Well-known cultural anthropologist and author Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” These words aptly describe the work of 14 Michiganders who came together in 2015 to create the Governor’s Energy Excellence Awards (GEEA) — a program designed to recognize individuals and organizations that have made implementing energy-efficient practices part of their everyday lives.

“While the changes that each of our winners made may seem small, when you put them all together they make a huge difference,” says Kait Wyckoff, operations manager for Michigan Saves. “These people — as well as the steering committee that conceived of and created the awards program — are altering Michigan’s energy landscape, not only through their own actions, but by inspiring others with their incredible dedication and drive.”

Take, for example, Mike and Jackie Miller, 2015 winners of the Best Residential Project award. An energy audit of their early 1900s farmhouse revealed a number of concerns, including a fuel oil furnace that posed serious risks to their health and safety. With Ecotelligent Homes and Michigan Saves financing, the Millers were able to replace their dangerous furnace with an ENERGY STAR-rated geothermal heat pump. They also made important lighting, air sealing and insulation improvements.

“Both Jackie and I are passionate about energy efficiency,” says Mike Miller. “Winning the award just reinforced everything we believe in.”

Fortunately for the energy community, the Millers aren’t shy about sharing their experiences with others.

“We talk a lot about the improvements we’ve made and the benefits we’re seeing — a more comfortable home, which Jackie loves, and a roughly three-quarter reduction in total energy costs, which I love.”

Over the years, the Millers’ friends and family have come to know the finer points of geothermal heating and cooling, and the beautiful crystal award that is proudly displayed on Jackie and Mike’s mantelpiece serves as a positive reminder of their past efficiency improvements and those they dream of making in the future.

“The award is definitely a focal point of our home,” Miller explains.

Jim MacInnes, CEO of Crystal Mountain, experienced similar feelings of pride, support and hope after being named 2015 Innovator of the Year.

“It was a tremendous honor to be recognized among so many leaders who share a passion and vision for our state’s energy future,” says MacInnes. “Michigan has always been a place of innovation, and the creativity and dedication of each nominee inspires a great sense of optimism.”

Under Jim’s guidance, the ski, golf and spa resort took numerous steps to improve its sustainability and energy efficiency, including upgrading the lighting in lodging units and conference spaces, purchasing wind energy credits to cover the power used by the chairlifts, investing in more efficient snowmaking technology and using demand response programming to reduce on-peak electricity loads from the snowmaking process.

“[Winning] the award was a wonderful affirmation of the work we’ve been doing for over three decades,” says MacInnes. “It’s also a reminder of our responsibility not only to seek out more sustainable ways to operate … our business, but to advocate so that others understand its value and importance.”

Contractor of the Year award winner Brad Bartholomew feels the same way.

“Being honored was really good for the culture of our company,” he explains. “It shows our guy who’s up in an attic on a 90-degree day that his hard work matters. We don’t do this work to win an award, but it sure is nice — and very humbling — that someone noticed our efforts and how our company is contributing to the greater good.”

Bartholomew is a third-generation heating, ventilation and air-conditioning contractor working in his family’s business, Bartholomew Heating and Cooling/Energy Saving Services. Since 2011, his company has helped more than 1,200 customers submit applications for energy-efficiency programs sponsored by Consumers Energy. These projects reduced residential natural gas use by more than 121,000 MCF (thousands of cubic feet) and lowered residential electricity usage by more than 10,000 megawatt hours. Perhaps more important, because of their improvements, Bartholomew’s customers now receive 35 percent higher energy savings than the typical Consumers Energy Home Performance program participant.

“I love looking at these GEEA winners — along with the other nominees, finalists and winners — and thinking about how their collective efforts are impacting energy conservation in the state,” says Wyckoff. “One person, one project and one organization at a time, we’re establishing Michigan as a national leader in energy-efficient practices.”

Each year, winners are selected from a pool of more than 100 nominees, which are narrowed down to 24 finalists by the GEEA Steering Committee. Then, the governor’s office selects eight winners — the individuals, farms, businesses and nonprofits whose innovative projects best showcase their commitment to making smart energy choices that result in impressive energy savings. The nomination process starts in late spring, selections are made in early summer and the winners are announced either in late summer or early fall at an exclusive, invitation-only event.

When asked what advice he would share with 2016’s winners, Miller says, “Follow your passion. Don’t stop with the project that got you recognized. Keep going; take it to the next level.”

MacInnes agrees with Miller and believes that such improvements are important for Michigan’s growth and prosperity.

I would encourage everyone to harness their enthusiasm to encourage others to explore and adopt [energy-efficient] practices because they are absolutely critical to the future of our state’s economy and environment.”

Bartholomew tips his hat to the steering committee that created the awards.

“I applaud the people who thought of this, who developed the rigorous process to select the winners and the impact they’re having on the state,” he says. “This has brought much-deserved recognition to the industry and to those people who are doing the right thing to make a difference.”

To learn more about the GEEA, please visit mienergyexcellence.org.