Forces For Change: Youth & the New york state Climate Smart Communities Program


NYS Climate Smart Communities Program

Many young people across New York State (NYS) are looking for ways to work with their local communities on climate action. Fortunately, NYS has a program that makes this easy: NYS Climate Smart Communities (CSC). This is a flexible, non-binding program and framework that provides a pathway for local governments to take climate action.

The Climate Smart Communities program is a roadmap for young people, adults, and local governments to build the skills and knowledge necessary to create climate resilient communities. The CSC program helps communities, and their members, reduce green house gas emissions and adapt to a rapidly changing climate. The program offers grants, rebates for electric vehicles, and free technical assistance towards becoming a certified Climate Smart Community.

Many teens across the Adirondack Park have worked with their communities and local government officials in order to earn earn their CSC certification for their communities. Pictured are Cedar Young and Andrew Fagerheim working with their towns to become certified through the CSC program.

Youth Catalyze Community Climate Action

The Wild Center, in partnership with Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Office of Climate Change and NOAA’s Climate Program Office, created the video featuring youth leaders in Saranac Lake and Homer that are leading the charge for climate action and resilience in their rural communities. The video highlights work inspired by The Wild Center’s Youth Climate Summits, which convene young people across the country to learn about climate change science, impacts, and solutions. Youth leaders in Homer and Saranac Lake have provided valuable contributions, unique skills, and leadership to help their respective communities take action on climate change. Their enthusiasm and hard work helped both villages attain Bronze-level CSC certification in September 2020. To learn more, check out this NYS DEC press release.

Forces For Change: A Youth Guide to the New York State Climate Smart Communities Program

The Wild Center has created a guide, Forces For Change: A Youth Guide to the New York State Climate Smart Communities Program, in partnership with young people who have been involved with the New York State Climate Smart Communities (CSC) program.

The purpose of this guide is to equip young people, their adult allies and local governments with the background, knowledge and skills necessary to build climate-resilient communities. We use the New York State Climate Smart Communities program as a roadmap for how to form and sustain these partnerships. Even though this guide is New York State-focused, there are many useful resources for young people anywhere to use in their own states and communities. See our companion guide, Find Your Voice: A Youth Guide to Tackling Climate Change with your Local Government, for more.
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New York State Climate Smart Communities Certification

Becoming a certified Climate Smart Community takes time. Competing priorities, limited funds, and staff often make taking action, especially in small, local governments. That is why outside help is so essential. We are all busy, but by transforming passion into action and staying involved, you can help your community move forward and plan for the future.

The following steps outline how to get your community invested in the CSC program and move toward certification. Young people can be (and long have been) involved in any and all parts of the CSC certification process. You may live in a community that is not yet registered, one that is already registered or one that has achieved certification. We recommend you read through the following steps and start wherever makes sense for your community.

Getting Started with the CSC Program

Step 1:
Step 2: 
Building Your Case

Step 3: 
Observe a Public Meeting
Step 4: 
Meet with an Elected Official
Step 5: 
Present at a public meeting
Step 6: 
Pass a CSC Resolution

Understand Your Community

The first step towards becoming a Climate Smart Community is understanding the community you live in, what problems you may run into, and what solutions/resources that you may already have at your disposal. Your community may already be working on climate resiliency initiatives or even registered as a CSC. Find out if you live in a registered community here.

Build Your Case

There will be many obstacles you face in the path towards CSC certification. Don't let this discourage you, creating a climate resilient community takes hard work, dedication, and creative thinking. You may have to rethink modes of operation that your community has been used to for decades. Building your case, understanding your obstacles, and knowing your solutions will prepare you overcome these obstacles.

Observe a Public Meeting

It is important to observe a public meeting to become more familiar with your communities government practices, how meetings are run, and what engagement from a citizen looks like. Use this as a learning opportunity and a chance to get more comfortable in the arena of local government.

Meet with an Elected Official

Meeting with an elected official is a great way to get your foot in the door, learn more about what your community is doing, and to get a clearer understanding of where your town stands in regards to becoming a Climate Smart Community. This can be a great way to begin integrating yourself within your municipality, making connections, and finding allies.

Present at a Public Meeting

After you have done your research, familiarized yourself with your local governments processes, and met with atleast one local official you will want to present at a public meeting.

Pass a CSC Resolution

The first step towards CSC certification is to pass a CSC resolution. While some parts of the resolution can be modified to fit your community, all 10 points of the CSC pledge must be included. This resolution must be signed by the municipal clerk adn then uploaded into the online portal.

