Aerial image of Finger Lakes
(Photo credit: Joe Mabel / Wikimedia)

For more than a decade, Gay Nicholson has encouraged people in central New York to save energy. She leads a nonprofit that helps people reduce carbon pollution. But she knows most families can only do so much.

“Some of it is unavoidable,” she says. “And for some people, they’re working towards shrinking their carbon footprint, but it takes time. It’s a capital investment.”

So to give people a way to offset the emissions they can’t reduce, her group launched the Finger Lakes Climate Fund in 2010.

Using an online calculator, donors estimate their carbon pollution and pay a corresponding amount. That money funds local energy efficiency projects.

“We feel good about our local carbon offset fund because we can offer transparency. You can see where the money went,” she says.

Donors can also see how it benefits not just the climate, but local people. For example, the fund has provided efficient heating systems that help small businesses lower their bills. It’s paid to insulate cottages for the homeless. And it’s provided weatherization that helps low-income residents stay warm in winter.

“A lot of them are just families,” Nicholson says, “a lot of single parents, single moms, single dads, retirees … and it feels good every time to have helped them.”

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.

Jan Ellen Spiegel

Jan Ellen Spiegel is a long-time Connecticut-based journalist whose career has included radio, television, print, and digital reporting. She has won awards for her reporting on energy, environment, climate...