A Summer of Sustainability Efforts

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Tompkins Weekly 9-9-13

By Marian Brown

As the song goes, “Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer” are over.  Labor Day is behind us, as is the start of a new school year for our local schools and higher education institutions. Despite the seemingly slower pace and lighter traffic levels around here during the summer months – especially when the three colleges are out – this summer has actually been a very busy time for local sustainability efforts. What follows are just a few of the new “signs of sustainability” we noted this quarter.

Tompkins County Solid Waste Management Division awarded a 3-year contract to Cayuga Compost to provide food scrap recycling services, including a free food scrap drop-off at the Recycling and Solid Waste Center and a new program in which residents can obtain a countertop kitchen compost caddy and biodegradable bags without charge. Fingerlakes ReUse and the Community School of Music and Arts (CSMA) collaborated to mount the “Celebrate ReUse” show at CSMA, displaying works of art made through the reuse of discarded materials. The Environmental Management Council has undertaken a local educational effort and developed a sample bill for review by the County Legislature’s Planning, Development & Environmental Quality committee to phase out single-use plastic bags and encourage use of reusable bags and/or recyclable paper bags to customers.

The Great Local Foods Network has provided support for the Meat Locker Pilot project which will set up two walk-in freezers at downtown sites in Ithaca and Corning that consumers can rent to store their bulk meat purchases. The Ithaca Children’s Garden added a farm stand where visitors can purchase veggies brought in that morning or through harvest to order by the teens in the Youth Horticulture Apprentice program that staff the farm stand.
Neighborhood Pride grocery partnered with Cornell Cooperative Extension to offer a “Cooking Matters at the Store” tour, to educate store shoppers on how to compare the nutritional content of different food products. A team of Cornell students, using local and recycled materials, created the Hydroponic Bottle Wall at Stella’s restaurant in Collegetown. Two dozen wine bottles, installed on a double-sided wall, are fitted with an exposed hydroponic growing system to support mint, chives and basil plants.

The Tompkins County Legislature approved a resolution authorizing Municipal Electric and Gas Alliance (MEGA) to procure the services of companies to develop renewable energy resources on behalf of Tompkins County. The MEGA program will establish “remote net metering” relationships among its participants and specific solar, micro-hydro and farm waste-to-energy facilities with generation capacity of up to 2MW of electricity. The GrassRoots Festival Sustainability Team sponsored “Rock the Plan” at Stewart Park to call for a renewable energy future for the state; the event featured local food, art, music and presentations by elected officials talking about the 2030 sustainable energy plan. Ithaca City School District committed to working with Trane US Inc. to conduct an energy study to identify additional opportunities for utility savings.

Stylishly Frugal, an online thrift store, was started by two Ithaca residents to support the desire for area women to buy stylish work attire at a fair price. Erica Marx is organizing babycare cooperative groups in which one parent will host the co-op group one day each week and the co-op participants split the cost for the teacher who coordinates interesting learning activities for the assemblage of children. The Merrill Lynch office in Ithaca will host the Sustainable Investing Educational Seminar series, with the first session in September at the Tompkins County Public Library featuring a representative from Calvert Investments, a leader in socially responsible investing.

The school districts in Watkins Glen and Odessa-Montour are going to share bus services this year, a move that is expected to save the O-M district about $100,000 for 2013-14 without negative impacts on transportation service to students or to district employees. Catholic Charities of Tompkins/Tioga Counties funded an important new service to offer semester-long bus passes or gas vouchers for lower-income students 21-and under to allow them to continue their education, whether this is a GED program or studies at an area college or trade school.

Women Building Community grants were announced by the board of the City Federation of Women’s Organizations (CFWO); grants will be made to programs that improve the quality of life for Tompkins County women and girls. GIAC, AFCU, the Workers Center, and the Natural Leaders Initiative partnered to hold an information session on participatory budgeting, the concept where community members are given voting control and decision-making over a designated portion of public funding that is intended to improve the health and environment of their neighborhood.

The Ithaca Generator sponsored a workshop for teens to learn about LED technology and to create their own projects using LEDs. Town of Ithaca supervisor Herb Engman was one of the first 45 signatories to the Resilient Communities for America Agreement. Cornell University made the Top 3 in Sierra magazine’s “Cool Schools” list of institutions that have made significant commitments to sustainability. WRFI Community Radio launched the “Practical Earthkeeper” weekly radio show covering sustainability issues.

Now that everybody else has returned from summer vacation and is back to a regular schedule, what will we see in this next quarter? Remember, Sustainable Tompkins is watching for these new “Signs of Sustainability”, and will be celebrating this year’s “Signs” in December. So make doubly sure we see your “sign” this quarter; contact us at sos@sustainabletompkins.org.

Marian Brown a founding board member of Sustainable Tompkins.

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