For the 12th year in a row, the Environmental Protection Agency recognized and awarded 11 U.S. projects and companies working toward clean air. The Clean Air Excellence Awards honor programs that use innovation to protect the environment and the health of Americans, educate the public, serve local communities and boost the economy. Recommended by the Clean Air Act Advisory Committee in 2000, the awards highlight projects providing sustainable models that can be followed by other groups around the country.

This year’s winners hail from all over the United States, including red states like Texas and Arizona, proving that environmentalism doesn’t have to be tied up in politics. So who won this year? A full list from the EPA is available here, but these are my personal favorites:

  • Dallas Area Habitat For Humanity, Frazier Courtyard Homes – In an effort led by Habitat, the Fair Park Partnership with Inner-city Community Development Corporation, the Dallas Housing Authority, the City of Dallas, and the Dallas Sustainable Skyline Initiative, 55 acres of crime-ridden, dilapidated public housing were transformed into a sustainable, healthy community of 40 affordable, LEED certified single-family homes. These homes not only save about one ton of carbon dioxide pollution per year each, they also save their owners up to 22 percent on energy costs. The success has led Dallas Habitat to build all of its homes to LEED standards.
  • Frito-Lay, Incorporated-Beloit, GHG Emission Reduction Projects – Corn chips don’t exactly conjure images of environmentalism, but this Wisconsin facility has committed itself to a five-year sustainability strategy to focus on cutting greenhouse gas emissions through technological advances and employee engagement. Through a multi-pronged approach, the facility has cut costs on heat, electricity and fuel. One particularly stunning achievement: less than 1 percent of its waste ends up in landfills. The building became the first food-manufacturing site in the state of Wisconsin to receive the LEED Gold certification for existing buildings. Hopefully other food manufacturers will follow Frito-Lay’s example.
  • Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA), Free Zoo & Trolley Too! – In an effort to encourage use of public transportation, RIPTA offered this program from May to September 2011 providing complimentary environmentally friendly bus service to the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, R.I. The number of passengers on the hybrid/diesel red trolley doubled on just the first day of the promotion.

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