Sustainable Missoula: Smarty Pants awards honor Missoulians working for climate solutions
Amy Cilimburg and Abby Huseth
Every December Climate Smart Missoula’s favorite tradition is gathering with our community to celebrate another year of climate momentum, and to honor those who have made special contributions to this collective effort with our annual Smarty Pants Awards.
After a year of true wins - from local solar to a collective effort to build a resilient Missoula to the start of a real “electrify movement” with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act - we are energized and hopeful for the coming year.
Why hopeful? Because of the action we see all around us, especially the real commitment and hard work of so many in our community. Addressing the climate crisis is the biggest team sport ever, and it’s amazing and inspiring to see the ways people bring their skills and passions to this collective effort.
Missoula may be a relatively small community, but we have no shortage of folks who are going above and beyond to be part of climate solutions, and who deserve recognition.
Sometimes they are leaders who’ve been out front championing climate issues; more often they are working behind the scenes, quietly and diligently doing their part and bringing others in. This year, we were thrilled to present five Smarty Pants Awards. Read on and join us in celebrating Caitlyn, Jeff, Monica, Peter, and Orion:
Caitlyn Lewis – Rising Star Award
Caitlyn Lewis founded, directed, and grew Soil Cycle into a thriving and very cool nonprofit and partner organization. With a love for soil and bicycling, Caitlyn saw a niche that cried out to be filled, taking her passion and inspiration to make it happen. Yeah for compost and soil.
According to Soil Cycle’s website, in the few years since the organization started, they’ve diverted 400,000 lbs of food scraps from the landfill! Wasted food has a massive carbon footprint – in the US, it accounts for more emissions than the airline industry. Put it another way, its emissions are equal to the annual CO2 emissions of 42 coal-fired power plants, not including the significant methane emissions from food rotting in landfills! Composting matters.
Soil Cycle’s vision of composting via bike pickup is a doubly awesome climate solution and valuable service for Missoulians, and Caitlyn has also ensured that Soil Cycle is a vehicle for building community. From the beginning, she brought folks in by offering volunteer opportunities, workshops and other educational opportunities.
Caitlyn consistently showed up – out and about in our community, with fun and creative activities to get people excited about soil! And she also showed up for fellow nonprofits, supporting and partnering in countless events. Caitlyn’s leadership launched a truly community-oriented effort, and we are excited to see where it goes next, as she has now passed the E.D. mantle.
Today, Caitlyn is the Events & Education Coordinator with Livable Climate where she uses her strengths as an organizer and draws on her communications background to bring more people into the climate movement. We know she’ll continue to shine brightly in this role and that’s why we are thrilled to honor her with this year’s Rising Star Award.
Jeff Mogavero - Masters in the Fine Art of Community Building & Uphill Running
Jeff Mogavero received this well-deserved Masters award for his efforts to bring Running Up For Air - RUFA - to Missoula. Jeff has managed to find the sweet spot in the famous Climate Action Venn Diagram: the intersection of What brings you joy, What can I do, and What needs to be done. Jeff loves to run, he can organize wacky endurance events, and we need healthy air!
Jeff came to us in 2019 with the idea that Missoula needs a Running Up For Air event. This series, which started in Salt Lake City, is a bit crazy - run or hike up a mountain for up to 12 hours, all to bring attention to our need for clean air, and to support a nonprofit working for it. Jeff thought:
We have Mt Sentinel and this sounds super fun, so he convinced the Runners Edge (where he works) that we need this in our community and started to make it happen. It’s not easy - there are permissions to get, routes to figure out, volunteers to wrangle, winter dangers to contend with, basically a lot of time and resources - which Jeff cheerfully worked through for RUFA 1 and 2. And, coming up Feb 11 - RUFA Mt Sentinel #3!
It’s clear to us, after participating in 2020 and 2022, that an event like this - fun and hard but not a race - really does build community. Our many local outdoor enthusiasts see that they too can step up, volunteer, and raise money for a good cause - clean air and Climate Smart. Last year, RUFA- Mt Sentinel raised over $15,000 for our wildfire smoke community protection efforts.
Jeff moved to Missoula in 2019, and jumped right in to building community. Today he also shares his love of trail running as a coach, and according to his website, “I’m Jeff and I like to play outside.”
