2024 Environmental Champions - Connecticut

Congratulations to our 2024 Award Winners

On June 1, 2024, Aquarion Water Company celebrated the five winners of Connecticut's 2024 Aquarion Environmental Champion Awards during a ceremony at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo. Annually, the Environmental Champion Awards recognize organizations and individuals in the large and small business, non-profit, adult, and student categories.

Aquarion's 2022 Environmental Champion Award winners posing for a group photo

Large Business Category

M&T Bank – Bridgeport, CT

Founded in 1856, M&T Bank has a long history of community-focused banking. It offers personal, business, and commercial products and financing solutions to residents and companies across the Eastern US.

M&T Bank is a company that invests in its people, fostering prosperous and inclusive communities, and preserving our planet. Caring for the planet is a core element in fulfilling M&T’s purpose of making a difference in people’s lives. In 2023, M&T made $671 million dollars in environmental sustainable loans and investments, reduced its electricity consumption by 23% year over year, completed 60% of its one-billion-dollar commitment to renewable energy projects, and provided $1.1 million in M&T charitable environmental contributions.

In September of last year, M&T and the Trust for Public Land hosted a round table for Bridgeport-based businesses and community leaders to discuss the revival of the city’s waterfront, which, at the time, was 70% inaccessible to the public. This collaboration resulted in the proposal of a 20-mile trail to make Bridgeport’s shoreline and the Long Island Sound more accessible to the community.

In 2023, M&T also launched enterprise-wide engagement initiatives for Earth Month and Energy Awareness Month. For Earth Month, M&T leveraged Ecochallenge.org, an educational platform that helps participants develop more sustainable and eco-friendly habits. All told, the group organized 51 volunteer and educational events throughout the year.

Additionally, the bank launched an internal Sustainable Communities speaker series to bring awareness to equality, equity, and justice for climate resilience. This programming offered employees opportunities to learn about and connect with community organizations and partners, collaborating with the public and private sectors to scale climate resilience for sustainable communities across its footprint.

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HMTX logo

Non-Profit Category

Planet New Canaan – New Canaan, CT

Established in 2016, Planet New Canaan is a non-partisan group that is committed to environmental awareness and improving the town’s sustainability.

Some of the organization’s environmental initiatives include TreeCycle and Pumpkins for Livestock, which tackle the annual issue of holiday waste by sending used Christmas trees to be mulched and spread along hiking trails, and old jack-o-lanterns to feed livestock at no cost to local farmers. Planet New Canaan estimates that that TreeCycle has diverted more than 28,000 pounds from landfills and incinerators to date, and in 2023, 15,000 pounds of pumpkins were distributed to farms in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Plant New Canaan’s planting initiative raises funds to purchase and plant native trees throughout open space in New Canaan. The project, with the help local residents and the town’s DPW, replaces dead or damaged trees to provide better shade and enhance natural habitats. Multiple cleanup events have also greatly improved the community while involving local youth and community groups.

Additionally, Planet New Canaan’s Food Scrap Collection program receives over 800 pounds of food scraps from residents per week, which are collected and transported to an industrial compost site. It aims to bolster this program significantly by investing the grant money from the Environmental Champions Award toward purchasing an EcoRich500 industrial composter. This machine will more than quadruple the amount of food scraps composted per day and will significantly decrease carbon emissions.

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Connecticut River Conservancy logo

Midsize Business Category

Earth Animal – Southport, CT

A “B Corp-Certified" company, Earth Animal was founded in 1979 by Dr. Bob and Susan Goldstein with the goal of improving the well-being of companion animals. B Corp-Certified companies are legally duty bound to report on and balance shareholder interests with environmental, social, and governance performance.

Since its inception, the Earth Animal has made tremendous strides in reducing the pet industry’s environmental impact. As a certified plastic-neutral company and a founding donor and signatory of the Pet Sustainability Coalition’s Packaging Pledge, Earth Animal is 95% of the way to its goal of transitioning all plastic packaging to recyclable, refillable, or compostable materials by 2025. Sustainability is one of its core and guiding values, and it’s part of their DNA. While sustainability has become a business imperative today, it has been at the heart of Earth Animal since the very beginning.

