The Town and Village of Hamilton have officially been certified as Climate Smart Communities. It all started with the efforts of a few people in 2016, then slowly grew to include the whole community, including Colgate University faculty, students, and staff.
Climate Smart Communities (CSC) is a New York State program that helps local governments take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the changing climate. As bronze-level communities, the Town and Village of Hamilton have completed and documented a suite of actions that mitigate climate change at the local level. Through CSC, the town and village receive support in building a sustainable, inclusive climate action program.
The collaboration between Colgate and the town and village catalyzed climate-related efforts and strengthened the community, explained Director of Sustainability John Pumilio. “Colgate is committed to climate action and a more sustainable future,” he said. “However, climate change does not respect property lines or artificial boundaries. For this reason, we reached out to the leadership in the town and village back in April 2016. Everyone recognized that climate change was a serious issue, and we agreed that we could best address this issue if we all worked together.”
To earn certification, the town and village implemented a series of actions to build a climate-smart community. These actions included the formation of a CSC task force and the appointment of a CSC coordinator, as well as the passing of a formal resolution by both the town and village adopting the CSC pledge. The town and village took inventory of emissions and made commitments to clean, renewable energy sources such as solar power. To implement climate-smart land use, the town and village expanded infrastructure for biking and walking, installed an electric vehicle charging station, and created a comprehensive plan with sustainability elements. The town and village worked toward community resilience by assessing climate vulnerability, while the village supports a green innovation economy through its farmers’ markets.
For Nancy Mitchell, administrative assistant of the village, the certification signifies Hamilton’s growing environmental awareness and proactivity. “Enhancing resilience will promote a vibrant, active, and economically stable community,” she said. “[The certification] also improves the village’s opportunities to secure grants for future improvements.”
Pumilio views CSC certification as an effective framework for addressing climate change at the community level. “We were especially interested in the program’s focus on climate resilience,” he said. “Strategies to build climate resilience can reduce climate impacts and help communities recover more quickly when future climate-related events occur.”
Assistant Director of Sustainability and Program Coordinator of Environmental Studies Pamela Gramlich noted the impact of climate change on local agricultural areas. “Local farmers have really experienced challenges with extreme weather,” she said. “By doing work to protect our community, we can preserve the rural character of Hamilton — which is one of the things we value the most. We’ve made it a priority to involve local farmers and business owners.”
The CSC certification was made possible by Colgate students and faculty, Pumilio said. “They helped to facilitate community workshops, helped to organize public informational sessions, completed greenhouse gas inventories, introduced best practices and new local policies, and completed assessments and feasibility studies,” he noted. “This work is extremely engaging as Colgate students are deeply concerned about climate change and want to do meaningful work in pursuit of their Colgate degree.”
Colgate collaborated with Hamilton leadership to inform and inspire the public through climate-related public events. On March 30, 2019, the Hamilton climate group hosted a half-day climate resilience workshop. Attendees included elected officials from both the village and town; administrators, faculty, and emergency planners from Colgate; local farmers; and local residents.
Pumilio described climate action as a journey of many steps. “Bronze-level certification is an important milestone, but there is a lot of work still in front of us,” he said. “Immediate work this summer includes completing municipal climate action and climate adaptation plans and beginning to implement strategies to achieve CSC silver-level certification.”
For Gramlich, the joint effort between Colgate and the town and village is key to the future of sustainability in Hamilton. “We depend on each other,” she said. “Whatever we do on campus impacts the town and village, and vice versa. Having a strong, inclusive partnership is critical.”