What price would you pay to help humanity? For former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Genesis Prize Foundation, $1 million dollars aptly foots the bill. Launched last week, the Genesis Generation Challenge aims to identify and provide seed-money for innovative projects to address the world’s toughest challenges. Ten awards of US$100,000 will be given to the engineers, artists, scientists and business people that can turn their ideas into scalable solutions that demonstrate significant impact in their particular issue area.
The competition will turn passion into reality for 10 winning teams connecting them to mentors and opportunities to convene and learn from one another. Benefits exist even for those teams that do not win; they will become part of an active network of forward-thinking and connected individuals from whom they can receive feedback and grow their ideas.
Monetary incentive aside, mentorship from politician, businessman and philanthropist Michael Bloomberg is worth its weight.
“Competitions can provide the incentives and framework to help innovative ideas surface, so we created the Genesis Generation competition to empower young people who want to make the world a better place,” Bloomberg said. “The competition will spur collaboration across borders and regions, and it will encourage young people to find new and better ways to tackle our most pressing challenges.”
The Internet has arguably taken over our lives. In as little as 25 years, the magnitude of its impact and influence on the way our society interacts with technology, money, people and businesses is astonishing to say the least.
A Pew Research study released earlier this year reveals that more than 87 percent of American adults use some form of the Internet, whether through email, their mobile device or directly from their computers. Children aren’t trailing too far behind these statistics, and it won’t be long before they’re outwitting us in the digital space.
If we thought that we were a generation of highly-adept, technologically-savvy Internet-dominating adults, think again.
Increasingly, children are becoming the top purveyors of new media. Common Sense Media‘s fall 2013 report, Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America, found that more than half (52 percent) of children ages 0 to 8 now have access to newer mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, and 53 percent of 2- to 4-year-olds have used a computer.
Forty-seven percent of American teenagers are reported to own a smartphone that often serves as a primary Internet access point across socioeconomic status.
With the omnipresence of the Internet, parents must be increasingly aware and armed with the tools to keep their children safe online.
I spoke with Rebecca Randall, vice president of education programs at Common Sense Media — a partner of Symantec security systems — to get her thoughts and tips on how parents can prepare and protect their digitally-connected kids.
Can good design improve the health of the public?
This is the question rattling the brains of architects and urban planners as they convene frequently at conferences to trade best practices on helping cities to recover from the sins of post-industrial buildings by leveraging design as a mitigating cure-all to detrimental health statistics plaguing communities around the world.
For Thomas Fisher, professor of architecture and dean of the University of Minnesota, design is capable of serving as a means through which we build healthier environments and influence healthy human behavior.
“It’s not just keeping people safe or meeting the building codes or fire codes, it is really a responsibility about keeping populations healthy,” Fisher told Fast Company.
Tech entrepreneurs are trading in their Google Glasses to try their hand at urban farming in the most unlikely of places. If these disruptive entrepreneurs had it their way, local and fresh food would be grown indoors year-round, providing entire communities and businesses with delicious produce without restriction. Another perk: Crops aren’t at risk of being destroyed by a hurricane, drought or other unpredictable natural disaster.
Surprisingly, high-tech urban farms are popping up around the world in every imaginable space from old warehouses in the Netherlands, to semi conductor factories in Japan and even on the roofs of commercial buildings in Brooklyn. In these futuristic farms, often called vertical and hydroponic farms, you’ll be more apt to find copious LED lighting and smartphone-controlled water meters in lieu of soils and fertilizers.
New York City-based Gotham Greens runs several rooftop greenhouse farms with state-of-the-art climate control and hydroponic growing systems in Brooklyn. They recently opened a 20,000-square-foot farm atop a newly built Whole Foods Market, in which they grow and deliver fresh produce sold in the store. Gotham Greens doesn’t use soil for plant growing, instead they use a hydroponic system of sunlight, oxygen and CO2 that miraculously yields about 20 times what could be cultivated on land, and with about a tenth of the water of conventional agriculture.
The race for big oil companies to cut greenhouse gas emissions is fierce. As zero-emissions solutions from renewable energies and technologies begin to set new expectations for energy production, oil companies are being called to accelerate their environmental efficiencies and, more importantly, compete with foreign oil distributors.
In order to snuff out the competition, Canadian producers are turning to innovative solutions to spur local collaboration and invest in advanced technologies to increase environmental performance and reduce emissions.
Earlier this month, General Electric announced the launch of its GE GHG Ecomagination Innovation Challenge: Energy Efficiency Solutions for Canada’s Oil Sands. The competition aims to provide CAD$1 million to the best global minds to help develop solutions that can be scaled and commercialized within the industry.
More specifically, the challenge calls for proposals that will identify new uses for waste heat and improved efficiency of steam generation.
As airline companies compete to be the No. 1 customer choice for flying the skies, the adoption of environmental responsibility standards is becoming much more prevalent.
