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Courtesy of Cornell University

October 29, 2018

Cornell Receives Leadership Award for Helping Local Communities Become More Sustainable

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Cornell was awarded the Leadership in Green Power Education Award for the work of Cornell Cooperative Extension in communicating green energy issues to Tompkins County and New York State residents as part of its organizational mission.

The CCE, a Cornell outreach organization, educates rural farmers in New York to incorporate wind and solar energy into their operations, helps low income families apply to green energy programs, and added K-12 tours to the University’s solar farms. These initiatives, among others, helped Cornell’s stand out from the over 1000 eligible organizations for this award, according to Sarah Brylinsky, sustainability communications and integration manager of the campus sustainability office.

“I think sometimes we think of higher education as an ivory tower, as a campus on a hill that keeps solutions locked behind lab doors, and Cornell is the exact opposite of that,” Brylinsky said.

The Green Power Education Award, given by the the Center for Resource Solutions and Environmental Protection Agency, acknowledged the substantial initiatives the University has taken in promoting sustainability education. Winning the award won’t change much of the work the University does, instead serving as recognition of the work done so far, according to Brylinsky.

“The award is just a tremendous honor for the hundreds and hundreds of different faculty and staff and students that do that work everyday,” Brylinsky told The Sun.

CCE’s education initiatives focused on connecting with each local community and learning about their specific needs and expectations instead of advocating for a single solution at all places, according to Guillermo Metz, CCE energy team leader.

“You have to meet people where they are, so climate change might not be the first thing you talk about. It’s a community program so we work with volunteers and community leaders wherever we go.” Metz said. “We don’t just go into another county and kind of run the show. That’s not going to work.”

The cooperative has also evolved to communicate with communities in new ways as they see the changes in community preferences. In previous years, the CCE would host workshops for members of the community. Now, they take a more active role in proactively connecting to community leaders and work more directly with programs that the community is interested in, such as the “Go Solar” initiative in Tompkins County that enrolled more than 100 people to install nearly 1 MW of solar power to the County electricity grid.

A lot of these changes to CCE’s outreach strategy took place after Donald Trump’s election, Metz said. More people are advocating for policy changes at higher levels of governance rather than making their individual household more sustainable, according to Metz.

“I think when the stakes are so high, some people get burned out at making their own little change when leadership at the highest levels aren’t doing anything or are making things worse,” Metz told The Sun.

Even if communities are shifting towards political action, CCE will still stay out of environmental activism, according to Metz. The organization will continue to focus on educating communities about potential sustainable solutions they can implement on a smaller level.

“It’s really important that we stay unbiased and research based. So we have a lot of opinions, and those tend to stay out of our work,” Metz told The Sun. “Not that there’s anything wrong with activism, there’s a role for that, but that’s not what we do.”