OnQ Blog

Sustainability, Innovation and Science: Reflections from the 2014 BSR Conference and Sustainability Hackathon

Nov 13, 2014

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

Qualcomm is a company founded on and driven by invention, and we believe sustainability and innovation go hand in hand. Mobile has an immense potential to improve peoples’ lives—it can improve education and health outcomes, empower women around the globe, enhance resource management and much, much more.

So if you could spend a weekend brainstorming and coding to make a transformational idea a reality, what would it be?

That's the question BSR asked the New York engineering and sustainability communities Nov. 1-2, in conjunction with the second annual BSR Conference Sustainability Hackathon, sponsored by Qualcomm Incorporated. 

BSR is an organization dedicated to working with business – its global network includes 250 member companies – to create a just and sustainable world.

This year, the Urban Future Lab provided space in Brooklyn with panoramic views of the New York City skyline for the event, and almost 30 innovators arrived on Saturday – some with friends, some with ideas, and some (critically) with engineering expertise to contribute to solutions.

By the time the final presentations commenced at 6 p.m. the following evening, 11 different projects had been completed for consideration on a diverse range of sustainability topics including farmers’ markets in New York and recycling networks across the developing world.

The preliminary winners advanced to the final round at the BSR Conference, where they presented their projects last Thursday morning for judging by our own Jennifer Arrowsmith, Senior Manager of Social Responsibility; Emily Wheeler, Deputy Director of NYC ACRE (the Urban Future Lab’s incubator); and BSR conference attendees, via the conference mobile app.

The results?

Of the three finalists, the winning team was “Real-Time Industrial Symbiosis in Exchange (RISE)”. They developed a platform for businesses to sell the industrial waste that they might otherwise pay to dispose to other businesses that can use it as a raw material. For example, a brewery may have spent grain from beer processing; it could use this platform to sell the grain to a granola bar manufacturer where the spent grain becomes a primary ingredient.

“Command Incident Ecosystem,” a duo that met over the weekend, took second place for their app that would allow New Yorkers to text, via their smart phones, geotagged photos and information to first responders all over the city. This would reduce call center costs, cut GHG emissions from trucks driving around to locate an incident, and allow direct status updates through a direct line of communication between citizens and firemen, utilities repairmen, medical responders and police officers.

Third place went to a hardware hack by a husband-and-wife team called FoodE that would allow people to share uneaten food via a fun, interactive temperature-controlled kiosk to reduce the 141 trillion calories of food that go to waste each year in the U.S.

And who knows where these teams will take their ideas? One year later, team WattTime, last year’s first-place team, founded a nonprofit organization to continue working on their winning app and other projects. They recently partnered with University of California at Merced to deploy new “smart plugs” in the university’s electric fleet that enable the vehicles to automatically switch to clean energy when they sense a surplus on the power grid.

The hackathon is my favorite part of the conference: as a sustainability professional, it's one thing to talk about transformational change and another to empower people to create it. I'm continually impressed by the passion and inventiveness of the individuals that make this event a success.

Photo with Bill Nye the Science Guy

Then again, I'd be remiss if I didn't give a sincere tip of my hat to my childhood hero Bill Nye the Science Guy, who closed the conference Thursday night with a profound call to action for the practitioners in the room to save the world (but more specifically the humans in it) from climate change—while the inspiration from the room can’t possibly be conveyed, you can get a taste of the science here

We love science too, Bill, and we are committed to help.


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Elisabeth Best

Sustainability and Wireless Reach Program Manager