Rural Action’s True Pigments environmental justice initiative has been named one of 10 national awardees of the 2019 J.M. Kaplan Fund Innovation Prize.

The J.M.K. Innovation Prize is awarded biennially to 10 nonprofit and mission-driven for-profit organizations tackling America’s most pressing challenges through social innovation – defined as those pilot projects, new organizations or nascent initiatives that involve a certain amount of measured risk but which may ultimately lead to large-scale, transformative results. Each awardee receives up to $175,000 over three years and participates in a learning collaborative of fellow innovators to support their journey as change agents.

The True Pigments initiative brings acid mine drainage impacted streams back to life by removing iron oxide and processing it into pigment using an innovative technology. The pigment created is a valuable commodity that can be sold to pay for the process, create jobs in rural communities, and fund additional watershed restoration projects.

“Currently, iron pigments are primarily mined or produced in an energy-intensive chemical process, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and causing additional environmental destruction,” said Michelle Shively, director of project development at True Pigments and watershed coordinator at Rural Action. “The vision of our social enterprise is to change that equation and contribute to environmental restoration.”

One of the Prize application reviewers, Tensie Whelan, director of NYU Stern School of Business’s Center for Sustainable Business, said, “True Pigments has a proven technology, large potential environmental and social impact, a good scale-up plan, and a self-sustaining, credible team.”


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