ST Events

Dozens Helped via Climate Fund and HeatSmart Partnership

Last fall, Sustainable Tompkins launched its partnership with HeatSmart Tompkins to combine grants from our Finger Lakes Climate Fund with new incentives for heat pumps to help lower-income families make the transition to high efficiency clean energy for heating and cooling their homes. Despite the pandemic and shutdown of many months, we’ve been steadily at work with our local contractors to process dozens of new awards to families throughout our region.

A few of our happy Climate Fund grantees!

Since November 2019, we’ve given out 31 Climate Fund grants totaling $51,003 that prevented 3,272 tons of CO2 from entering our atmosphere.  Our Climate Fund awards were matched with 42 additional grants distributed from our NYSERDA/HeatSmart award totaling $78,500 to help pay for the installation of heat pumps and heat pump water heaters in six counties of the Finger Lakes Region. You can tell we’ve been busy!! That’s $129,503 that these modest-income families didn’t have to come up with in order to keep their homes warm.

During this difficult period of dealing with the covid outbreak, our team has kept busy working online to promote our program and connect with our awardees – capturing some of their stories by making outdoor videos this summer to share on our website. It is so very motivating to hear from our grantees how their heat pumps have rescued them from high energy bills, moisture problems, uneven heating, polluted indoor air, and, in several cases, the labor burden of stacking as much as six cords of firewood every year.  For those who had their systems installed last winter or spring, you should have heard them talk about the cheap air conditioning they enjoyed this past summer from their heat pumps!  

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Local Business Leaders Step Up for Climate Action

The Heat! Is! On!  Now, typically in our climate-change-fueled work, this would not be a great phrase to hear. However, for our 2020 Finger Lakes Enterprises for Climate Action campaign (FLECA), it’s music to our ears. This fall, we launched our very first local business-focused offsetting campaign for our Finger Lakes Climate Fund. Equipped with our nifty carbon calculator, local enterprises are invited to identify their biggest source of carbon emissions and pollution in their operations. As close to net zero as they try, there’s always some to be offset!

We are delighted to already celebrate donations from our partner contractor, Halco, and Beck Equipment, Paddle-N-More, the new Odyssey Bookstore in town, and Rogues’ Harbor Inn as our earliest members of FLECA!! We thank these businesses for their generosity and commitment to a sustainable and equitable future. With their $3,050 offset to get us started, we are already more than 20% of the way to our goal of 100 tons CO2 offset. The funds raised through our local carbon offsets are distributed in grants to regional low-income families to help them install high efficiency heat pumps and insulate and air seal their homes.

Businesses have a unique role to play in these changing times: showing leadership and investing in the progressive, essential changes that will keep our communities alive and thriving are more important than ever. They are also enjoying the opportunity to align even more closely with the values of their clientele, as customers are increasingly demanding that their favorite businesses walk their talk in the sustainability realms. In this campaign, we are offering Tiers of Giving to provide opportunities for various avenues of promotion. We are also happy to consult with business leaders on expanding our partnership through website landing pages and assisting their clients in offsetting emissions from their purchases.

Does your organization want to help Finger Lakes families stay warm this winter? Email for more information, including benefits of joining.

Neighborhood Mini-Grants Support Outdoor Initiatives

Through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, people continue to grow food, explore the outdoors, bring aid to their neighbors, and vote in elections. In October 2020, five Neighborhood Mini-Grants were awarded to Parents2Polls Tompkins, Ellis Hollow Nursery School, the Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming, The Village at Ithaca, and Khuba International.

Yael Saar, co-founder of Parents2Polls Tompkins, offered childcare while parents voted on Election Day.

Parents2Polls Tompkins is a nonpartisan volunteer-run initiative launched in fall 2020 to make in-person voting more accessible for all in Tompkins County. During the early voting period for the 2020 general election, volunteers at the two poll sites offered child and pet supervision, chairs, information, parking guidance, and other assistance to voters waiting in line. On Election Day, they provided voters with free drop-in childcare at the Southside Community Center. A Neighborhood Mini-Grant funded publicity for the project.