From curbing water usage, to better management of air traffic systems, to encouraging passengers to share a can of soda (and you thought they were just being cheap), the breadth of initiatives companies are trying out to reduce their footprint elicits greater accountability within the $708 billion dollar airlines industry.
The latest company coming to the table with rather unique plans to help cut the nearly 2 percent global carbon emissions rates produced by the aviation industry is none other than Southwest Airlines. Having cracked the top 100 in Newsweek’s annual green company rankings this year, Southwest is demonstratively making good on its commitment to pursue triple-bottom-line growth in the name of environmental stewardship and global citizenship.
Through its Evolve campaign, Southwest designed a large-scale retrofit of its entire fleet to enhance customer comfort and improve overall fuel efficiency. Approximately 80,000 leather seat covers were replaced with durable and environmentally-responsible materials that lighten the load of the plane by a whopping 600 pounds — a number that the company reports will translate into significant fuel savings and subsequent carbon emissions.
In a recent interview with Triple Pundit, Marilee McInnis, senior manager of culture and communications for Southwest, said the airline is seeking opportunities to source new materials, overhaul its fleet, and reduce consumption and fuel costs in the process.
Repurpose with purpose
Once the leather was out and the eco-materials were in, Southwest still had one problem to address: Where to send all of those leather seats — 43 acres of material in total — if landfill is not an option.
In fashion designer Eileen Fisher’s world, 1,000 people are capable of making a difference. And when she says people, she means her employees — a team committed to social consciousness that has served as a sounding board for many of the leading brand’s sustainability initiatives in recent years.
Armed with a commitment to gather consensus from employees and inspire leadership practices, Eileen Fisher has curated a culture that allows employees to be leaders of change both internally and within the brand’s work in society at large.
Hiring policies hold significant weight as the brand continues to pursue activities that incorporate stronger sustainability practices and charitable partnership programming. In 2012 upon receiving an Apparel Sustainability All-Star Award, Shona Quinn, Eileen Fisher’s sustainability leader, mentioned that the company has an effective sustainability program as a result of employees with strong social values who are predisposed to consider the environment.
The range of employee contributions to the company’s sustainability strategy is voluminous. Prime example: An employee request to eliminate the use of plastic resulted in an 80 percent reduction of plastic hangers used in stores.
The casual-wear brand has led the charge toward transparency and sustainability in the fashion industry for years. The company has used natural fibers and eco-friendly fabrics for over a decade, and the materials are a hit with its 33- to 50-year-old female target consumers. Bucking sweatshop labor practices and other common fashion industry snafus, Fisher’s legacy is rooted in her commitment to ethical and responsible business practices that treat employees as owners and the planet as a shareholder.
One might assume that handling trash every day for a living might be a smelly job. But for the crew of designers, nerds and Captain Planet-pushers at upcycling firm TerraCycle, trash is a profitable problem that keeps on giving.
On August 8, PivotTV viewers will get a sneak peak inside the world of TerraCycle’s upcycling empire when its original, unscripted docu-comedy series “Human Resources” kicks off for a 10-episode run.
“Human Resources” follows the wacky, fast-paced work environment of the TerraCylce team as they come up with solutions to eliminate the concept of waste. The mash-up of eclectic personalities run the gamut as they bend the rules of corporate America, perform rain dances in the middle of the work day, break for early-morning yoga in the conference room and share kale chips with their in-office pets.
With more than 120 employees in several cities around the world, Tom Szaky, CEO and founder of TerraCycle, encourages both mischief and antics among his lively staff of eco-geeks, scientists and the occasional apathetic employee.
Multinational consumer goods company Unilever is asking young leaders to prove what they’re doing to help build a sustainable future. Now, in the second year of its Sustainable Living Entrepreneurs Awards, the company — in partnership with Ashoka and the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership — is inviting young people (ages 30 and under) to come up with practical and innovative solutions to some of the world’s biggest sustainability challenges.
Seven stellar entrepreneurs will be awarded a total of more than €200,000 (US$272,000) in financial support, in addition to mentoring, to help scale their services or applications.
eBay Inc. is proving to be a company that delivers on its promises. With more than 33,000 employees worldwide, the e-commerce giant isn’t naïve about its two-decade span of influence on both society and the global economy. In its very first Social Innovation annual update, eBay Inc. successfully demonstrated its commitment following a series of goals set last June to fuel shareholder value and pursue a three-year, long-term series of objectives to create positive societal and environmental change.
“We’ve long believed in eBay Inc.’s capacity to drive both shareholder value and positive social and environmental change—it’s not just off to the side, it’s built into what we do every day,” said Lauren Moore, head of Global Social Innovation for eBay Inc. “Our Social Innovation efforts formalize this sense of purpose that’s been here from the start and provide a framework to understand our impact. And as shareholder value is increasingly measured in more ways than just purely financial gain, we believe our Social Innovation efforts will continue to position us for sustainable growth over the short and long term.”
eBay Inc.’s annual update is guided by three key focus areas — creating economic opportunity, enabling greener commerce and powering charitable giving — and demonstratively connects each to the crux of its business goals.
