Friday, April 19, 2024

Parsippany Students Proposing Meatless Mondays Among Winners of 24th Annual Governor’s Environmental Excellence Awards

PRESS RELEASE: TRENTON, N.J. – Commissioner of Environmental Protection Shawn M. LaTourette today announced the winners of the 24th Annual Governor’s Environmental Excellence Awards as well as the recipient of the Richard J. Sullivan Award during an awards ceremony at the Historic Masonic Temple in Trenton.GEEA Logo
“The achievements of this year’s award winners capture the essence of environmentalism in New Jersey and set a shining example for us all to follow,” said Commissioner LaTourette. “It’s an honor to celebrate their determined efforts to protect the state’s natural resources and help others connect to nature.”

The Governor’s Environmental Excellence Awards are awarded annually to individuals and organizations that demonstrate commitment and leadership on a variety of environmental issues, including environmental justice, climate change, sustainability and education.

Named for New Jersey’s first DEP commissioner and pioneering leader in environmental protection, the Richard J. Sullivan Award was given to Walter Mugdan, who served the public through a decades-long career with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, working the last seven years of his career as deputy regional administrator for Region 2.

In his final role with the EPA, Mugdan played a critical role in addressing groundwater and mine water contamination at the Ringwood Mines/Landfill Superfund site, and in adding the Lower Hackensack River to the National Priorities List. Mugdan retired in September.

The Sullivan Award honors an individual who demonstrates exceptional leadership and outstanding accomplishment in safeguarding public health, protecting and enhancing New Jersey’s diverse natural resources and creating vibrant, sustainable communities that provide economic opportunity for all.

In addition to the Sullivan Award, the 2023 Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award winners for each category are:

