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Innovators, champions and educators: Those fighting for a sustainable Charlottesville honored

A Charlottesville-based nonprofit group that pushes for sustainable practices and policies held an award ceremony earlier this month honoring the area’s businesses, organizations and individuals doing that work at the ground level.

Oct. 6 marked the second time the awards have been given out, and the Community Climate Collaborative, or C3, said it hopes to make it an annual tradition.

Some 300 people showed up at a “Party for the Planet” at Ix Art Park to enjoy live music, food trucks and more celebrating Charlottesville’s work toward a more sustainable future — a brief respite from their work fighting a changing climate that produced the Northern Hemisphere’s hottest meteorological summer on record this year.

There were 12 awards given out in total across multiple categories including business, climate justice and youth.

“I was very excited and proud to be recognized for our work,” Emily Irvine, climate protection program manager for the city, told The Daily Progress. The city of Charlottesville’s climate program staff was the recipient of the Community Changemaker Award, in part for its work crafting its climate action plan and helping bring $1 million in climate investment to the city.

“It was a great way to bring some attention to work that’s going on. I was touched and pleasantly surprised,” Irvine said of the ceremony.

The C3 awards in the past honored the business community, celebrating those that implemented environmentally sustainable practices.

“Last year, we were approaching our five-year anniversary, so we wanted to celebrate the progress the entire community has made in regard to climate action, so we expanded our view of who should be getting awards and recognizing leaders across the community in a number of different spaces,” C3 Executive Director Susan Kruse told The Daily Progress.

“These are all the leaders in Charlottesville and Albemarle community who have taken steps to advance climate goals,” she said.

Each award was based on different criteria. The Carbon Crackdown Award, for instance, is given to the entity that has made the greatest strides in reducing overall footprint, according to C3. This year, the winner was Piedmont Court Appointed Special Advocates, also known as Piedmont CASA, a nonprofit agency committed to advocating for children who are involved in the court process due to underlying allegations of abuse and neglect.

Piedmont CASA won its award in part for changing the light fixtures outside its building. The previous fixtures were gas-powered and ran 24 hours a day. It’s since swapped them out for solar-powered lights.

“At Piedmont CASA, our vision is to create a community where every child is able to thrive in a safe, healthy, and loving home. As part of that vision, we must also protect their future by taking care of our planet,” Piedmont CASA CEO Kate Duvall said in a statement. “We are grateful for the support of C3 in helping us to take these steps.”

Sunshine Mathon, executive director of the Piedmont Housing Alliance, has been lauded for the organization’s ability to create affordable housing, most recently at the new Kindlewood development, formerly known as Friendship Court.

The group added to its trophy case after winning C3’s Climate Justice Advocate Award.

“It was really wonderful,” Mathon told The Daily Progress. “The buildings at Kindlewood were designed with deep energy efficiency in mind as well as long-term durability and resilience.”

That includes more insulation in the walls to keep heat from escaping, higher efficiency heating and cooling equipment, and energy efficient kitchen related appliances. And in a couple weeks, the alliance will be installing solar panels on the roof of three Kindlewood buildings, which will directly offset resident utility costs.

Seventeen organizations participated in the event, all of whom are C3 partners. Even the food trucks were climate friendly, organizers said. Sombreros and Pie Guy both received energy efficiency grants from a C3 program for small minority-owned businesses that it executes in partnership with the city’s and Albemarle County’s offices of economic development. Each selected business receives up to $2,500 to invest in energy efficient materials.

“The work these individuals and organizations are doing is unique, innovative and inspiring,” Kruse said in a statement. “They are tackling the climate crisis head on with local climate action that’s making a real change in the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County.”

The full list of this year’s award winners include:

Top Climate Innovator Award: Hourigan

Richmond-based construction firm Hourigan helped transform Charlottesville’s built environment by leading construction and sustainability efforts on two landmark projects: Apex Plaza and the CODE Building. Apex Plaza includes almost 900 solar panels, a green roof and industry-leading energy efficiency. It is also the tallest mass timber structure on the East Coast. CODE, or the Center of Developing Entrepreneurs, gained LEED platinum certification this spring, a lofty sustainability achievement which has only been matched by a handful of buildings in the commonwealth.

