Think you need a close presidential run and a Oscar-winning eco-documentary to get recognized for your environmental activism? Well, those wins may help if you’re after a Nobel Prize, but even grassroots activists can get big kudos for their local, meaningful efforts with the Goldman Prize.

Awarded to grassroots environmental activists, the Goldman Prize seeks out less-famous names who are nonetheless green heroes in their communities. And the award is not just a nice pat on the back. In addition to international recognition and visibility for themselves and their environmental causes, winners get $150,000 “to pursue their vision of a renewed and protected environment.”

Each year, six awards are given to activists from each of six inhabited continental regions. The North American winner this year? That would be Hilton Kelley of Port Arthur, Texas, who educated himself on environmental health issues after seeing his hometown environmentally ravaged by nearby petrochemical and hazardous waste facilities. In fact, when Motiva announced plans to expand to create the largest petrochemical refinery in the country in 2006, Kelley’s advocacy got the company to not only reduce emissions but also make an agreement “that provided health coverage for the residents of the West Side for three years and established a $3.5 million fund to help entrepreneurs launch new businesses in the community,” according to the Goldman Prize website. Here’s a moving video about his work:

Kelley isn’t the only 2011 Goldman Prize winner who fought against industrial pollution in his community. Indonesia’s Prigi Arisandi also earned his award by fighting dirty companies — in his case, the manufacturing facilities and factories that were polluting his city's river — on which 3 million people depended for clean water. Here’s Arisandi’s story:

Other winners include a rhino conservationist in Africa, a renewable power advocate in Germany, an island defender in Russia, and an anti-mining activist in El Salvador. Read and watch their powerful stories on the Goldman Prize website.

Also on MNN: 12 African-Americans who are making a green difference

Yes, grassroots citizen activists can win big green fights
The Goldman Prize awards local, grassroots environmentalists who become heroes in their communities -- and achieve big green goals that benefit many.