This Year Give the Gift of Sustainability

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Tompkins Weekly 12/24/2012

By Tom Shelley

At this time of the year most of us are seeking out seasonal gifts for our friends and families. Increasingly, many of us are turning from crass consumerism and “Made in China” toward more meaningful forms of giving.

Fortunately, we live a community where there are many options for alternatives to traditional gift giving. One popular alternative is the Ithaca Alternative Gift Fair. This event provides opportunities to give to others in the name of family and friends for the benefit of a wide variety of Ithaca area non-profits. The Alternative Gift Fair is closed for this year, but will return next year.

Sustainable Tompkins offers several programs that would make great gifts or outright donations. The mini-grant program is a matching fund opportunity that gives small grants to local organizations. These organizations have some sustainability-related function and the mini-grants are usually seed money for the start-up of projects of those organizations. Twenty-seven grants were awarded this year, so this is a diverse program with something of interest to all. See for more information. Online donations to Sustainable Tompkins and its programs may be made at

The Finger Lakes Climate Fund ( is a carbon offset fund, launched by Sustainable Tompkins, to support local efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect our climate. The fund provides our community a place to purchase offsets for carbon emissions that we can’t avoid making, generally from travel. The Finger Lakes Climate Fund let’s us calculate emissions caused by our travel or other activities, and purchase offsets of those emissions. The funds from the offsets are distributed as grants to low and moderate-income residents in our community to help them reduce their energy consumption by insulating their homes, installing more efficient heating systems, or converting to renewable energy systems. You can offset the travel of your friends and relatives over the holidays as a gift to those individuals.

Another great cause is to support the efforts Helen and David Slottje, of the Community Environmental Defense Council, to help towns develop local laws to protect our environment by limiting or banning industrial operations, such as hydrofracking, in their towns. Donations to support the Slottjes efforts may be made at undraiser+-+3&utm_campaign =Dec+11+Fundraiser&utm_medium=email.

Another valuable organization is Finger Lakes Bioneers ( The mission of Finger Lakes Bioneers is to establish an ongoing conversation that transcends the barriers of geography, class, race, and generation to co-create a shared future based upon sustainability and social justice. The organization offers a organizing a regional film series and community conversations in four surrounding counties. The emphasis is on a variety of sustainability related topics that might not otherwise be discussed openly in the communities participating in this program.

In addition there are over 100 related organizations that have some aspect of sustainability as their mission. See for a list of these groups. Donations to any of these groups would be appropriate as gifts to others, in the name of family and friends. In addition, Sustainable Tompkins and most of the other organizations listed are non-profit or not-for-profit corporations and gifts to there organizations are usually tax-deductible.

This year let go of the plastic gadgets and give the gift of sustainability.

Tom Shelley is a member of Sustainable Tompkins and the chairman of the board of directors of the organization.

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