EarthLab Expands 2021 Innovation Grants Program to $450,000

The 50% increase in available funding means more teams will be awarded in this cycle

We are excited to announce that we have increased the total amount of funding available for the 2021 Innovation Grants Program from $300,000 to $450,000. This expansion will enable us to award six teams up to $75,000 this cycle. 

“Scaling our grants program is a key component of our 2021-25 Strategic Plan,” said Ben Packard, EarthLab executive director. “We are grateful to the growing community of EarthLab supporters who believe in our ability to achieve impact through this popular, community-engaged applied research program.” 

This year, the EarthLab Innovation Grants Program is seeking proposals for research at the intersection of climate change and social justice. Projects must show an ability to generate equitable and actionable science and knowledge (i.e., science that is usable and used). Two-page Letters of Intent (LOIs) are due January 27, 2022 at 5 p.m. PST. Learn more about the full program details below.

Announcing the 2021 EarthLab Innovation Grants RFP

We are thrilled to announce the release of the 2021 EarthLab Innovation Grants Program Request for Proposals (RFP). The Innovation Grants Program will invest in teams of community partners and academic researchers and students at the University of Washington (UW) who are interested in developing solutions at the intersection of climate change and social justice. We’re excited to focus of the grants this year to better reflect EarthLab’s strategic vision, mission and priorities.

Goals for the grants program are to fund projects that demonstrate co-creation and partnership between community and UW researchers, interdisciplinary collaboration, action at the intersection of climate (both mitigation and adaptation) and social justice, and the potential for growth of the project or partnership. There is $300,000 available for the current funding cycle, with a maximum budget request of $75,000 per project. Letters of Intent are due January 27, 2022 at 5 p.m. PST

We are hosting an in-person information session on Tuesday, October 5, 2021 from 4-5 p.m. at the Intellectual House, located on the UW Seattle Campus. Additional information sessions for the UW Tacoma and UW Bothell campuses will be held virtually at the end of October.

Learn more, RSVP, and apply

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New UW collaboratory to support equitable and just climate action

Green ways to keep food trucks clean

This story was originally published by UW Bothell

Nearly everyone who has undertaken a heavy-duty cleaning job with a concentrated chemical has likely gasped for air. Your nose, throat and eyes irritated, you realize why product labels recommend ample ventilation and wonder if you might be doing something wrong.

A common and potentially fatal mistake is mixing ammonia and bleach, which produces a deadly gas. “It happens more frequently than you think, especially in our homes,” said Grace Lasker, teaching professor in the University of Washington Bothell’s School of Nursing & Health Studies.

Harsh cleaners also impact the environment when they go down the drain, she said. But while cleanliness is critical, many people don’t realize there are alternative chemicals that are healthier for workers and the planet.


Emily Wigley of Orca Eats inside her food truck / courtesy photo

To bring attention to effective alternatives, experts from the University of Washington, a state agency and a nonprofit formed a team to identify and promote safer cleaning methods, starting with food trucks.

Why food trucks? Imagine how difficult it must be for the operators, working in confined spaces and now cleaning more often because of the coronavirus pandemic. Food trucks also are a small business for some immigrant entrepreneurs who could use help meeting health and safety regulations.

The team received an EarthLab grant to create a toolkit of resources called Clean SHiFT (Safety & Health in Food Trucks). EarthLab is a UW initiative that connects the College of the Environment and other UW units in partnerships that take on environmental challenges. The Clean SHiFT project received $49,000 in a 2019-20 grant, which was extended into this year because of the pandemic. The toolkit officially launched this month in March [suggest “this month”], said Lasker, one of the project leaders.

Others who drove the shift to green cleaning are Nancy Simcox, assistant teaching professor in the UW Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences; Saskia van Bergen, a chemist with the state Department of Ecology; and Aurora Martin, founder of PopUPJustice, a Seattle community-building nonprofit, and a faculty member at Heritage University on the Yakama Indian Reservation in eastern Washington.

Survey says

The team worked with the Washington State Food Truck Association and health departments in King and Yakima counties to reach food-truck operators. Students from the UW in Seattle and Bothell as well as Heritage University conducted a survey of English and Spanish-speaking operators.

