Tommy Skinner and Liv Rollinger

Petoskey Student Wins Iconic Michigan Environmental Award—Youngest Ever

September 1, 2023 |

I am thrilled to present a closer look at Tommy Skinner, the recipient of the 2023 Petoskey Prize for Environmental Leadership. One of Michigan’s iconic environmental awards, it is presented annually by our friends at Lansing-based Michigan Environmental Council. Since 2021, I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with Tommy and his fellow members of the Sustainability Club, witnessing their relentless dedication to siting a solar array on the Petoskey school district property. This visionary endeavor not only paves the way for accessible clean energy but also offers invaluable learning experiences for students across the district.

With a rich history of leading and participating in sustainability and environmental initiatives, both within his community and personal life, Tommy is truly an inspiration. His unwavering commitment has rightfully earned him this prestigious honor. In our conversation, Tommy delves into the significance of winning the award, shares insights for fellow youth advocates, and provides a glimpse into his upcoming endeavors on his journey toward building a more sustainable and resilient future for all of us.

Groundwork: Could you share with us what drove your personal commitment to becoming involved in the Sustainability Club’s efforts to promote renewable energy within Petoskey Public Schools? What motivated you to take on this important environmental project?

Tommy: Environmental stewardship has been a long-standing interest of mine. Growing up and hearing news about the impacts of climate change, I felt there was a fundamental disconnect between what was getting reported and what I was able to see being done about it. The way we have been treating our environment clashes strongly with ideals of personal responsibility, empathy, and fairness. Our society sits perched atop an often ignored network of species, ecosystems, and environmental factors that make our way of life possible. As we burden these ecosystems and rapidly alter environmental conditions we destabilize the foundation upon which sits all we have built. While here in Michigan with our relative wealth, abundant fresh water, and climate-stabilizing lakes, we are not immediately feeling these impacts, many less privileged areas of the world are paying for a lifestyle they haven’t lived.

Groundwork: Organizing the Sustainability Club’s solar initiative demands collaboration and purpo