Tompkins County Sustainability Center Showcasing Local Efforts

Open since May, the Sustainability Center showcases and promotes the area’s green practices...

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By Louie DiPietro via the Ithaca Times, 7/31/13

When Tompkins County officially welcomed its Office for the Aging to the county’s renovated Human Services Annex back in January, space on the building’s Albany Street side was left vacant. Today, that once unused spot within the former Carpet Bazaar at 214 State/MLK Jr. St. is home to the area’s showroom for all things sustainable in Tompkins County.

Open since May, the Sustainability Center showcases and promotes the area’s green practices.

“Our intention with the center is to promote the agencies and businesses that are doing sustainable things and provide a broad range of what sustainability is all about,” said Jackie Mouillesseaux-Grube, director of the center. “Our job is not creating new programs but plugging people into what’s already here.”

What’s here is quite a bit.

When it comes to sustainability, for the most part, Tompkins County walks the walk: we have a strong local food economy; local entities, county government among them, have laid out strategies to reduce energy use; Tompkins County Solid Waste and Recycling Center diverts from landfills more than half of the trash it receives and aims to divert 75 percent in the next few years. On a regional level, Tompkins and seven other Southern Tier counties have rolled out a plan to get greener.

But, the challenge still remains in reaching those who have yet to identify just what sustainability means to them, if anything. As Mouillesseaux-Grube notes, sustainability is oftentimes categorized as a concern for socially conscious, upper-middle-class Americans. Truth is, all families – regardless of income levels – are doing something in their respective households that could be deemed a sustainable practice, she said. The goal, then, is to identify those practices and expand on them.

“We want to present a bigger picture,” she said. “It’s easy to hone in on waste, local foods and travel, but there’s the human side, like social justice and green jobs. I don’t think we’d do it justice if our only focus were those core impact areas.”

That strategy begins with a home base within the community, she said. The center acts as a gallery, resource center and staging area for sustainability events. Within the gallery are several large exhibits and posters from area organizations and businesses that highlight and quantify local sustainability efforts. A variety of events are held each month at the space. The center recently held one of its “Bookshelf Series” events, which are talks from local authors on sustainability. This month, the center hosts an Intergenerational Dialogue, a discussion featuring speakers from all ages who share their knowledge on a particular sustainable theme. Energy will be the theme for the next discussion, scheduled at 7 p.m. Thursday, August 8.

A project with the Cornell-affiliated Center of Transformative Action, the Sustainability Center receives support from the Park Foundation and through donations, said Mouillesseaux-Grube, who works at the center roughly 24 hours per week and is its sole staffer. A 10-member advisory board representing the likes of Sustainable Tompkins, the Downtown Ithaca Alliance and County Planning guide the center’s efforts.

Though it operates independently of Tompkins County, and therefore does not receive local funding, the center did get some help from the county on rent: Tompkins provided the vacant annex space for free through August 2014, she said.

Mouillesseaux-Grube, who previously worked for 13 years at Tompkins Community Action, hopes to establish an umbrella network encompassing the area’s other sustainable groups – like Sustainable Tompkins – to coordinate efforts. Elsewhere, she recognizes that bringing sustainability concepts to a wider demographic will entail stepping out from the center’s Ithaca location. After all, the gallery’s hours -- 2 to 6 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays – are extremely limited. She said participating in events like Ithaca Festival brings the mission of the Sustainability Center out into the community. There is also talk of opening up the gallery during Ithaca’s First Fridays. “The gallery gets the wheels turning,” she said. “We all have a role and the potential to make a difference. Imagine if we did our part, what the collective impact would be.”

For more information on events, visit the center’s website at www.sustainabilityctr.org.

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