Climate Quest finalists range from meat processing to mindfulness

by Jill Sakai

The Climate Quest competition to spur innovative climate change solutions is down to a field of five.

At the Climate Quest Concept Pitch on September 19, 18 teams presented their ideas to a panel of investors and entrepreneurs, who rated the ideas on many factors including creativity, scalability, and potential impact.

The panel selected five teams to advance to the next round of the competition. Climate Quest is led by the UW–Madison Office of Sustainability in partnership with the Global Health Institute, Wisconsin Energy Institute, and Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and focuses on developing practical, multi-disciplinary approaches with likely society-wide impact.

“These projects are a constructive response to the dilemma we find ourselves in. Climate Quest is a way for all of us to go beyond debating whether climate change is happening or assigning blame, and moving the process forward by engaging the community in developing solutions,” says lead Climate Quest organizer Darin Harris.

The finalists are:

The Dionysus Project

Team members: Bartlett Durand (lead), Michael Gurin, Sean Murdock, Russ Conser, Peter Byck, Anthony Michaels, Teresa Forst, Patrick Michaels, Geoffrey Steinback

Additional advisers: Allen Williams, Bill Niman, Nicolette Hahn Niman, Brian Bradley, Timothy Zauche, Steve Wille

The Dionysus Project is a re-creation of the beef industry to create a closed-loop, carbon-neutral and energy-efficient model centered on a “human-scale” slaughterhouse paired with a digester, full waste stream management, and process and energy efficiencies to dramatically reduce the carbon and energy waste typical in the industrial meat model.


Team members: Keari Bell-Gawne (lead), Jonathan Elmergreen, Dennis Ramirez

EcoMotion is a game-styled mobile app that increases social motivation to combat climate change by encouraging individuals to make behavioral and lifestyle choices that reduce their personal carbon footprint.

Improving Global Dairy Production in the Face of Climate Change

Team members: Warren Porter (lead), Paul Mathewson, and Matthew Axler

This project will provide online and mobile access to a tool that allows users to assess climate change impact on milk production and identify environmental or livestock changes that can improve milk production under current or future climate conditions.


Team members: Rachel Bergmans, Valerie Stull

MIGHTi is exploring microlivestock farming – production of edible insects – as a means to cultivate an inexpensive and low-environmental-impact nutrient source that will be sustainable in a changing climate, while simultaneously mitigating food insecurity and empowering women in developing areas such as rural Zambia.

Mindful Climate Action

Team members: Bruce Barrett (lead), Carmen Alonso, Mary Checovich, Bob Gillespie, Maggie Grabow, Cathy Middlecamp, Margaret Mooney, Evan Moss, Kristi Rietz, Leah Samson-Samuel, Julia Yates

Additional advisers: Steve Ackerman, Richard Davidson, Mark Johnson, Ken Kushner, Sonya Newenhouse, Dave Rakel, Dick Smith, Jon Temte

This project combines mindfulness-based stress reduction training with education on climate change, energy use, and carbon footprints to create a program that will stimulate people to adopt more sustainable behaviors and lifestyles.


Each advancing team will receive a planning grant to produce a full proposal and proof of concept for the final Climate Quest event later this year. The winners will be supported in implementing their solutions.

“Although we had to pick finalists, this is not about winners and losers,” Harris says, adding that many of the non-advancing teams are also continuing to pursue their projects. “The main point of this competition is to get people started. This was an opportunity to help nucleate ideas and launch them into potentially effective solutions.”

The review panel included:

  • John Holton, Chairman and President of JWS Foundation
  • John Nelson, Managing Director and CTO of Global Infrastructure Asset Management
  • Tom Olson, Chief Investment Officer – Private Markets at UW-Foundation
  • Ulice Payne, President of Addison-Clifton, LLC
  • Ben Ryan, Senior Manager of Business Systems and Cost Engineering at SunPower
  • Julie Van Cleave, Chief Investment Officer at UW-Foundation