Groundswell Center for Local Food and Farming is creating a pond on their Incubator Farm at EcoVillage Ithaca, with a solar-powered pump transferring water to an irrigation system and ending the farm’s costly dependence on municipal water. Created to provide short-term access to land and support for growers who face systemic barriers to starting businesses, the farm is currently used by 11 businesses — mostly ethnic Karen refugees from Burma — to grow vegetables, by Challenge Industries for the flower CSA run by the Ability in Bloom workforce development program, by the Groundswell Center to grow a “solidarity garden” of produce distributed to residents of West Village Apartments, and more. A Neighborhood Mini-Grant will support the purchase of the solar pump.

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A Platform for our Regional Movement: Sustainable Finger Lakes

While Ithaca certainly has a reputation for being progressive and eco-conscious, there are exciting things happening on the sustainability front all over the Finger Lakes Region!  Progressive-minded people continue to move into the region, working to overhaul our food system, promote democracy and justice, protect the air, land, and water, and build conscious communities. This wave of influential people inspired us to build Sustainable Finger Lakes, a platform to weave together the regional movement.

On the Sustainable Finger Lake website, you can find updated regional news on the latest strides in the movement, calls to action to support, and a calendar of sustainability-related events. Learn about the Finger Lakes Climate Fund, which helps low to moderate income families afford energy-saving home upgrades. Browse our regional Map to discover the sustainable entities in your community, or see our ‘Signs of Sustainability’ – stories of local businesses, organizations, growers, nonprofits, and other pioneers.

Recently, we highlighted the CNY Solidarity Coalition, a grassroots group dedicated to tearing down the walls that divide and impoverish people. We also featured the Coalition for Healthy School Food, a nonprofit that introduces plant-based foods and nutrition education in schools through interactive classroom visits and after-school cooking classes. Coming soon: Regional Green Tips! Learn how you can use local resources to make small but effective lifestyle changes that protect the environment, and could even save you money. Stay tuned!

ST Expands Access to Information with Digital Solutions!

On a mission to help more people understand our various programs (and how they can benefit from them!) we have unveiled two new online tools. As a portal to the most relevant programs, we created which can be easily accessed by texting ““sustainable” to 31996.

The portal leads users to our regional HeatSmart partners to learn about incentives for home heating, our Finger Lakes Climate Fund website for making carbon offsets, and our Sustainability Map for the Finger Lakes region and its associated Sustainable Finger Lakes website.

The second tool is an interactive augmented reality phone app called “My Green FLX.” While its future applications are limitless, we are currently using it to share easy-to-digest video content about our low-income home heating and cooling programs on posters and brochures. The app allows users to quickly view relevant videos on the spot and then leads them to a link with more information about incentives and signing up. Retrieve our free app at the Apple App Store or Google Play, or just scan the QR code to download it easily!

Neighborhood Mini-Grant Applications Due October 1

Do you have an idea for a project to make our community more sustainable, resilient, or inclusive? Need a little help in covering the costs? Sustainable Tompkins is accepting applications for our fall/winter 2020 round of Neighborhood Mini-Grants.

The Sustainable Tompkins Neighborhood Mini-Grant program supports initiatives improving environmental sustainability, equity, and environmental, economic, and social justice in Tompkins County. Since it began in 2008, it has awarded more than $74,000 in 191 grants to innovative grassroots projects throughout the county,

Grants are $150-$750 and support initiatives promoting sustainable food systems, alternative transportation, waste reduction/reuse, energy conservation/fossil fuel use reduction, and environmental education, and addressing social and economic inequality.

Proposals are reviewed biannually by a team of community members. The program is sponsored by the Park Foundation, Beck Equipment, Natural Investments, Fingerlakes Wealth Management, Craig Riecke, and local donors.

Individuals, organizations, and neighborhood groups are welcome to apply, as are localf microbusinesses seeking to green their operations or extend their products or services to low-income clientele. Successful initiatives supported by Neighborhood Mini-Grants in recent years include founding of the Freeville Farmers Market, establishment of the Finger Lakes Toy Library as a lending collection of environmentally-friendly toys, distribution of the Paleontological Research Institution’s Teacher-Friendly™ Guide to Climate Change to all public high school science teachers in Tompkins County, and creation of an Ithaca Murals equipment lending library for artists and community members creating murals that reflect the demographics, values, and stories of Ithaca’s residents.

