Sustainability and resilience aren’t bestowed upon a society. They are crafted and woven from the hard work, vision, and collaborative leadership of its members. Since 2006, Sustainable Tompkins has been celebrating the individuals and groups in our county that are improving our present and safeguarding our future, enriching our lives and making us better human beings. Awardees in our third annual People’s Choice Signs of Sustainability poll were celebrated on April 29 as part of our Climate March and Earth Day Ithaca events. 

We were so excited to see Hotel Groton, owned by Jeffrey Toolan, take first place in the Business category of the 2017 Signs of Sustainability Awards. The former Groton Hotel is now known as Hotel Groton since Jeff turned this historic landmark main street building into a sustainably-renovated-to-it’s-period-beauty, 100% electric-powered, all LED, carbon neutral building serving local and organic food in the café. Thereby restoring a decaying building into a renewed destination and helping to rebuild the local economy in Groton with an attractive, modern and sustainable business.  The project qualifies as a “truly heroic effort” and we anticipate many Ithacans will take a road trip to dine at the new Hotel Groton. Second place winners were Quinn Energy and Renovus Solar for their innovative work in clean energy. Third place winners made a 4-way tie for their sustainable business practices with Edible Acres, The Watershed, Good to Go Market, and Brookton’s Market.

The Finger Lakes chapter of Mothers Out Front came in first place for the Organization category. The group has emerged as a key player in preventing the infrastructure for natural gas in the county with its research and effective activism on the expansion of the Borger Compressor Station on Ellis Hollow Creek Rd. This has taken the form of holding community informational meetings, distributing informational flyers door-to-door to over 330 households within a two kilometer radius of the compressor station, investigating local regulatory permits, installing air monitoring equipment for baseline testing in connection with a health study, and advocating for clean air and health protection for those who live closest to the compressor station. Katie Quinn-Jacobs, Lizzy Evert, and staff organizer Lisa Marshall accepted the award on behalf of their team.  Tompkins County Progressives and the Town of Ithaca Planning Board tied for second place in the Organization category, while Cayuga Lake Water Protectors, Southside Community Center, and Tompkins County Workers Center tied for third place.

The 2017 first place winner in the Individual category was Brian Eden, Chair of the Tompkins County Environmental Management Council and chair of HeatSmart (Solar Tompkins) which facilitates adoption of renewable heating and cooling systems. He’s a community energy activist with expertise in environmental law and regulation, especially in areas of protection of natural resources and water, renewable energy technologies and policies. Brian has worked for decades on environmental issues, disseminating information to decision-makers and the general public regarding policies and actions which affect county residents in the realm of energy and the environment.  Emily Adams tied for second place with Irene Weiser for their individual leadership in democracy and climate issues. Amanda Champion and Shawna Black shared third place for their leadership in the Women’s March on Washington.

First place in the Youth category for this year’s People’s Choice Signs of Sustainability Awards went to the ‘Cayuga Wetlands Restoration Intensive’ student group at New Roots High School. This group of students is working to restore heritage marsh plants in the wetlands of Stewart Park. The students share information and techniques to improve the local environment and support the overall health of Cayuga Lake. All of these efforts are coordinated with the Cayuga Nation Leadership –the original land stewards of the Cayuga Watershed. Student leader Riley LaDieu and faculty member Jhakeem Halton accepted the certificate on behalf of the entire team.

Second place winners for the Youth category were the Elizabeth Ann Clune Montessori Middle School Occupations Program and the Youth Farm Project, which were both cited for their work on local organic food production by students.

Voting took place between March 15 and April 21 with a total of 233 nominations made across the four categories of Individual, Organization, Business, and Youth. Organizations were nominated most frequently with 62% of the votes, with Individuals garnering 22% of nominations, Businesses with 14% and Youth groups with 2%. Voters were asked to identify what sectors their nominee was working in, and for the third year the most common sector was Energy & Climate with 46% of nominations active in some way on that topic.  Democracy & Social Justice and Community Development tied for the second most common sector with 36% of those nominated working in those areas, whereas Natural Resource Conservation was involved in 30% of the initiatives.