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EarthLab funds first round of Innovation Grants

Providing resources for new approaches to environmental problem solving is the focus of the first EarthLab Innovation Grants funding. Projects funded in this first round of grants will support big ideas with high potential for impact and the ability to motivate change.

“I was blown away by the breadth of topics, the quality of the proposals, and the depth of engagement with community partners,” says Phil Levin, chair of the Innovation Grants review committee. “It was a great opportunity for me to really see the creativity of the faculty, staff and students here at UW, and I was excited to see  EarthLab serve as a spark for some amazingly innovative and impactful projects.”

During this round of funding, persistent themes emerged across proposed projects. These included the urgent need to partner with the communities that are most impacted by climate and environmental change and the importance of co-creating knowledge that is both usable and used. Project teams included faculty from a range of disciplines at the University of Washington, including public health, global health, environmental and occupational health sciences, engineering, environmental and forest sciences, and more. Partners from beyond the university included city, county and state agencies, local and regional non-profit organizations, and other universities.

“We were encouraged by the strong response to the request for proposals. There was a clear need for funding that supports collaborative, transdisciplinary projects,” says Anastasia Ramey, Grants Program Lead for EarthLab. “We are looking forward to supporting the grantees in this work. ”

The Innovation Grants Program, a signature initiative of EarthLab, seeks to achieve numerous outcomes. These include increasing capacity across the UW for innovative transdisciplinary scholarship, deepening engagement with diverse community partners, and funding research projects that address co-defined problems from multiple perspectives. The goal with all funded projects is to generate knowledge aimed at environmental problem solving that is useable and used, ultimately helping support peoples’ lives and livelihoods.

During this first year, the Innovation Grants Program will focus on first-mile funding to support convening and building teams in novel, sometimes high-risk, high-reward directions that may take a variety of forms. This funding will give teams the chance to test a concept, scope out a project or take the first steps in developing a larger team to tackle a collaborative project.

EarthLab leaders hope to learn from this first year of funding, and are approaching it as a pilot. From it, they hope to learn what investments are most effective and then apply that knowledge to future investments.

Funded Projects

Assessing Climate Driven Zoonotic Disease Risk in Washington State
In the State of Washington, West Nile virus, valley fever, hantavirus, and leptospirosis are a significant concern. This project will explore the relationships between climate conditions and these climate-sensitive disease threats to community health in Washington. A project goal includes generating seasonal maps that identify high-risk conditions for each pathogen, which can be an important tool for determining, managing and preventing risk of human and animal infections.
Principal Investigator: Cory Morin, Department of Global Health

Clean Safety & Health in Food Trucks Program (SHiFT)
This project brings together a multidisciplinary team to work with the food truck industry to promote best cleaning practices and technical assistance to shift toward safer chemical alternatives. The project team will include diverse and traditionally underserved communities, and small business owners not previously engaged in safe chemical transition and hazard awareness campaigns. A new toolkit will be introduced to food truck owners/operators/workers and other stakeholders so they can reduce their use of chemicals, their hazards to living systems and the risks to our waterways and the environment.
Lead Co-Principal Investigator: Nancy Simcox, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences

Digitizing Holistic Environmental Studies
This project will collaborate with local community leaders and youth to integrate a Native American knowledge forming process to script digital stories. Stories will be action-oriented and visualize sustainable holistic solutions for complex and multi-disciplinary environmental problems. This project aims to develop a tool and platform to communicate and inform decision-makers what the intervention points of local environmental problems are by contextualizing the interconnectedness among multiple information streams.
Lead Co-Principal Investigator: Kristiina Vogt, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences

From Risk to Resilience: Connecting Communities to Coastal Hazards through Interactive and Immersive Design
A collaborative team of researchers, including the UW’s Climate Impacts Group, recently released new projections of sea level rise for Washington state. In order to increase awareness and use of this science by Washington communities and decision-makers, the Climate Impacts Group, UW Reality Lab, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) and Seattle-based data visualization company Tableau have teamed up to create two different interactive data visualization tools – an interactive tool of sea-level projections for 171 different coastal sites in Washington state, and creating several public-facing virtual reality experiences that showcase community-relevant impacts of future sea level rise to 2150.
Principal Investigator: Heidi Roop, UW Climate Impacts Group

Voices Unbound: Amplifying Perspectives of Disenfranchised Communities to Provoke Environmental Change
A considerable gap exists among the discourses of those who implement environmental policies and the underrepresented communities that disproportionally experience environmental issues. This project seeks to transform discourses of policymakers by directly incorporating underrepresented community members’ voices. Enviro-postcards will be distributed to communities that ask “what environmental challenges are most important to you” and “how are you coping with or surviving these challenges?” Concurrently, the project will pilot in-person science booths and a podcast series to amplify community voices. This will culminate in an eco-art gallery open to the public that will prominently showcase community perspectives and promote a novel blueprint for inclusive environmental engagement.
Co-Principal Investigators: Christopher J. Schell, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, UW Tacoma; Robin A. Evans-Agnew, School of Nursing and Healthcare Leadership, UW Tacoma

In addition to the Innovation Grants, EarthLab jointly funded one award addressing environmental resilience in partnership with the University of Washington Population Health Initiative. The funded project, Ethnoforestry: Applying Traditional Ecological Knowledge for Ecosystem Sustainability on the Olympic Peninsula, focuses on applying traditional ecological knowledge of local people to forest management on public lands. Learn more on the Population Health website.

More information will be shared about the funded projects in coming weeks.