Metro, Newton

Newton’s Climate Change Microgrant Program Incentivizes Small-Scale Climate Action

A microgrant program created by the City of Newton and The Village Bank aims to assist Newton residents in funding their environmentally friendly smaller-scale sustainability projects.

“[One hope] is to actually contribute to lowering greenhouse gas emissions in the city,” Newton’s Co-Director of Climate and Sustainability Ann Berwick said. “The environmental and climate advocacy community is terrific, and we want to incentivize them to do even more work.”

Applicants can receive grants of $250 to $1,000 if Newton approves their application, according to the city’s website. The city and The Village Bank both contributed $2,500 to the program for one year of grants. 

“It started … more than a year ago, because environmental advocates on a number of occasions had come to the city looking for funds to do one kind of project or another, and we didn’t have a pool of money for that purpose,” Berwick said. “But at the same time, a lot of the projects made sense.”

Berwick emphasized that grants are available to anyone looking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Newton, regardless of age. Applications take little time to fill out, and representatives from the city and The Village Bank review them, according to Berwick. 

“Some grant applications can be pretty laborious, but … [this one] was very easy to fill out, very straightforward,” said Sue Bottino, Newton Community Farm executive director and grant recipient. “I really appreciated that it was one page. And you know, we just said what we needed, why we needed it, when we would start using it, and how much it cost.”

Newton Community Farm received a $695 grant from the program in May, which it used to purchase a second garden cart for transporting various materials.

“This is a way for us to bring in even more from the field without using any equipment that emits pollutants or contributes to climate change,” Bottino said. “It gives us another cart to use with our high school internship program or our summer field staff, or whatever we need it for.”

Andy Gluck, the building aide and green captain for the Underwood Elementary School in Newton, said he found out about the microgrant program through Mayor Ruthanne Fuller’s weekly newsletter. He said that applied for $250 to use for 15 stainless steel composters to be placed in classrooms and offices. 

“That grant allowed me to institutionalize compost in our building,” Gluck said. “In the state of Massachusetts, 22 percent of our waste that is picked up by trucks around the state is food waste. So by cutting down on that, we are making a big dent into our efforts in creating a more sustainable earth.”

Underwood Elementary School has been a sustainability leader in Newton Public Schools, with Gluck’s role as green captain being the first in the district. Gluck’s projects resulted in a significant decrease in Underwood’s waste.

“We are the only school in the entire City of Newton that only has a once-a-week trash and recycling pickup,” Gluck said. “We have been able to reduce our waste so much that instead of a twice-a-week elementary school pickup, we are only once a week.”

Fuller’s administration has communicated a commitment to sustainability, with a goal to make the city carbon-neutral by 2050. Berwick emphasized the positive relationship the city has with environmental advocates.

“There are a number of environmental advocacy groups, NGOs, nonprofits,, Green Newton, and we work very closely with them,” Berwick said. “I’d say it’s a very productive relationship.”

The city has been cooperative with Newton Community Farm’s own sustainability mission, as evidenced by the microgrant as well as the solar panels the farm installed with the city’s approval in the spring, according to Bottino.

“So we have a great relationship with [the city] on renewable energy and sustainability,” Bottino said. “It’s part of the mayor’s plan, you know, with her portfolio on resilience, so we were happy to work together on that … this was a very small grant but meaningful to us.”

Gluck also praised the mayor’s climate priorities but criticized the lack of system-wide sustainability efforts in Newton Public Schools.

“The City of Newton is doing a pretty good job with the mayor’s leadership and our Climate Action Plan to really make a dent into our worldwide issue of climate change,” Gluck said. “But the schools, the Newton Public Schools, I think can do a much better job. I think it’s disjointed … that we’re the only school that is down to one truck [trash removal] a week.”

Ultimately, sustainability is attainable and is worth working toward, according to Gluck.

“Yeah, we can spend billions of dollars on technology and curriculum and teach you how to operate robots and drive Teslas and all the rest, but unless we really, really make our world a better place sustainability-wise, nothing else matters,” he said.

September 24, 2023