Abraham Lincoln once said, “Don’t worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition.”

New Jersey has numerous individuals and organizations more than worthy of recognition for hard work - and innovative ideas - to improve our environment. And, happily, the state has a great program to honor those with outstanding contributions.

Since 2000, the Governor’s Environmental Excellence Awards have shined a spotlight on environmental, academic, business, science, and civic leaders whose actions protect and enhance the Garden State’s environment.

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Eleven recipients for 2012 were recently recognized at a ceremony at the State Museum in Trenton. Most of the notable projects boosted energy efficiency, conserved resources, improved ecosystems or helped protect clean water.

Princeton University was recognized for its commitment to sustainability, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and promoting energy conservation. Key initiatives include solar energy, heat recovery technology, and reducing the number of cars commuting to campus.

The Willow School in Gladstone, one of the state’s greenest, was honored for its model wetland wastewater management system. Rainwater from the roof is used to flush low-flow toilets, and septic water is treated in vegetated wetlands before being returned to the ground.

Drew University was commended for transforming its Madison campus and adjacent 18-acre forest preserve to improve wildlife habitat and biodiversity, and restore crucial ecosystem services.

The City of Linden was recognized for converting a former landfill into the Hawk Rise Sanctuary, a 95-acre preserve providing access to the Rahway River and Arthur Kill. The sanctuary’s trails, viewing stations and educational programs connect visitors to nature and wildlife.

Leonard Berkowitz of the Berkeley Heights Environmental Commission was honored for his longstanding work to reduce the municipality’s carbon footprint, including conducting energy audits of town-owned buildings, installing energy-efficient lighting and discouraging idling cars.

Camden’s SMART Initiative (Stormwater Management and Resource Training) is addressing the city’s flooding and water quality issues through rain gardens, hundreds of tree plantings and water conservation by residents.

The Alder Avenue Middle School in Egg Harbor Township was recognized for reducing energy consumption and integrating studies of the Great Egg Harbor River into its curriculum. The school has outdoor classrooms, a community teaching garden and birdhouses built by students!

Paul Gaffney, president of Monmouth University, led the school’s sustainably efforts. In addition to installing solar panels and coating roofs with a material to reduce energy costs, the university recently added cool incentives to increase recycling.

The South Jersey Transportation Authority was recognized for its ambitious project to map, inspect and maintain 3,100 stormwater structures along 182 lane miles of highway. The authority planted more than 30 acres of wildflowers!

Mannington Mills in Salem, a flooring manufacturer, was honored for its leadership in sustainable practices, including rooftop solar panels, reduced water usage, lower emissions through improved freight operations, and product design using recycled and recyclable materials.

RPM Development Group of Montclair was recognized for affordable housing developments that are pioneering a push toward zero net energy use. Technologies include a solar photovoltaic system for power, a solar collector system for pre-heating water, heat-recovery ventilators and low-flow fixtures.

It’s incredibly inspiring to hear how others have risen to the challenge of making this state we’re in a better place. Congratulations to the 2012 winners, and may they motivate others to excellence!

To read more about the Governor’s Awards, including lists of past winners, visit the state Department of Environmental Protection website at www.nj.gov/dep/eeawards/index.html.

And for more information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.