All

Tompkins Weekly 1-13-21

By Cathleen and Eric Banford

In a time when life looks more like an emerging dystopia than a healthy society, many of us are motivated to reexamine our part in it all. If we are aware enough to understand what’s really going on outside of this surge of divisiveness, we understand one important truth: social justice and climate justice are intrinsically interconnected, and both are crucial to sustainable living.

In a year that has challenged all of us, especially people of color, we find ourselves asking a lot of questions. Our current systems are not only being questioned; they are being reimagined and reinvigorated.

Food is one of those universal relationships with life that we all must tend to as a community. Food justice encompasses environmental concerns when we look at farming practices, but it also extends to equal access to healthy food for low-income families and the ability of different ethnic groups to access traditional foods.

Read more…
Farewell From Tom Shelley

Tompkins Weekly 12-23-20

By Thomas Shelley

As some of you may know, I am retiring from my current role as an environmental activist at the end of December to pursue other life goals. I have been managing the Signs of Sustainability series for Sustainable Tompkins for 12 years.

Over this time, scores of local sustainability-related organizations and authors have used the SoS series to promote sustainability-related ideas, the programs of their organizations and events they offered or supported. As of January 2021, Cathleen and Eric Banford will take over the management of the SoS series for Sustainable Tompkins.

I have been an activist of one stripe or another for 25 years, one-third of my life. I spent 10 years, from ’65 to ’75, in the student power/SDS/anti-war movements and as a community organizer in San Francisco, back in the bad old days.

Read more…
Businesses Lead Way in Climate Action

Tompkins Weekly 12-9-20

By Sustainable Tompkins

The heat is on! Typically in our climate-change-fueled work, this would not be a great phrase to hear. However, for our 2020 Finger Lakes Enterprises for Climate Action campaign (FLECA), it’s music to our ears.

This fall, Sustainable Tompkins launched our very first local-business-focused offsetting campaign for our Finger Lakes Climate Fund. The FLECA campaign has already welcomed a host of new climate-ready local businesses. We are delighted to celebrate our top offsetters: Halco Energy, Beck Equipment, Paddle-N-More and Snug Planet.

It has been incredible to witness local business leaders step up and invest in tangible climate action that both reduces emissions and works to achieve economic equity. Each of their contributions is fueling our ambitious goal of $12,500, equivalent to six Climate Fund grants, which will offset at least 100 tons of CO2.

Read more…

ST Blog

Older Posts

Fracking: What Are We FOR?
Sustainability is a Society of Systems Thinkers
Don’t Thank an Antifracktivist

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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…

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…

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…