Applications must be received on or before October 1, 2020. To request an application form, or if you have questions, please call (607) 272-1720 or email

Neighborhood Mini-Grants Support Indigo Dye Workshop and Native Tree Planting

Even in the COVID-19 pandemic, Tompkins County residents are growing initiatives to build resilience, environmental stewardship, community, and social justice. In April 2020, two Neighborhood Mini-Grants totaling $1,000 were awarded to Luna Fiber Studio and Trees Up Tompkins.

Luna Fiber Studio is hosting De-colonizing Dyes, an indigo seed-to-fiber workshop with underserved teenagers in the Youth Farm Project’s summer program. Participants are growing indigo plants at the Youth Farm Project farm (pictured at left; photo provided by Sarah Gotowka), in preparation for a day-long workshop in late August, where they will learn to harvest the leaves, make dyes, and dye handkerchiefs and bandanas. The workshop will cover the inequalities and environmental impacts of the global textile industry, along with personal actions to reduce or improve them. A Neighborhood Mini-Grant will cover the costs of dye preparation materials, fabrics, and workshop handouts.

Trees Up Tompkins formed in Spring 2019 during a Project Drawdown workshop series, and is devoted to planting native trees at sites in Tompkins County for carbon sequestration and community education in environmental stewardship. The group will replace invasive privet with native trees at Lighthouse Point, an area between Fall Creek and the Cayuga Inlet at the south end of Cayuga Lake, in collaboration with the Cayuga Bird Club, in September 2020. A Mini-Grant award will support the purchase of trees and supplies for this planting event.

The Neighborhood Mini-Grant Program provides seed money to diverse initiatives to build environmental, economic, and social resilience and well-being in Tompkins County. The program is sponsored by the Park Foundation, Beck Equipment, Craig Riecke, Natural Investments, Fingerlakes Wealth Management, and local donors.

We More Than Doubled our Goal for the Climate Fund!

Thank you to the 54 donors who helped us race past our goal of raising $2500 for the Finger Lakes Climate Fund in May in our ‘Climate Justice in the Time of Corona” campaign! Besides the $4,121 we raised on GiveGab, two other donors sent us $1,679 via our Climate Fund website, and checks totaling $1,000 came in for a grand total of $6,800!! We are all just delighted to be able to refill the Fund, and this will probably be enough to do 3-4 more projects in the homes of lower-income residents. THANKS to all of you bringing heat pumps and clean energy to everyone in our community!

Join Us at the Debate!

We are co-sponsoring the Assembly District 125 Environmental Candidate Forum with New York League of Conservation Voters on May 28th at 5:30 pm via Zoom! We’ve got a line-up of questions for them on the most pressing regional sustainability issues. Register today to reserve your spot and receive your Zoom credentials to get into the event:

We’re Doing SO Good! Let’s Not Lose Momentum!

Just as we were entering the covid-19 shutdown, our Finger Lakes Climate Fund had reached a wonderful goal: our 50th local carbon offset grant – this time to a family in Trumansburg. With this award – thanks to all of our offsetters! – we have collectively kept 4,300 tons of CO2 from our atmosphere by helping local families with more than $80,000 in Climate Fund grants to help make their homes more energy efficient and ready to run on renewable energy.
Recently we signed 3 more checks for almost $12,000 that will help single mothers in Newfield, Hector, and Groton convert from polluting fuel oil, firewood, and propane to clean and efficient heat pumps – lowering their energy bills and improving the health of asthmatic family members.
Of course, we are all on PAUSE right now. Our friends at Snug Planet and Halco won’t be able to do these projects and others in our pipeline until they are allowed to work again in people’s homes. But we wanted to reach out and share some of the stories of the people you’ve helped by taking responsibility for your carbon emissions and offsetting with our Climate Fund. (Thanks again offsetters!)
Through our partnership with HeatSmart Tompkins and NYSERDA, we’ve been able to combine additional incentives for heat pumps for lower-income households with our Climate Fund grants. Since we started last fall, we’ve given away $38,633 from our Climate Fund plus $43,000 from our special heat pump fund to 24 households in 5 counties. 

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