When it comes to innovation and creativity, big, coastal cities often get much of the airtime. But some of the most impressive climate solutions emerge from people who live far from the coasts. Some of these innovators are focused on rebuilding their own communities — for instance nudging the regional economy away from mining and toward sustainable business. But for others, Middle America is simply the best and most welcoming place to try out new ideas and pilot new plans.

Every year, the Grist 50 highlights emerging leaders who are working toward a more sustainable and equitable future. These five innovators are relying on the heartland to get us there.

  1. To protect his people’s Maskoke culture and language, Marcus Briggs-Cloud is using natural building techniques to construct an off-the-grid ecovillage on reclaimed ancestral land in what is now Alabama.
  1. By focusing on energy efficiency — how existing structures are maintained and used — Iowa-based Emily Rice helps companies throughout the Midwest reduce energy use and boost their bottom lines.
  1. Inventing ways to get farmers paid for sequestering carbon in the soil and helping growers fund the transition to organic, Colorado’s Phil Taylor is bringing joy back to agriculture.
  1. Jenna Nicholas’ agency, Impact Experience, has brought together funders, investors, and local people in West Virginia to guide economic-renewal projects that include retraining former miners and building an ecotourism hotel.
  1. In Cincinnati, Cam Hardy’s homegrown activism has pushed the bus system to get better — and helped put a new measure on the ballot to generate more than $100 million in new funds.

There are 45 other folks doing great work on our list! Read about all of them on the 2020 Grist 50.

Fix thanks its sponsors. Become one.