The survey found that most food truck operators clean with bleach. Most weren’t aware of alternative products that also meet regulations. Several people with asthma and other respiratory problems expressed interest in less toxic cleaning methods.

“When they are in poorly ventilated food trucks for long periods of time and doing this cleaning, it’s definitely a worker safety issue,” said Lasker. “You have to make change now for the future.”

Toolkit tips

The Clean SHiFT toolkit integrates food safety and occupational health regulations from the state Departments of Health and Labor & Industries. The resources are available on the website. In addition, Clean SHiFT includes a fact sheet, available in English and Spanish, with a six-step protocol to transition to safer chemicals. Clean SHiFT also recommends third-party certifications of health, environmental and performance criteria. Look for Safer Choice, Green Seal, Ecologo, and Design for the Environment on product labels.

Safer chemical ingredients exist, Lasker said, and companies are using them to create new cleaning products. For example, activated hydrogen peroxide (different from the hydrogen peroxide sold in brown bottles in drug stores) is added with surfactants and other ingredients to make a safer disinfectant that schools and hospitals are starting to use. It is effective, especially when used with a microfiber cloth, said Lasker.

Some other disinfectants approved by the Environmental Protection Agency include ingredients such as isopropyl alcohol and citric acid. And, one of the best methods for cleaning is simple soap and water. That is why frequent handwashing is recommended to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19. Soap inactivates the virus by dissolving the fatty membrane that envelops it.

Good food, thoughtfully

Emily Wigley with cleaning supplies in her food truck / courtesy photo

Cleaning is important for customers but only one consideration, said Emily Wigley, owner-operator of Orca Eats food truck on Vashon Island.

“We need to think about the people on the inside of the truck. We also need to consider the earth when we are choosing our products.” said Wigley, a member of the advisory board for the Washington Food Truck Association who supported the Clean SHiFT project.

Orca Eats uses no plastic packaging or utensils, and Wigley grows some of the food she serves in her “food to fender” operation. “Let’s do our best to take care of the people and the earth and make some good food.”


EarthLab and Population Health co-fund pilot grant to improve communication around smoke exposure in rural and Tribal communities

EarthLab and the Population Health Initiative have announced a new pilot research grant award to study how Tribal and non-Tribal communities in the Okanogan River Airshed Emphasis Area (ORAEA) receive and communicate information about smoke exposure.

Due to climate change, wildfires are increasing in frequency and severity across the western United States. While land managers have increasingly been proactive in “fighting fire with fire,” i.e., using prescribed fires to prevent severe wildfires, this means that people in Tribal and rural areas will be exposed to smoke outside of the traditional fire season. Therefore, this project aims to address this with effective risk communication for the potentially affected populations.

EarthLab is proud to co-fund this project with Population Health, a new center at UW that addresses the challenges that arise at the intersection of human health, environmental resilience and social and economic equity. The EarthLab Innovation Grants Program invests in interdisciplinary and community-led projects that develop innovative solutions and strategies to pressing environmental challenges. The 2021-2022 Request for Proposal (RFP) will be announced later this year.

About the Project

Project Title
Characterizing Risk Communication Around Smoke Exposure in Rural and Tribal Communities in the Okanogan River Airshed Emphasis Area

Ernesto Alvarado, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences
Savannah D’Evelyn, Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences (postdoctoral scholar)
Nicole Errett, Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences
Cody Desautel, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation

Project abstract
Wildfires across the western United States are increasing in frequency and severity. To lessen the negative impacts of high severity wildfires on both human and forest health, fuel management strategies such as prescribed fires (Rx fires) are being utilized. Use of Rx fires results in less severe wildfires and thus less severe smoke events. However, managing fire with fire increases the frequency of smoke exposure in rural communities outside of fire season.

To address this balance, we must start with effective risk communication for potentially affected populations. The goal of this project is to describe how tribal and non-tribal communities in the Okanogan River Airshed Emphasis Area (ORAEA) receive and communicate information about smoke exposure.