Once you have passed your CSC resolution you will need to:

- Select a CSC point person
- Register your community in the CSC program
- Create a CSC task force
- Execute your climate actions
- Apply for certification

Select a CSC Point Person and Register your Community

The CSC point person will take on the responsibility of leading the CSC effort on behalf of the local government. Typically, the CSC point person will complete tasks such as uploading the signed CSC resolution, completing the online registration process, and creating the CSC task force.

Once the CSC resolution has been signed and you have appointed your CSC point person, they can register your community using the online registration form.

Create a CSC Task Force

If your community is already registered or certified, your regional CSC Coordinator can connect you with your local CSC point person or task force to find out how you can get involved with ongoing projects.

The CSC task force will carry out the important work of selecting and completing actions to work towards CSC certification. After receiving your certification, the task force can help draft local Climate Action Plans, create climate policy, and continue to complete recommended climate actions.

Determine the size of your task force

When deciding on how many members you want to invite to your task force you will have to balance a few competing priorities:

- Having enough people to divide the work so that your task force will be effective
- Creating a diverse group so that you have many perspectives and identities represented
- Keeping your team small enough so that you can organize and manage all of the members efficiently

Create a contact list of possible members

Create your list based on the skills, interests, and relevant experiences of community members who you believe will be able to contribute to the CSC certification process. Consider including individuals from different local government departments (energy, waste, planning, and transportation), local business owners, students, educators, farmers, and elected officials.

Invite members to the task force

When you reach out to possible task force members remember to:

- Provide a background on the CSC program.
- Explain why their skills and experiences are need on the task force.
- This is a great opportunity to use your position as a young person to ask community members to join the task force

Finalize task force members and assign roles

You can let people decide what interests them and how they would like to contribute.

Execute your Climate Actions

After registering your community, your task force will need to work together to complete selected actions outline by the CSC certification program. While there is no time limit to achieving certification, your task force should develop a plan and a timeline so that you can get your community certified.

Determine which certification level you want to achieve

Depending on where your community is in the process will effect what certification level you will be trying to attain.

Depending on where your community is in the Climate Smart Communities program you will want to adjust accordingly. If you have not yet received certification, aim for Bronze level certification. If you are already Bronze level certified or nearly there you may aim for Silver level certification.

Decide which application cycle deadline you will try to meet

Checkout the Certification Application Cycle page and decide which application cycle will work best for your unique goals and circumstance of your community. 

Review the action list to determine any actions your local government has already completed

Make sure that you have collected, recorded, and uploaded any materials or necessary documents you may need in order to get credit for these actions.

Begin selecting actions from the action list that your local government will complete

Being with the Mandatory and Priority Actions and the move onto other actions. When selecting other actions, consider the following:

- Actions related to relevant climate impacts in your community that need to be addressed such as flooding, drought, or extreme heat

- Actions that will save money for your local government and/or your community's residents

- Actions that are related to specific skills or interests of task force members.

- Actions that are easy to complete, including those that may already be in progress

Assign tasks force members to work on each action

Once you have determined which actions you would like to begin working on, assign leads for each action, create a plan on how you will accomplish your goals, and make sure to stay organized so that you can effectively complete each step.

Create a timeline

Create a timeline of when you hope to accomplish each action by. Depending on how you organize your timeline, you may want to create sub goals within each action. You should consider using SMARTIE goals in order to understand what completing each action requires and how you will go about accomplishing them.

Apply for Certification

Once you have passed your CSC resolution, completed your action items, and earned enough points you are ready to apply for CSC certification. INSERT MORE DESCRIPTION

Ensure you have completed your action items

Make sure that you have completed all of the mandatory action items and that you have accumulated enough points to earn your certification.

Collect all necessary summaries and documentation

Make sure that you have collected all of the necessary documentation for each action item that your task force has completed. We recommend using a collaborative file sharing platform like Google Drive or Box. Make sure that you submit all of your documentation to your regional CSC Coordinator for them to review.

Upload your documentation for completed actions

Upload all documentation for your completed actions to the online portal.

Submit your application package

Once you have uploaded all of your documentation, submit your application package before the deadline of whichever application cycle you are intending to apply in. Once you hit submit, you will not be able to access your application until it has been reviewed.

Wait for a response from NYS Department of Environmental Conservation

The NYS DEC will be back to you shortly with an update on your application status. This may look like an award certification, a request for changes, or they may seek additional information.

Make any necessary changes

If your application was not accepted, make any necessary adjustments that the NYS DEC requires and resubmit your application.


Congratulations, you have made your community a certified Climate Smart Community. Make sure to spread the word and let your community know about your great work!
***For more information about the New York State Climate Smart Communities program, please visit the Climate Smart Communities website***