Make NY Greener: Volunteer with One of These Sustainable NonProfits

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By Lori Melton

There’s something invigorating about volunteering to help a worthy cause. For eco-conscious New Yorkers looking for ways to expand their environmental and sustainable efforts and assist surrounding communities, there are many amazing ways to lend your time, energy, and talent at sustainable nonprofits in and around the city. Here’s a look at two incredible organizations whose green initiatives have made a huge impact across NYC. Both are continually seeking ready-and-willing volunteers.


Established in 1970 as the Council on the Environment of New York City (CENYC), the organization has evolved to become GrowNYC, the largest environmental organization in NYC. Over 3 million people participate in GrowNYC’s community-enriching, sustainable programs each year.

The Greenmarket Program promotes and distributes locally-farmed, fresh food products from small family farms with Greenmarket and Youthmarket locations scattered throughout multiple busy areas within each of New York City’s five boroughs. The Fresh Food Box program allows underserved community members to buy fresh, healthy, mostly locally-grown produce at reduced prices on a weekly basis.

GrowNYC’s Recycling Program initiatives are designed to boost NYC’s curbside recycling program by hosting workshops and community events to raise awareness and educate residents about the recycling process. Efforts include weekly collections of food scraps, clothing and textiles, Stop ‘N Swap community reuse events, and more.

For more than four decades, the Garden Program has transformed vacant lots into thriving green spaces. To date, GrowNYC has established 100 gardens and helped sustain hundreds more with renovations, green infrastructure projects, dedicated volunteer days and other efforts.The program also creates and maintains school gardens, urban farms and rainwater collection systems throughout NYC. The Grow to Learn program works specifically to provide school gardening services and gardening education to New York City schools.

Finally, GrowNYC’s Environmental Education Program seeks to promote environmental and community stewardship in NYC’s youth through multiple school-by-school initiatives including recycling and sustainability programs, school garden support, nutrition information, and Greemarket tours. The program targets schools in high-poverty neighborhoods with limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables and green spaces.

Find out more about becoming an individual or corporate volunteer, or how to become an Environmental Ambassador by visiting the Volunteer Page on GrowNYC’s website.


NYC Parks’ GreenThumb initiative celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Launched in 1978, GreenThumb is the nation’s largest urban gardening program. The organization has transformed vacant lots into green, open space for four decades. To date, GreenThumb has provided programs and materials to build, support and sustain more than 550 community gardens in more than 100 combined acres of space in NYC.

Some of the lush green spaces located across the city’s five boroughs are meant to be enjoyed as community relaxation and recreational spots. Other spaces are urban farms that enable farmers to provide community members with access to healthy, nutritional foods from a locally-grown source. GreenThumb gardens are nurtured and harvested by more than 20,000 volunteers, who receive support from the organization via free garden materials, technical assistance, educational workshops and seasonal programs.

High school students can gain community service hours by working alongside community gardeners to learn how to grow and maintain a healthy, flourishing garden by joining GreenThumb’s Youth Leadership Council. Other important skills participants  learn include composting, community event organization, volunteer management and more.

GreenThumb relies heavily on its large volunteer base to further its green space and sustainability goals throughout New York City. Learn more about GreenThumb volunteer opportunities here.