Join the Local Carbon Offset Effort

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Tompkins Weekly 9-21-15

By Gay Nicholson

The dual challenges of climate change and inequality can often seem utterly overwhelming. And it can feel like there isn’t a role for most of us in finding solutions, if you’re not directly involved in setting policy or leading initiatives.

Seal the Cracks HorizontalOur ‘Seal the Cracks’ campaign is all about giving everyone the opportunity to make a difference on both problems at the same time. Sustainable Tompkins runs a local carbon offset fund (Finger Lakes Climate Fund) that is aimed at making sure everyone in our community is included in a clean energy future.

Since 2010, we’ve given out $26,364 in 13 grants to fund energy efficiency projects that would not otherwise be possible in lower-income households, increasing their comfort and security while providing local jobs. These grants fund insulation, air sealing, energy efficient heating equipment, and other upgrades to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Typically, these matching grants leverage about five times more investment in energy improvements by filling the gap in financing.

The Climate Fund is a great way to see direct results of your climate actions as you participate in Tompkins County’s move to a cleaner energy future. For example, Winter Village Bluegrass Festival offset the air travel for their out-of-town musicians for $67, which became part of a $2,000 grant to a single mom in Enfield. The grant enabled her to install a high efficiency boiler along with major insulation and air sealing, saving an estimated $1,157 in energy bills every year and eliminating 100 tons of CO2 emissions. Rasa Spa offset all of their emissions for one year for $200 and helped a single dad in Newfield make energy improvements that save him about $1,500 annually and eliminate 112 tons of emissions.

Our goal for the ‘Seal the Cracks’ campaign is to raise $10,000 to help more families in need. Offsetting is quick, easy, and affordable. For example, a flight to the West Coast can be offset for only $20, while 5000 miles of a typical car commute is about $40 and the cost to offset a month of typical NYS home energy use is only $12.

But carbon offsetting isn’t just for individuals. We are encouraging local businesses and organizations to lead our campaign by taking responsibility for their carbon emissions. So far, Renovus Solar and Zerodraft are our offset champions at over $500 each. Both Sciencenter and Snug Planet are offsetting 10 tons of travel emissions at $200. Other offset pledges have come in for Ithaca Bakery, Halco Energy, The Stone Quarry House, Taitem Engineering, Park Foundation, Viridius Properties, Tompkins County Cooperative Extension, and Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton.

Some businesses participating in the campaign are putting the finishing touches on their carbon diets by offsetting remaining emissions. For example, with their recent major renovations, Purity Ice Cream nearly eliminated fossil fuel use with high levels of insulation, solar electricity, and a ground-source heat pump. For ‘Seal the Cracks,’ they offset 5000 miles of their delivery trucks for $79.

We’d like to see carbon offsetting as much a part of the Ithaca lifestyle as recycling!

There’s an important conversation underway statewide aimed at getting policymakers to do a better job of including lower-income residents in the transition to a low-carbon, clean energy economy. Locally, we are working on an Energy Road Map to reach our goal of 80% emission reductions by 2050. We are going to need tools and policies that ensure modest-income households aren’t left behind. The Climate Fund is an active and immediately available tool that you can use to help others shrink their carbon footprint when you can’t shrink yours.

We hope you’ll join with us for the ‘Seal the Cracks’ campaign. Our team of volunteers will be out and about at a variety of events leading up to Local Carbon Offset Week, which will run October 24-30. Visit to see the latest update for the “who’s who” of local offsetters and learn more about our upcoming events. Then go to and make your donation and be part of the solution to climate change and inequality.

Gay Nicholson is president of Sustainable Tompkins.

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