Sunburst Sensors and Climate Smart Missoula
Provided by Sunburst Sensors

A company that swept an international competition for its work measuring one result of carbon emissions is paying it forward at home.

Sunburst Sensors LLC, which won $1.5 million in July for technologies that accurately and affordably measure ocean acidification, is donating $10,000 to give Climate Smart Missoula a jump start. 

Amy Cilimburg, director of Climate Smart, said the newly launched group is honored to be the recipient of Sunburst's donation, and also excited to catalyze change at the local level.

"This donation is crucial seed money as we work to fulfill our mission to be the hub that fosters partnerships and actions to address climate change in our community," Cilimburg said in a statement. "We hope this encourages others in our community to consider being part of climate solutions by sharing their time, innovative ideas, or financial contributions with us."

In the XPRIZE contest, Sunburst developed devices that measure pH in the ocean to help address the "silent crisis" for marine life, a result of carbon dioxide emissions. Here, Climate Smart Missoula also is working to cut CO2 emissions, and inspired Sunburst to donate.

"They're focused on a similar type of thing on a local level, and it just seemed like something we could support without a huge amount of money to make a big difference," Jim Beck, CEO of Sunburst Sensors, said Monday.

Recently formalized, Climate Smart is a project of the Missoula Community Foundation, and it works closely with the city of Missoula, St. Patrick Hospital, the University of Montana, and other area nonprofits and businesses, according to a news release. Its first order of business is to take a community greenhouse gas inventory.

One program already underway aims to bring more solar systems to homes in town. Climate Smart is one partner in "Solarize Missoula," an effort to make solar system installations less costly and less complex.

The group is identifying solar installers – who are typically busy in the summer, but quiet in the fall and winter – along with people who have been interested in solar energy but have questions about it.

"Can I even do this? Do I have enough solar on my property? Do I have enough financing to make it work?" Cilimburg said of some common questions.

The organizers plan to host workshops to address some of those questions, and then link the people who can move forward with installers.

"If it goes well, there's a possibility we could continue this project and expand it," Cilimburg said, noting commercial applications as another idea.

Sunburst founder and UM professor Michael DeGrandpre said such grassroots efforts are critical because of inaction from the power brokers far away.

"We're not getting sufficient action from the top down on this issue, so it's up to cities and states to act on their own," DeGrandpre said in a statement.

According to Beck, all the ideas on Climate Smart Missoula's list are worthy.

"It's not necessarily the last thing we're going to do. It's something we can do right away that seemed worthwhile," Beck said.

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Higher Education Reporter

Higher education / University of Montana reporter for the Missoulian.