We made a very successful transition with our SoS recognition program in 2015. Our objective was to transition from a labor-intensive recording of local sustainability initiatives in multiple categories to a program with much lower costs and more active engagement by others in the movement.

We used Survey Monkey to host our online poll for nominations in 4 categories (individual, organization, business, and youth) and 9 sectors (Transportation, Food Systems, Energy & Climate, Buildings & Infrastructure, Democracy & Social Justice, Arts & Culture, Health & Well Being, Waste Reduction, Resilient Economy, Community Development, and Natural Resource Conservation). Outreach was via local lists, social media, and radio and newspaper coverage. Voting took place from March 28 to April 15, and those who took First through Fourth place were honored at the Earth Day celebration on April 19 at a ceremony hosted by board member Kitty Gifford. All nominees received notification of their award and a certificate to be picked up at Earth Day or the ST office.

Melissa Kemp and Brice Smith won 4th place as a couple in the Individual category of the 2015 People’s Choice ‘Signs of Sustainability’ poll for their work in promoting our transition to clean renewable energy. They tied with Phoebe Brown for her community development work with Building Bridges and Irene Weiser for her leadership on opposing the repowering of the Cayuga coal plant.

Nonagenarian Martha Ferger of Dryden came in 3rd place for her advocacy for social justice and climate action (including getting arrested protesting gas storage under Seneca Lake). Dan Flerlage, a local teacher and mentor for the Youth Farm Project, tied for second place with Joe Wilson, a leader in the fight against installation of a gas pipeline in Dryden.

Nick Goldsmith, the Sustainability Coordinator for both the City and Town of Ithaca won the honor of 1st place for individual effort. As the host of countless meetings for the City and Town comprehensive plans, Nick is one of the more visible practitioners of sustainability in our community.

Kitty Gifford of Sustainable Tompkins shares the details of awards presented to Melissa Kemp, Brice Smith, Phoebe Brown, and Irene Weiser for sustainability leadership by individuals. (Photo credit: Craig Tucker)

Individuals received 29% of the 210 votes, but Organizations were the most common with 49% of the nominations. The Forest Home Improvement Association took first place for adopting a community park and transforming it in one day with new trees, shrubs, benches – creating a lasting legacy for the public to enjoy. Primitive Pursuits came in 2nd place for fostering deep connections between people and nature, and Solar Tompkins in 3rd place for leadership in doubling the amount of solar power in one year in our county. A three-way tie for 4th place came to Tompkins Cortland Community College (2 MW of solar and a Farm-to-Bistro training program), City of Ithaca (2 MW solar array, renewable electricity at wastewater plant), and Ithaca Forest Preschool (nurturing love of forest and planet in children).

The Youth category had the smallest number of nominations (9%), but there was plenty of praise for those mentioned. Local teen Rayna Joyce inspired a large number of votes with lengthy accolades for her outstanding leadership for the Youth Farm Project, incorporating young people in every step of a sustainable food system. In second place, Gabe Shapiro was recognized as a young local climate activist and community organizer. Faith Meckley, a journalism student at Ithaca College, has been very active in the fight against the Crestwood gas storage facility under Seneca Lake and writes the blog ‘Viridorari’ on her personal journey toward a sustainable lifestyle. Tied for third place with Faith was the entire Youth Energy Committee at Tikkun V’Or for their work in weaning the temple off fossil fuels.

Top winners in the 2015 People’s Choice ‘Signs of Sustainability’ awards in the business category. (Photo credit: Kitty Gifford)

Voters were asked to identify any and all sectors where their nominees were making a difference. The most common was ‘Energy & Climate’ with almost half of all nominations in this category. That was reflected in the winners of the Business category as well with Snug Planet and Renovus Energy tied for 1st place, and Taitem Engineering and Boxy Bikes (electric bicycles) tied for 2nd place. GreenStar (food systems, community development) tied for 3rd with DP Dough Ithaca, which attracted much acclaim for reducing their landfill waste by 83% last year.

The Community Development sector was the second most common nomination (41%) and Natural Resource Conservation (34%) was the third most common category.

The transition to a “people’s choice” version of this program seemed to work well, and we received positive feedback from those who were nominated.  Our objective is to attract public attention to the many initiatives in our community and provide a venue for celebration.