Recognizing Signs of Sustainability

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Tompkins Weekly 12/19/2011

by Marian Brown

Sustainable Tompkins continually watches for the newest “Signs of Sustainability” in our community. For the past five years, we have turned the spotlight on individuals and organizations doing their part to help advance community sustainability. We highlight these efforts in order to demonstrate what is possible and to help new activists connect with others engaged in similar endeavors.

With all of us working together in different ways to resolve our shared sustainability challenges, we spur faster and deeper forward motion of this most necessary social movement.
When we first offered this concept of signs of sustainability in 2006, we envisioned it simply as an entertaining interlude during our Sustainable Tompkins holiday party. Our aim with the PowerPoint presentation that year was just to raise awareness by showing a representative sampling of the great efforts of players in different sectors of our community. We were taken aback by the overwhelmingly positive reaction people had to both being recognized publicly and their learning that they were not laboring alone in the shadows. We were all heartened to know how many kindred spirits were working in our community to co-create a better future.

We also, however, received some gentle criticism for not mentioning some great efforts that first year. So, for 2007, we created a more formal program to recognize examples of individuals and entities whose work during the prior year was supportive of our organizational mission to promote the long-term well-being of our communities and region by integrating social equity, economic vitality, ecological stewardship, and personal and civic responsibility.

Each year, between December 1 and November 30, we watch for and acknowledge three categories of new Signs of Sustainability: new sustainable enterprises; new programs or nonprofit organizations supporting some aspect of sustainable development; and new sustainable activities or programs unveiled by existing businesses or nonprofit organizations. This year, we added two new categories: milestones, that is, recognizing organizations or programs that have been in place for a period of time; and recognition, acknowledging activities that were awarded for their effort by other entities.

Since 2007, we have announced all the new Signs of Sustainability at a formal event in December and issued award certificates to each honoree. We have noted with delight that a significant number of those certificates awarded in years past now proudly grace the walls of some of the businesses and organizations we recognized.

Remember, we’re always watching for Signs of Sustainability. To find these “signs,” we scour websites, clip news items from regional publications and organizational reports, watch for listserve announcements and sometimes just notice something new happening in a store. We also enlist the help of the community to make sure we are made aware of all the new Signs of Sustainability that joined the local movement each year.

And did you all deliver this year! It took four volunteers to comb through and organize all the collected material and help write the citations. This year we are acknowledging over 300 new Signs of Sustainability. Even so, we are fully aware that we still didn’t see or hear about all the efforts of the activists hard at work to create a more sustainable community. It’s a great problem to have—there are so many great things going on in our community that we cannot keep track of them all. Please make sure we know about “signs” that you see: send us an email at

It is truly astonishing how far this community has come in a relatively short period of time. The entire region is waking up. We invite you to visit our website and check out the list of award winners for 2011 ( ability/annualawards/).

Truly, the Signs of Sustainability are emerging everywhere in ou community. Have you seen one? Will you be one in 2012?

Marian Brown is a member of the board of directors at Sustainable Tompkins.

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