In 2018, the company formalized its promise to use 1% of annual net sales to invest in a more sustainable future for the Earth and all her animals, and support mission-driven organizations that need it most. Since then, Earth Animal has invested nearly $1 million dollars toward environmental impact initiatives and donated another million in monetary and product donations to purpose-driven, non-profit organizations.

For Earth Month, the company sponsored a beach cleanup in partnership with rePurpose Global which resulted in the removal of 50,000 lbs. of plastic from the coast of Colombia where humpback whales migrate to have their babies.

The company has also integrated sustainable sourcing standards, developed a plant-based food and treat line, and worked with local energy companies to transition each of its locations to renewable energy sources. Earth Animal’s “From the Seed” food was the only food nominated in the Sustainability category at this year’s 2024 Global Pet Expo, where we received an award for Best in Show.

Earth Animal has made incredible strides in pioneering a more holistic, humane, and sustainable way of enhancing quality of life for animals, people, and the earth.

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Jones Family Farms logo

Adult Category

Betsy Graham – Ledyard, CT

Betsy Graham serves as a passionate and avid board member on the Ledyard Conservation Commission – an advisory body for the conservation and regulation of Ledyard’s natural resources.

She also holds a board position at the Alliance for the Mystic River Watershed, a group formed to foster a community-wide collaboration in the development of a watershed resiliency action plan for the four towns and two tribal nations in the watershed. She is helping to write grants for the Alliance to develop programs to educate the public on the importance of protecting the waters of southeastern Connecticut, create a water quality testing program to assist in recognizing and resolving water quality impairments in the watershed, and to develop a CT State boat launch stewardship program to monitor for inadvertent introduction of aquatic invasive plants.

Betsy has also been a member of the Lantern Hill Valley Association for more than 40 years, serving in multiple positions including president.

Some of her personal conservation efforts include working with Save the Sound and property owners to bring a fishway to Long Pond to restore fish habitats for Alewife and other fish. Working with the Ledyard Parks and Recreation, Betsy also opened up a portion of her waterfront property to host an educational water program for middle school children.

When she’s not advocating for watershed conservation, she pulls invasive plants from hiking trails, collects litter along waterways, and takes water samples for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Betsy’s goal is “to keep the water as healthy as possible” and educate others about the importance of our water sources. She intends to give the $5,000 grant she won from the Environmental Champion Awards to the Alliance for the Mystic River Watershed to implement a water testing program within the freshwater watershed.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal with Diane Lauricella

Student Category

Nathaniel Goldschmidt – West Hartford, CT

Nathaniel Goldschmidt is a student at Hall High School in West Hartford and an Eagle Scout whose passion for environmentalism has created a lasting impact on his community.

As the president of Hall High School’s Environmental Club, he ran a small farm and compost program, as well as a can and bottle program – both of which diverted more than 325 lbs. of waste from landfills to date.

Outside of school, he organized a town-wide Environmental Night, drawing nearly 500 attendees and more importantly, 300 pledges to reduce waste and advocate for a stronger environmental future. Nathaniel also led a team of 40 volunteers on project to build seating in Westmoor Park to increase accessibility and encourage public engagement in the Park’s vital conservation efforts.

Determined to do more, Nathaniel secured a student position on West Hartford’s sustainability commission, where he is a part of the Waste Working Group. This group is currently working to cut West Hartford’s waste production by over 50% and focused on earning Gold Status from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. So far, the program has diverted over 115,000 pounds of food scraps and is expected to increase once the full rollout is complete.

As a young adult, Nathaniel has already accomplished a great deal for the environment and his community, and we are eager to see what he takes on next in his fight for a more sustainable future.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal with Hilary Holmgren

View Past Winners

See our list of past Environmental Champion Award winners.

View Winners

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