Unpacking the City of Ithaca’s “Green New Deal” 

Campus Sustainability Office March 19, 2020
Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick '09
Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick '09 has been an avid supporter of climate leadership and sustainability policies for the City of Ithaca | Photo by: Lindsay France

 The City of Ithaca’s Common Council passed the Ithaca Green New Deal in the summer of 2019, with broad-reaching ambitions to make Ithaca leader in creating a climate-ready community through a just approach to sustainable development.   

Because much of Cornell’s campus is located within City boundaries, and due to the close collaboration between the University and local initiatives to support common climate leadership strategies, the IGND will have several implications for climate and sustainability-related activities for the University moving forward.    

Unpacking the Deal 

The deal includes two main goals; community wide carbon neutrality by 2035 and ensuring benefits are shared among all local communities to reduce historical social and economic inequities. 

To support those goals, the City also identified key strategies to fulfill the goals, including demonstrating leadership by powering all government operations with renewable energy, cutting emissions from city-owned vehicles in half, and implementing a stricter “green building code” for all new renovation & development in the City limits.   

Carbon neutrality goal

The community-wide goal of carbon neutrality by 2035 is already supported by Cornell’s long-standing goal of reaching carbon neutrality for the campus by 2030.   

Cornell has had a neutrality goal in place since 2008 and already reports on greenhouse gas emission reductions, and uses local and national partnerships to share progress. For instance, the University was a founding participant in The Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative (TCCPI) which brings together local colleges, government, and private entities working on shared climate goals. 

The IGND carbon neutrality goal will help Cornell by accelerating shared solutions and community-wide initiatives that support a low-carbon energy system. Cornell can also assist the City by providing “lessons learned” from over a decade of pursuing a low-carbon campus. 

Strategic support 

A shared community focus on transitioning to clean, renewable energy will also both benefit the campus and allow for greater local collaboration.  Cornell has as a goal of powering the campus with 100% renewable energy, and in addition to having developed several community-solar farms, has joined a partnership with other New York State campuses to develop more capacity. 

With the City now pursuing deep renewable energy power for City operations, new opportunities could arise for local green energy development benefiting both campus & community.  

Green Building Code 

The City has been actively working to improve building code for both new and existing buildings.   

Any new buildings or renovations by Cornell within City limits would need to adhere to these policy updates, when passed. 

Cornell has been working closely with the City on the development of these policies to ensure the University can fulfill their requirements while taking into consideration some of the complexities of buildings stewarded by the campus such as energy-intensive research labs. The University already has a stringent green buiding policy in place at this time.

Next steps 

Through the implementation of this deal, Ithaca hopes to become the most climate forward city in the state of New York. Furthermore, Ithaca hopes to lead by example and encourage other cities to pass similar legislation.  “We can’t have, on the one hand, an emergency in which the status quo is ruining our planet, and on the other, refuse to change the status quo,” Svante Myrick, mayor of Ithaca, told the Ithaca Voice last summer.   

The goals outlined by the deal will face some obstacles. For example, it has been years since emissions from the city’s vehicle fleets have been measured. Not having baseline measurement will make it hard to determine whether or not emissions are decreasing in years to come.  

However, many promising solutions are being drafted. For example, increasing housing density will both address the city’s housing shortage and help to minimize emissions from construction and commuting. This could be Ithaca’s next step to a more sustainable future.