Keeping a playful and hopeful spirit also builds community and is something we need! We appreciate that Jeff has prioritized helping us at Climate Smart raise the funds we need to do our work and bringing more people into building climate resilience, a connected community, and clean air.
Monica Tranel - Catalyst for Change
Monica Tranel is our 2022 Catalyst for Change award recipient. Catalysts are crucial components of our complex world - from essential microscopic biological catalysts like enzymes, all the way to people that are catalysts. According to dictionary.com, a catalyzing person is one whose talk, enthusiasm, or energy causes others to be more enthusiastic or energetic.
There are very few people in our community and Montana that conjure the energy needed to catalyze big change, and even if not immediately successful, keep on conjuring, never giving up on us, this place we love, and our climate.
For over 20 years, and before many of us were paying attention or knew we even had a public service commission, Monica worked to grow Montana’s clean energy economy, working with wind developers and others as an attorney, supporting farmers, ranchers, and local energy producers. This work continues.
As a lawyer, she has taken on some of the biggest out of state energy corporations and our monopoly utility – and she’s won, standing up for consumers and everyday Montanas, catalyzing more Montana-made clean energy. She recently deposed NorthWestern Energy over their plans to build a massive methane gas plant, a polluting plant we would end up paying for in more ways than one.
Monica’s run for the PSC helped educate all of us about wonky energy policy. Although that didn’t quite work out, she didn’t give up. In her run to represent us - and work for clean energy and climate solutions - she catalyzed so much energy and brought so many people into the fight for the future we believe in.
As she frequently says she is “All In” - two of our favorite words. For all of us who work on climate, we need Catalyzers like Monica who stay all in, even if we don’t succeed the first or second or third time. Together we are resolved.
Peter McDonough - Doctorate of Dedication
Peter McDonough is the dedicated, hard-working, and always-there-for-students Director of the Climate Change Studies program at the University of Montana. Peter is universally beloved by his students, and this year UM’s 2022 graduating class voted to give Peter the Most Inspirational Teacher Award.
Not only is he a talented teacher on all sorts of climate-related topics - he’s taught courses on energy, climate solutions, human health, biomimicry, and more - but he also goes the extra mile to support students, listening deeply as they share how difficult the world they face is and helping them navigate a path though.
Peter just stepped down from his tenure on the Board of Directors at Climate Smart to more fully devote himself to his students and his critical work at the University of Montana. Peter is also deeply committed to building community, service, sustainability and giving his time and energy.
He always shows up for the late night ROOTS festival waste management extravaganza, the definition of dedication! Peter has two masters degrees but no doctorate yet, so we are honored to round out his academic resume by awarding him a Doctorate of Dedication. (Yes, it’s true - we are Climate SMART after all, we actually do have powers to award both Masters in Fine Arts and Doctorate degrees.)
Orion Thornton - Doctorate of Dedication
Orion’s work orbits around Missoula, Montana, climate solutions, and the sun. With total dedication to those four things, Orion started and grew a solar company in Montana and then brought part of it to Missoula.
Orion has been dedicated to the Montana solar energy industry for over 13 years, both as an industry professional and advocate through lots and lots of community education and outreach. He founded OnSite Energy - a Certified B Corp - and is today a partner and chief technical officer.
Orion has been a board member with the Montana Renewable Energy Association for 6 years, an instructor for Solar Energy International, and has spent an enormous amount of time educating people from all sectors, including our community and local government leaders, on how we can add more big and small solar systems, batteries, and clean energy.
He has taken the lead on developing truly innovative solar projects, including the 432KW system on Missoula County’s detention center, the largest rooftop solar project in the state. The path to get to “yes” on that project wasn't always clear, but Orion wasn’t deterred and helped get it done. He has also taken the lead, pro-bono, to help get solar panels on our “Little House” office.
Orion has an uncanny ability to understand technical details and explain these simply. He can zoom in and out, always knowing that our north star is 100% clean electricity and a climate-safe world. He is truly an unsung hero, well-deserving of a Doctorate of Dedication.
These five Smarty Pants recipients help build a climate-smart Missoula every day, in their own unique ways, and we are all better for their generosity. Together with so many other amazing climate and sustainability do-gooders, we are ready to hit the ground running in 2023.
As we head into our 8th year of accelerating local climate solutions, we hope you, too, will join us.
Amy Cilimburg is the executive director and Abby Huseth is the outreach director at Climate Smart Missoula. This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.