* Environmental Education (Student-Led): Anika and Divya Arora, founders of Simply Green Parsippany Hills, the students began working on a grassroots “Meatless Mondays” campaign in 2020 to raise awareness of the adverse effects of meat consumption on the climate. They did presentations at the town library, to the local environmental advisory committee, school principals, the superintendent of schools and the town council, as well as other locations. In addition, Anika and Divya conducted a Climate Sciences Workshop in town. They have attended the Columbia Climate School Eco-Ambassador programs, CCS K-12 live classes and are certified in climate change leadership. Anika and Divya started, dedicated to rallying youth to reverse climate change. 
* James J. Florio Emerging Environmental Leader: Julia Totora Julia, a student from Pitman, participated in projects such as making leaf packs for school groups to investigate macroinvertebrates and creating a petition and letter-writing campaign seeking to eliminate plastic foam trays from her school district’s lunchrooms. On Earth Day 2023, she provided hands-on water quality education to residents of her town by leading a water testing project at a local creek and taught residents how water quality is related to their health and the health of the lake, stream and local wildlife.  
* Clean Air: Anna Grossman Grossman, a resident of Montclair, supported the township’s local advocates and organizations to eliminate the local use of gas-powered leaf blowers. Grossman organized workshops and electric lawncare demonstration days, spoke at town council meetings and arranged expert testimony at public comment sessions, and coordinated a webinar with health and electric lawn care experts. In May, Grossman set up a social media and web presence, Sustainable Montclair, to support advocacy efforts on this and other local environmental causes. As of September 4, gas-powered blowers and sprayers are banned year-round in Montclair.  
* Climate: Pari Patel Pari, a student from South Plainfield, designed a series of upcycling events in her community to reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions. Pari’s classmates traded apparel and learned how to use a sewing machine, fabric glue and paint to repurpose old clothing. Pari also organized clothing drives and assemblies, and distributed flyers at her high school, other township schools and public arenas such as the local library. Pari addressed the issue with her town council and used social media to teach about mass-produced apparel and other, sustainable clothing choices. 
* Watershed Management and Water Resources: Veolia New Jersey Watershed Team . Veolia created a Watershed Team to ensure clean, safe drinking water for more than 1.3 million residents across New Jersey. The team of Veolia employees, headed by Matt Cerami and including Tyler Arnold and Ron Farr, created a dashboard that combines satellite imagery, continuous monitoring equipment, lab samples and meteorological data to form predictions about when and where harmful algal blooms could form in reservoirs. This allows the team to accurately target areas that need treatment and reduce the amount of HAB treatment chemicals applied to the water.
* Healthy Ecosystems and Habitats: Neptune Township/American Littoral Society. Neptune Township, the American Littoral Society and several partners worked together to restore 2,050 linear feet of shoreline at the Shark River inlet. The project created beach, reef sill, marsh and berm habitat that improved resilience for natural and built communities, spawning habitat for horseshoe crabs, marsh habitat for juvenile fish and crabs, dune habitat for avian species and reef habitat for shellfish. Additionally, stormwater outfalls were replaced and affixed with tide valves to reduce periodicity of flooding and to better treat stormwater runoff. 
* Healthy Communities: Team Wilderness. The Jersey City-based organization offers excursions to foster teamwork and leadership and build character in youth. In 2022, Team Wilderness served 450 youth who engaged in 6,000 hours outdoors. In addition to physical activity, each excursion is integrated with social and emotional reflection on self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making. In 2023, the organization added Compass Project, an academic coaching program that guides students from grade 10 through their first two years of college. North Star Project, also added in 2023, offers a free short-term youth counseling program that emphasizes wilderness and adventure therapy. 
* Environmental Justice: Dr. Nicky Sheats. Dr. Sheats is director of the Center for the Urban Environment at the John S. Watson Institute for Urban Policy and Research at Kean University and played an instrumental role in the development and passage of New Jersey’s landmark environmental justice law. His recent efforts seek to integrate environmental justice in climate mitigation policies called Mandatory Emissions Reductions (MER) that target reductions of associated co-pollutants, along with greenhouse gas emissions, and which impact overburdened communities. Dr. Sheats convened the state’s first MER policy workgroup with the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance. Dr. Sheats is also the lead author of a recently published paper exploring the implementation of MER policies in New Jersey, Minnesota and Delaware.
* Environmental Education (Educator-Led): Ron Smith Smith, of Merchantville, is a science educator who leads community science adventures for children and adults. For more than two decades, Smith has led the environmental education program of the Haddonfield school district. With the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, he established the Life Science Field Training Institute, a weeklong program that trains teachers on field study techniques. Smith also is director of the Drexel University Environmental Science Leadership Academy for high school students, a program where students study field-based environmental science in preparation for careers in science.
* Sustainability (Community): Ocean County Department of Solid Waste Management . The Ocean County Department of Solid Waste Management, in conjunction with the county’s board of commissioners, established a pilot program to safely collect and dispose of expired marine flares after determining there was a lack of disposal outlets nationwide. Through a partnership with the Ocean County Fire and First Aid Training Center, more than 1,200 flares collected during a one-day event were incinerated onsite via a custom burn box. Due to the program’s success, the county plans to hold annual spring and fall flare collection events.  
* Sustainability (Business): Stanley Greberis, Upward LLC. Greberis invented the Eco Pool Drain Waste Water Fountain, which discharges swimming pool wastewater onsite. The fountain reduces water consumption, recycles pool water, reduces chlorine levels and prevents soil erosion. The fountain’s aeration process lowers chlorine content of discharged pool water by spraying it up several feet and overall covers about 100 square feet. The process eliminates point source of water pollution and excess stormwater sewer load. These types of fountains are estimated to help the average pool owner recycle/repurpose thousands of gallons of pool water annually.  

The Governor’s Environmental Excellence Awards has been New Jersey’s premier environmental awards program since 2000. The DEP, New Jersey Infrastructure Bank and the New Jersey Corporation for Advanced Technology sponsor the program.

A panel of judges reviewed and scored the nominations on criteria including documented environmental benefit, contributions to meeting the state’s environment needs, replicability by others, leadership and innovation, and education and outreach undertaken as part of the effort. To learn more about the program, visit