Congratulations to the winners of the 2021 Governor’s Environmental Excellence Awards! Special thanks to our sponsors, the New Jersey Infrastructure Bank and the New Jersey Corporation for Advanced Technology, and our partner, the New Jersey State League of Municipalities.
This year’s honorees are recognized for their commitment to enhance New Jersey environmental protection practices by mitigating the adverse effects of climate change, improving living conditions and providing training for people in environmentally vulnerable communities, adjusting preservation goals to help local farmers, and building partnerships to promote land conservation.
“We are lucky to have so many forward-thinking organizations that work every day to ensure future generations will have a healthy environment to enjoy with their families,” Commissioner LaTourette said. “I am thrilled to honor the winners of this year’s Governor’s Environmental Excellence Awards and the Sullivan Award for their continued dedication to create a stronger, fairer New Jersey through outstanding environmental leadership.”
Named for New Jersey’s first DEP Commissioner, the Richard J. Sullivan Award honors New Jersey residents who demonstrate 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.
This year’s Richard J. Sullivan honoree is Capt. Bill Sheehan, a lifelong resident of the Hackensack River Watershed region. A dedicated conservationist, he founded Hackensack Riverkeeper in 1997 and continues to serve as the organization’s Executive Director.
Captain Bill, as most people know him, holds a 25-Ton Launch/Tender Master’s license from the U.S. Coast Guard, which he earned in 1995. He has since commanded a series of Riverkeeper research vessels and spends at least six months every year doing advocacy work, educating others and patrolling the Hackensack River.
Capt. Bill is a founding and longstanding member of the Bergen County Trust Fund Public Advisory Committee and current Chair of the Meadowlands Conservation Trust. The Trust is charged with acquiring, holding and managing conservation properties in the Meadowlands and throughout the Hackensack River Watershed.
The Hackensack Riverkeeper is a founding member of Waterkeeper Alliance, the international coalition of more than 300 clean water advocates working on, along and for waterways across the globe. Capt. Bill is the Northeast regional representative on the Waterkeeper Council, one of the Alliance’s governing boards. He is often called upon to mentor rookie Waterkeepers, which he very much enjoys.
The 2021 Governor’s Environmental Excellence Awards winners are:
CLIMATE CHANGE & CLEAN AIR: Solar Landscape
Founded in 2012 by New Jersey natives Shaun Keegan and Corey Gross, Solar Landscape develops, designs, installs, owns and operates community solar and solar energy solutions for the commercial/industrial, municipal, public school and nonprofit marketplace. The Asbury Park-based company has installed more than 110 megawatts of commercial solar energy projects in the Northeast and offers a Solar Job Training Program in underserved communities as part of the company’s commitment to the state’s Community Solar Pilot Program. When completed, Solar Landscape’s 20 MW portfolio of community solar projects from the program’s first year will deliver enough electricity to power more than 3,000 New Jersey homes for the next 20 years.
ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION (EDUCATOR-LED): Montclair State University PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies
Montclair State University’s PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies advances sustainability by developing community-engaged research projects and building educational programs through academic/corporate/public partnerships. The institute’s annual Green Team Internship Program connects teams of students with corporations, organizations, nonprofits, municipalities and community groups to address sustainability issues. The program has grown from Montclair students across 19 majors in 2016 to 270 students from more than 100 majors, representing 55 colleges and universities inside and outside New Jersey. Most recently, 54 green teams supported 191 projects for 32 host organizations, including 18 companies, seven nonprofits, nine municipalities, three government agencies and three academic institutions.
ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION (STUDENT-LED): Summit Free Market
Founded in 2008, the Summit Free Market is a volunteer, student-run program that works to reduce the amount of reusable material that enters Summit’s waste stream. Since its inception, an estimated 2,500 Summit Free Market volunteers have kept more than 160 tons of reusable material from the waste stream through its popular and successful community reuse initiative, saving the city of Summit more than $25,000 in garbage tipping fees. Every volunteer is trained by a student leader, who explains how reuse contributes to municipal sustainability. During the week, the market is open to families in need.
ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE: Fred Byarm
Fred Byarm has 30 years’ experience in the food services industry, is a Six Sigma Black Belt and Lean Six Sigma certified, with a focus on health care and manufacturing. The founder of Invincible City and Invincible City Farms, LLC, Byarm is a standing member of the board of directors of Invincible City Inc. and acting interim Executive Director. Invincible City is focused on improving the standard of living and the social determinants of health for black and brown communities by developing local food systems with benefits beyond food production: job training and education, opening access to markets, and supporting low-income and marginalized communities to increase racial equity. Byarm is also a veteran of the Start-Up space, having opened four restaurant operations.
HEATHLY & SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS: ECOS
A pioneer in green cleaning since 1967, ECOS makes more than 200 environmentally friendly laundry detergents, dish soaps, surface cleaners and hand soaps for household and commercial use. ECOS is a leader in sustainable manufacturing, with carbon neutral, water neutral and Platinum Zero Waste-certified facilities in Parsippany and across the nation. In 2021, ECOS became a climate positive company, restoring more resources than it uses through investments in renewable energy projects and water restoration programs for critically endangered habitats.
HEATHLY & SUSTAINABLE COMMUNITIES: Somerset County Agriculture
Somerset County’s Farmland Preservation Program held roundtables with local farmers, agriculture professionals, county commissioners and the county Agriculture Development Board to determine how to best support local famers, increase sustainability and improve the agricultural economy. As a result of those conversations, the county updated the Farmland Preservation Plan by mass-mailing postcards to all local farmers with links to online information about farmers rights, the preservation program and applications; developing general educational programs, events and outreach tools; and forging relationships with other professional organizations and educational institutions. The county also expanded Ag Day celebrations to reach a wider audience about local farming.
HEALTHY ECOSYSTEMS & HABITATS: Hudson Farm
Hudson Farm operates as a year-round outdoor experience for its members on more than 4,000 acres of land in Sussex County. The farm manages its land voluntarily through its New Jersey-approved Forest Stewardship Plan, along with multiple associated and complementary voluntary conservation projects. This work has provided enormous regional ecological uplift over the years. This year, Hudson Farm voluntarily implemented ecological forestry practices on an annual basis including forest-stand thinning, integrated pest management, reforestation and invasive species controls, as well as stream and water quality restorations, riparian buffer work, wetland restoration and native grassland restorations to benefit various declining wildlife species. From October 2020 to October 2021, Hudson Farm and its partners implemented more than 130 acres and 1.5 miles of habitat restoration/stewardship on its property, as well as wildlife monitoring projects. The results were enhanced biodiversity, improved surface water infiltration, provided critical habitat, controlled soil erosion and sediment runoff, and diversified forest age-class to improve forest resiliency, carbon sequestration and improved nutrient cycling.
WATER RESOURCES: Fred Akers
Fred Akers, administrator for the Great Egg Harbor Watershed Association, has devoted more than 20 years of service to monitoring, assessing and improving water quality in the Great Egg Harbor Watershed. His projects directly address the deeply interconnected issues of stormwater management, land conservation, pollution reduction and habitat protection in the region. Akers’ success comes from his passion for environmental protection, as well as his deep understanding of local issues and communities. Akers continues to build on his successes with continued work on critical projects, research and advocacy to protect New Jersey’s environment.
Note: The winner descriptions are compiled from information provided by the award applicants and/or third-party nominators.