Open Innovation Throws the Environment a Lifeline

Published Dec-05-11

Harnessing the brainpower of the crowd to find eco-friendly energy saving apps.

Environmental Protection Agency, United States

The Story:

Open Innovation Throws the Environment a Lifeline Open innovation and crowdsourcing solutions are being sought to help reduce our carbon footprint and make the planet a greener place to live. In June 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its Apps for the Environment Challenge, an open call for anyone to create apps that will improve understanding and/or protection of the environment.

Based on the premise that we is smarter than me, this open innovation environmental challenge sought creative people all over the country to help EPA come up with innovative solutions. There are many more ideas and possible solutions out there than any organization, company or individual can tap into on their own. Therefore an open innovation approach makes sense if you want challenges solved in a rapid time frame.

Making Good Use of Data

The EPA released a colossal amount of data with a plethora of information on the air we breathe, the water we drink and the communities we live in. All of this was made available to participants to help them come up with a useful app.

They were free to let their imaginations invent any kind of app using the data with the proviso that it must fulfil one of the EPA’s priorities for the future:

• Taking Action on Climate Change
• Improving Air Quality
• Cleaning Up Our Communities
• Assuring the Safety of Chemicals
• Expanding the Conversation on Environmentalism and Working for
Environmental Justice
• Protecting America’s Waters
• Building Strong State and Tribal Partnerships

This open innovation and crowdsourcing contest was open for three months and submissions were judged on usefulness, innovativeness and usability. In addition to a panel of judges there was also a public voting period which garnered approximately 2,000 votes for 100 submissions.

Competition Winners

From the 38 developer teams that submitted apps, five winners were announced. They included:

The winner of the Best Overall App was ‘Light Bulb Finder’ by Adam Borut and Andrea Nylund of Eco Hatchery. This mobile app is designed to make it easy for homeowners to switch from incandescent lighting to energy-efficient bulbs, helping them to save energy and money.

Based on a few inputs about home fixtures and incandescent bulb styles the app recommends energy-efficient bulbs that will save the most money and look good in a user’s home. For each recommendation the app displays an image of the bulb, the energy and dollar savings a homeowner will make by installing it, as well as the CO2 emissions reductions. Users can then purchase their bulbs of choice through the app if they don’t have the time to pop down to a local retailer.

The winner of the Best Student app was ‘EarthFriend’ by Will Fry and Ali Hasan of Fry Development Company and Differential Apps. Incorporating both interactive games and data this app is designed for a broad audience. There are educational games, fast facts, and database importation from the EPA's own databases.

The Popular Choice award went to ‘CG Search’ by Rajasekaran Bala of Cognizant Technology Solutions. The mobile green IT app enables users across the United States to know and compare air pollutant levels, air quality index and energy consumption of a number of US cities. This is useful information for people deciding on where to vacation or if they are wondering about a permanent move elsewhere.


The EPA’s open innovation competition didn't offer any big money prizes to the winners or runners up, but what they did provide was a valuable platform for the winning ideas. The winners were honored at a special EPA event and their apps are advertised on the EPA’s website. Intellectual property rights stayed with the innovators.

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