Bedford 2020 fights climate change from the ground up

For Bedford 2020 — closing in on its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Bedford 20 percent by 2020 — this has been a year of awards and recognitions.

Earlier this year, the nonprofit made the cover of Bedford Magazine as the recipient of one of its Green Awards. Then Bedford 2020 was singled out for its partnership with the group Sustainable Westchester in completing a first-of-its-kind energy contract that supplied 90,000 homes and small businesses in 20 communities with electricity at a fixed rate.

This month, founders Ellen Conrad, Olivia Farr and Mary Beth Kass will be honored for their environmental leadership at the Katonah Museum of Art’s annual spring gala.

“Ellen, Olivia, and Mary Beth are models of proactive engagement with our community,” said museum Executive Director Darsie Alexander. “It was leadership like theirs that gave birth to the Katonah Museum of Art, and the exciting generation of ideas and initiatives by Bedford 2020 is a vision shared by the museum. We are delighted to recognize their achievements at this festive award event.”

For Kass, the reason for the recognition is simple: Bedford 2020 gets results.

“It’s the progress,” she said. “We’ve spent the first couple years getting the structure in place and that has set up the incredible progress we have made.”

The three women, who founded the organization in 2009, initially teamed to put together an environmental summit in the town. Kass was the chair of a committee created by the Bedford Town Board, while Conrad and Farr were leaders of the Bedford Garden Club.

The environmental summit had close to 1,000 attendees.

“There was this wide-scale community momentum for doing something,” Kass said. “So the three of us got together and said, ‘How do we harness what just happened here?’”

Bedford 2020 was incorporated in 2010. The three founders spent most of that first year organizing task forces and recruiting community leaders.

Farr said it was a tough sell at first.

“There was this feeling you couldn’t even talk about climate change,” she said. “It took us a while to even say the word.”

But eventually they found the right pitch.

“We learned that we can make a cost argument — ‘Look if you do this energy efficiency work, you are saving money,’” Farr said. “Everyone can respond to that.”

The group also tried to appeal to people’s basic civic ideals. They’d often ask community leaders a “magic wand question.”

“‘If you could wave a magic wand, what would you want to see happen in Bedford?’” Kass said.

The answers varied, and so did Bedford 2020’s programs and ambitions. The group worked toward energy efficiency with Sustainable Westchester and individual homeowners. Bedford 2020 teamed with the town of Bedford to implement single stream recycling, simplifying the process. The group planted more that 350 new trees and launched a website that explains how to buy or grow local food. To spur fuel efficiency in transportation, the organization hosted a car show in 2013 and sparked the town to install nine new electric charging stations.

With 90 volunteers and two full-time employees working on nine task forces, Bedford 2020 attacked greenhouse gas emissions from every angle, meeting goals faster than the group imagined.

Shortly after founding the group, Kass painstakingly gathered all the information available to measure greenhouse gas emissions in the town and had the data analyzed by a third party. In the fall of 2014, she did this again and compared the results. Just four years into a 10-year plan, Bedford 2020 has an 80-percent progress rate.

“It was a really good feeling,” Kass said. “But it also made us feel that we may need to start setting some higher goals.”

Bedford 2020 does see a future for itself beyond its current goal. It has consulted with other community action groups and created a ‘summit in a box’ starter kit for people looking to hold an environmental summit in their communities. The group plans to be a fixture well beyond 2020.

“We think there will always be a role for an organization like ours in the community and for our model,” Farr said.

Though, Kass added with a laugh, “We may just have to change our name.”

Bedford 2020 will be honored at the Katonah Museum of Art’s “Forces of Nature” gala May. 7. For event tickets and table sponsorship, contact Daria Culver at 914-767-2968, or specialevents@katonahmuseum.org. And for more, visit bedford2020.org.

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