Environmental Initiative Awards

The Environmental Initiative Awards aims to catalyze collaborative approaches and partnerships that create holistic environmental solutions by:

  • Celebrating people and projects working at the intersection of a healthy environment, a prosperous economy, and an equitable society;
  • Deepening and fostering relationships across the environmental community;
  • Building capacity among individuals and organizations to partner across difference.

During the Awards, we bring together a dynamic cross-section of partners from all our work. We are excited about the potential for connection and partnership this creates. Please join us in building and deepening relationships across sector and difference to embark on meaningful environmental work—together.

History of the Awards

For over 25 years, Environmental Initiative has worked across difference to create spaces where people can openly exchange ideas and build solutions to complex environmental challenges. By working together, we can leverage our collective experience and understanding to create more holistic solutions to the environmental challenges we face each day. The Environmental Initiative Awards celebrates that spirit of collaboration. We know the environmental challenges we face are linked to economic vitality and social equity. Our annual event celebrates those working to make improvements across the state to help us achieve our vision of a healthy environment, a prosperous economy and an equitable society.

The Night of the Awards

The Environmental Initiative Awards event is an evening of networking and celebration to honor those who are working to improve Minnesota’s environment, economy, and society. The evening includes networking time to deepen relationships—either by connecting with new people or reconnecting with existing partners—and a program to celebrate the achievements and outcomes of the winning individuals and project teams. The Environmental Initiative Awards seeks to inspire others to adopt collaborative and equity-centered approaches to environmental problem solving.

Awards Winner Reunion

We’ve been hosting the Environmental Initiative Awards for 25 years and have honored scores of collaborative projects and people in that time. Are you one of them?

We want to reconnect and hear about what you’ve been up to. Join Environmental Initiative staff, Board members, and other Environmental Initiative Awards winners from the past 25 years to build relationships and learn from each other. We hope this will be the first of many opportunities for you to deepen relationships with each other and our organization.

What To Expect

We will gather on Wednesday, August 14, 2019 from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. at Environmental Initiative’s office.

There will be brief remarks from program and organizational leadership at 5:00 p.m. We will have light refreshments and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

Have you won an award from Environmental Initiative? This event is for you. Register here.

If you are unsure if you received an award from us, we can look into it. For questions about this event or the Environmental Initiative Awards program, please contact Lillie Benowitz at 612-334-3388 ext. 8107.

Award Categories

We are excited to honor collaborative environmental projects and individuals from across Minnesota in the following categories:

Courageous Innovator

The Courageous Innovator Award recognizes an individual under the age of 30 working in groundbreaking ways to build partnerships and innovate environmental solution-building.

Critical Collaborator

The Critical Collaborator Award recognizes an individual who has dedicated their career to solving environmental problems and created a lasting impact on Minnesota’s environment through partnership.

Energy and Climate

The Energy & Climate Award recognizes a partnership working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, cut energy consumption, advance energy efficiency or improve air quality. Projects may also include collaborative efforts to prepare Minnesota to adapt to a changing global climate.

Environmental Innovation

The Environmental Innovation Award recognizes a partnership working on the next environmental breakthrough.  While the impact of their work may not be seen immediately, winners of this future-facing award will be recognized for their creativity in solving an environmental challenge and the potential of their project or plan to ensure a prosperous economy, an equitable society and a healthy environment long into the future.

Rural Vitality

The Rural Vitality Award recognizes a partnership working to solve environmental challenges on a community scale in rural areas of under 10,000 residents. This could include grassroots efforts in revitalization or beautification, alternative land use strategies or policy initiatives that contribute to economic prosperity, environmental stewardship and improved quality of life.

Sustainable Leadership: Large Employer

The Sustainable Leadership: Large Employer Award recognizes a company larger than 500 employees that demonstrates collaborative efforts to pursue sustainable business practices or offer private-sector-based solutions to environmental challenges. The project should demonstrate commitment to environmental stewardship, economic benefit and social equity.

Sustainable Leadership: Small Employer

The Sustainable Leadership: Small Employer Award recognizes a small business with fewer than 500 employees that demonstrates collaborative efforts to pursue sustainable business practices or offer private-sector-based solutions to environmental challenges. The project should demonstrate commitment to environmental stewardship, economic benefit and social equity.

Awards Eligibility

Below are the most recent guidelines used to judge the people and projects nominated for the Environmental Initiative Awards:

Guidelines for Project Awards

  • A partnership-based project refers to any two or more entities working collaboratively on a project with shared goals and outcomes. Entities could include government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, private companies, community groups and/or individuals.
  • Projects nominated are either ongoing or the date of project completion is within two years of the submission deadline.
  • Projects nominated, even if ongoing, have created a healthier environment and more vibrant society in Minnesota in relation to the project goals.
  • Projects nominated have taken place and demonstrated impacts in Minnesota.
  • If two or more nominations for the same project are received, judges will evaluate only the nomination that was received first. It is the nominator’s responsibility to communicate with other project partners to ensure the submission of a single, comprehensive project nomination.
  • Projects that have received significant financial resources or staff time from Environmental Initiative are not eligible for an award.
  • Only the information submitted via the nomination form will be used to evaluate project nominations. No supporting material (photos, videos, etc.) will be shared with judges.

Guidelines for Individual Awards

  • Individuals nominated for the Courageous Innovator award must be under the age of 30.
  • Individuals nominated for the Critical Collaborator award may be any age.
  • Individuals nominated for either award have demonstrated leadership and environmental impacts in Minnesota.
  • Only the information submitted via the nomination form will be used to evaluate individual award nominations. No supporting material (photos, videos, etc.) will be shared with judges.

Judging Criteria

Projects are judged by teams of Environmental Initiative stakeholders and community members. Individual awards are judged by the Environmental Initiative staff.

How Project Nominations are Evaluated

A panel of independent judges selected by Environmental Initiative will evaluate project nominations based on the following criteria:

  • Strength of partnership and degree to which collaboration across difference was leveraged to solve environmental problems;
  • Degree of results and environmental impacts associated with the project;
  • Degree of project innovation, uniqueness and groundbreaking action;
  • Degree to which equity was centered in the project development and execution of project.
  • Degree to which the project can be adapted and replicated across the state.


Due to the broad nature of the award categories and types of projects submitted, each judging team determines the relative weight of the above criteria.

Environmental Initiative monitors project nominations for potential conflicts of interests with individuals serving as judges. Conflicts are handled on a case-by-case basis. Judges may be asked to recuse themselves from evaluation and discussion of that specific project, or to leave the judging panel entirely, depending on the level of involvement of a judge with a project.

How Individual Award Nominations are Evaluated

Starting in 2017, Environmental Initiative began recognizing two individuals who have been influential and effective environmental leaders. Environmental Initiative staff will review nominations and select winners for the Courageous Innovator and Critical Collaborator awards based on the following criteria:

  • Ability of nominee to collaborate and solve problems across difference;
  • Degree of nominee’s positive impact on our environment, economy and community;
  • Skill of nominee to lead by centering people and building innovative relationships to solve environmental problems.