Through key informant interviews and focus groups, we aim to identify the community and cultural perceptions of smoke exposure and describe its impact on the community. We will partner with representatives from the Natural Resource Division for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation (CNRD), the Colville Environmental Trust Air Quality Program (CETAQP), and Washington Prescribed Fire Council (WPFC) to reach communities on and off the Colville reservation.

By working with these partners, we will describe perceived risk of smoke exposure, improve real-time culturally responsive risk communication, as well as advance and evaluate each community’s outreach goals. This work will set the stage for new and continued community-academic partnerships to develop effective and relevant resources and risk communication to enhance the resilience to, and reduce the disproportionate health risks of, smoke exposure.

View the full slate of Population Health 2021 pilot research grants here

Project to Create Anti-Racism Education Wins Mellon Grant

Cleo Woelfle-Erskine, faculty advisor for EarthLab member organization Future Rivers and assistant professor in the School of Marine & Environmental Affairs, is part of a team of academics that was recently awarded $5 million from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to fund an interdisciplinary, multi-year project to advance anti-racist practices and pedagogy in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine (STEMM).

The Humanities Education for Anti-Racism Literacy (HEAL) in the Sciences and Medicine was awarded to a collaborative team that will be based out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The principle investigators are: Cheryl Bauer-Armstrong (Native Education); Christy Clark-Pujara (Higher Education); Elizabeth Hennessy (Coordinator and Higher Education); R. Justin Hougham (Environmental Education & Equity); Erika Marín-Spiotta (STEM Higher Education); Maxine McKinney de Royston (Learning While Black); Todd Michelson-Ambelang (Libraries); Monica White (Community Engagement); and Cleo Woelfle-Erskine (Native Education). The project team also includes community and Tribal partners in Madison, Wisconsin and elsewhere.

Woelfle-Erskine credits funding and support from the EarthLab Innovation Grants program for his project, Píkyav on the Mid-Klamath River: Peeshkêesh Yáv Umúsaheesh “The River Will Look Good,” as a factor in receiving this new funding.

“Thanks to you all for your early support of this project through the Innovation Grants Program,” said Woelfle-Erskine. “The funding and mentorship you have provided allowed us to make crucial progress this summer and has deepened the collaboration between my lab and Karuk Tribe collaborators, which has resulted in a funding proposal through the Mellon Just Futures Initiative.”

Learn more about the 2020 Innovation Grants program

Learn more about the Mellon Grant

Apply Now: UW Population Health + EarthLab Team Up for Next Round of Pilot Research Grants

For the third year in a row, EarthLab has partnered with the UW Population Health Initiative to offer a pilot research grant of up to $50,000.

The grant is intended to encourage the development of new interdisciplinary collaborations between investigators and community partners for projects that address critical challenges to population health and the disproportionate impact of climate change on health in vulnerable communities. Applications for are due on January 29, 2021.

Timeline for the winter 2021 application period was as follows.

Application Period Opens: January 4, 2021
Application Deadline: January 29, 2021 (11:59 p.m. Pacific)
Awardees Notified: mid March, 2021
Period of Performance: May 1, 2021 – April 30, 2022

Learn more about the RFP and key dates here

Learn more about our previously funded projects:

Ethnoforestry: Applying Traditional Ecological Knowledge for Ecosystem Sustainability on the Olympic Peninsula (2019)

Environmental and Human Health Impacts of a New Invasive Species in Madagascar (2020)

EarthLab’s ‘Voices Unbound’ second season talks of social tensions from COVID-19

This article was originally published in UW News.

Voices Unbound: Enviro-Amplify” is a podcast created by EarthLab and UW Tacoma, and hosted by Robin Evans-Agnew associate professor in the school’s Nursing and Healthcare Leadership Program. The podcast has now published its second season.

“In this series opener we go way-deep into the social tensions of our time,” show notes say, “discussing how racism in law enforcement and governmental responses to the COVID-19 epidemic contribute important environmental threats to communities in our region and elsewhere.”

The podcast also will continue to report on its analysis of answers to questions posed since 2019 about public attitudes toward environmental challenges.

Principal investigators for the work are Evans-Agnew and Christopher Schell, urban ecologist and assistant professor in UW Tacoma’s School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences.

Read an earlier UW Notebook story about this podcast. For more information, contact Evans-Agnew at