More risk taking, more startup culture, and more genius ideas turned into jobs that solve the perils of global poverty. These are the goals behind a newly minted partnership between Michael Dell and the United Nations to spur innovation, technology and entrepreneurship in the least likely of environments.
Dell will serve as the foundation’s Global Advocate for Entrepreneurship. In this role, he will lead a strategic plan that will focus on four key areas: access to capital, to markets, to talent, and to technology. In short, Dell’s mission boils down to creating Silicon Valley-esque climates in countries and cities that have yet to adopt entrepreneurial cultures but are fertile for growth and opportunity.
At the age of 19, the American businessman turned $1,000 into a venture that to date employs over 100,000 people. As a global entrepreneurship advocate, Dell offers a credible voice for small business ventures that wouldn’t normally have access to a global platform in front of experts, governments and policymakers.
“At this time of economic uncertainty and global challenges, it’s more important than ever that the business community work closely with organizations, elected leaders and policymakers to help our global economy grow and prosper,” said Michael Dell in a press statement. “I’m honored to accept this position and look forward to championing the growth of entrepreneurs globally.”
In the new world of fashion, smart solutions are solving some of the most pressing issues when it comes to apparel production.
Retailers and designers are abandoning antiquated models of forecasting and yearlong design planning processes in favor of high-tech business platforms that empower the consumer as both buyer and style dictator. The proliferation of brands adopting user-generated, or “crowdsourced,” solutions such as Kickstarter and Krush to bestow their latest designs on the masses benefit greatly from predicting needs, scaling production and receiving upfront payments before ever hitting the cutting room floor.
Today’s online retail environment presents several opportunities for discovery and environmental stewardship. Audience engagement early in the design process provides customer agency and early adoption. By leveraging crowdsourcing as a feedback tool for production prediction, designers reduce risk and long-term environmental impact from over-production.
“Fashion crowdsourcing is the Internet-era combination of two venerable retail strategies: satisfying demand and building customer loyalty,” explained Susan Scafidi, professor and academic director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham Law School in New York City to DailyFinance.
Google has a strong history of leveraging technology to drastically change human behavior. In recent years, headlines have been flooded with concepts that at once time seemed impossible: driverless cars and high-tech Google Glass. Now, the tech monarch has its sights set on using technology to help curb food waste at home.
In a recent partnership with Sainsbury — a grocery chain in the United Kingdom — Google has released Sainsbury Food Rescue, a new mobile and Web application tool that provides users with ideas for leftover food.
The idea for the interactive site came from Google data that showed search queries for “leftovers” surged by one-third in comparison to last year — 64 percent of the searches deriving from mobile devises.
Technology has significantly impacted the way that we live our lives in the 21st century, making most traditional systems more efficient or distilling antiquated systems. The privilege of having access to a wealth of information at any given time has also made us a global society that is plugged in to other people’s problems. In this interconnected landscape, it is the tech geeks who are using their superior skills for good by posing as the new wave of activists challenging systems of injustice and oppression with something as small as a carefully designed smartphone app.
Take for instance tech millionaire Karl Mehta, who sold his online payment business Playsap to Visa back in 2011 for a hefty $240 million. In lieu of retirement and endless leisure on a private island, Mehta made better use of his time and his talent by launching Code for India — an initiative that partners with nonprofits and NGOs to help solve critical issues in India.
Housed in Mountain View and Bangalore, India, Code for India kicked off a 24-hour hackathon in early May that brought together more than 224 programmers to address a variety of challenges facing the country including financial literacy, girls’ education, voting and natural disaster management, among other things.
“Code for India is special because hundreds and hundreds of NGO’s in India, and instead of starting another NGO to try to focus on education, or healthcare, or crime, or women’s issues, we can cut across horizontally, and provide a technology backbone to dozens or even hundreds of NGOs that are already doing wonderful work,” Mehta told Business Insider.
The old adage is true that everything is bigger in Texas. And now, so is tire recycling. Genan, the world’s leading tire recycling company, recently unveiled its $140 million state-of-the-art plant in northeast Houston earlier this month with plans to recycle 10 million tires each year. The 40-acre plant, the largest of its kind in the world, will employ 60 workers and divert nearly one-third of all used tires in Texas from landfills.
Genan currently operates four plants throughout Europe that recycle about 7 million tires each year. The company extracts and produces rubber granulate, rubber powder and steel from scrap tires for re-sale as synthetic turf installations, playgrounds and recreational facilities, sports tracks and grounds, asphalt roads, building products, flooring, injection molded products, industrial applications, noise insulation, and many other purposes and applications.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. generates about 290 million scrap tires each year. Roughly 45 percent are used as fuel, 20 percent are used in civil engineering projects, and 30 percent are converted into ground rubber and recycled into products. Genan’s Houston facility will serve as the company’s U.S. headquarters as the company seeks to expand its operations to include four sales and distribution plants across the U.S. in the future to capture 10 percent of the American recycled tire market.