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Chip Giller '93, founder and president of the online magazine Grist.org, was honored with a $100,000 grant this month by the non-profit Heinz Family Foundation for his work promoting awareness of environmental issues.

Giller, who founded Grist in 1999 to cover environmental topics in a positive, sometimes humorous way, was praised by Teresa Heinz, chairwoman of the foundation, for having taken "traditional environmental journalism and turned it on its head," according to a press release from the organization.

Giller, who now lives in Seattle, said he was "pretty surprised" by the honor, calling it "incredibly humbling." Some people he admires have previously been honored by the foundation, he said, adding that the award was "motivating."

The site, with a self-described mission of "making lemonade out of looming climate apocalypse," bills itself as "a beacon in the smog." It reports having about 800,000 readers a month.

"Of the many things this planet is running out of, sanctimonious tree-huggers ain't one of them," the Web site reads.

Society is moving toward recognizing that these issues are part of our lives, that we have to build sustainable buildings, Giller said.

Giller graduated Brown with an honors degree in environmental studies and attributed his passion for environmentalism to his undergraduate experience.

"The environmental program at Brown is an incredible program," he said, "My Brown experience was a tremendous help. It really helped me to align my passion with what I wanted to do professionally."

While at Brown, he served as a teaching assistant for introductory environmental classes as well as helped to sponsor weekly discussions and talks on different environmental topics.

"Chip has always been passionate about the environment and journalism," said Lisa Hymas, a senior editor at Grist who has worked with Giller for more than decade. "He is interested in covering the environment in a new, compelling way."

Caroline Karp, Giller's senior thesis advisor and a current senior lecturer at the Center for Environmental Studies, remembered Giller for his remarkable writing skills. "Chip continues to be among the ten best writers I have ever worked with at Brown," she wrote in an e-mail to the Herald.

Giller had a "gentle and curious way of talking to people many years older and much different than himself that is perfect for a journalist," she added.

Karp also wrote that she has used Grist as a source for her research and has also suggested it to her students as a research aide and news source.

The writing on Grist employs humor while retaining the most critical views and accurate facts. It attempts to strike a contrast with other — sometimes dreary or depressing — environmental magazines.

Giller "has injected environmental reporting with irreverence and wit, yet without compromising depth and accuracy," Heinz said in the statement.

While there are some readers who complain that humor does not belong in discussion of what they feel are very serious issues, most readers find the light-hearted approach more engaging, Hymas said.

Giller said the seriousness of the issues at stake is never doubted, joking aside. He said he hopes Grist will help "set a green agenda for the country."

Giller plans to direct some of the award to Grist and will also put a portion of the money toward a college fund for his two children.


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