Carbon Crackdown Award: Piedmont CASA

Piedmont CASA received technical support from C3 as part of the group’s Climate Services program. After getting a free energy audit and carbon footprint, the group went to work installing HVAC upgrades, new LED lighting and replacing the old gas-fired lights on their facade with new solar fixtures. “The results were fantastic,” C3 said in a statement, “a 20% reduction in their carbon footprint, including gas savings of over 40%!”

Climate Champion Award: Trevor Saunders and the Center

Saunders, facilities manager at the nonprofit community center aptly named the Center, has developed a weekly practice of optimizing the building’s control systems in just 30 minutes every Monday morning, C3 said. “Through this simple practice, he has cut his organization’s carbon footprint in half over the past 12 months, not only slashing emissions but saving thousands of dollars for their mission to promote healthy aging in our community.”

Outstanding Educator: John Trossi of Charlottesville City Schools

John Trossi involved fifth-graders at Walker Upper Elementary School in more than just experiencing C3’s Climate Activity Kits. He brought student leaders out to unload, deliver and learn about the Climate Kits so they could help their peers, according to C3.

Youth EmPowerment Award: Light House Studio

The Light House Studio filmmaking center in Charlottesville has been a C3 since the start of 2023, bringing climate learning to students and schools in the Charlottesville community and helping them to express their concerns about the impacts of climate change and solutions they want to embrace through film, C3 said.

Youth Climate Champion: Amanda Bilchick

“Amanda has been active in fighting climate change at home as a founder of the local chapter of the Sunrise Movement, at school as president of the Earth Warriors, and as a teen intern with C3,” according to C3.

Impact Maker: Teri Strother

Strother has been active in the Charlottesville sustainability community for decades, founding the Better World Betty nonprofit group, serving on the Albemarle County Solid Waste Advisory Committee and helping found C3 itself and growing the organization from a single employee to a staff of nine. “Teri has also taken action in her own life, by adding rooftop solar, purchasing second-hand, and switching her vehicle to electric,” C3 said.

Energy Equity Award: FLIPP Inc.

FLIPP Inc. is an organization working to “create an inclusive workforce that reduces employment barriers for formerly incarcerated individuals, transitioning veterans, BIPOC, women, youth and empower low-income communities with renewable energy and entrepreneurship development training,” according to its mission statement. It is today the only training program in Virginia certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners. “This recipient prioritizes training for BIPOC and formerly incarcerated individuals,” C3 said. “They were also the recent recipient of a $1.9 million grant from the US Department of Labor.”

Transit Mover and Shaker Award: Impact Interfaith Coalition

Charlottesville-based Interfaith Movement Promoting Action by Congregations Together, or IMPACT, advocates for affordable housing and improved transit systems in the area. “They have been an important ally in our Zero-Emission Bus Campaign,” C3 said, “meeting with City Councilors and printing campaign t-shirts.”

Climate Justice Advocate Award: Piedmont Housing Alliance

“Piedmont Housing Alliance is at the forefront of directly creating better housing and advocating to ensure that Charlottesville becomes a community where everyone can afford to live,” C3 said. “Their recent redevelopment of Kindlewood (formerly known as Friendship Court) incorporated sustainability and climate resiliency throughout the resident-led redevelopment effort — a model that should be emulated everywhere.”

Community Changemaker Award: City of Charlottesville climate program staff

The city’s climate team helped facilitate the passage of Charlottesville’s Climate Action Plan, launched a climate resiliency planning initiative in collaboration with Albemarle County and the University of Virginia, distributed climate activity kits to public schools and is now leading the city’s conversion to LED streetlights. Looking ahead, the team is set to grow after City Council approved the addition of two new climate positions along with more than $3 million of investments to improve the locality’s transit system.


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