The Big Green Challenge

Published Jan-19-10

A UK-wide open innovation challenge to drastically reduce CO2 emissions.

NESTA, United Kingdom

The Story:

The Big Green Challenge In 2007 an open innovation challenge was set for the entire UK – reduce carbon emissions and make a big difference to the world. A £1 million ($1.6 million USD) prize fund was set up which spurred community groups into action to tackle the problems of climate change.

Big Green Challenge

The Big Green Challenge launched in 2007 and was created by NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and Arts). It was designed to attract innovators and community groups to come up with ways of cutting carbon emissions, for which NESTA set rigorous targets and evaluation mechanisms.

Imaginative Ideas

By early 2008, 355 groups had suggested a variety of imaginative and practical ideas for slashing carbon emissions. More than 150 of those groups were set up in response to the challenge. 100 of the most promising were selected to go through to the next stage and were given support from the Big Green Challenge teams to develop their ideas further.

From this group, 10 finalists were selected who received funding and support to implement their plans over the course of a year. They were given until October 2009 to reduce CO2 emissions in their community. The net result of all this was that the three overall winners and one runner-up managed to achieve carbon emissions reductions of between 10-32 percent, with the figures set to treble over the next three years, far exceeding the UK’s emission target of 34 percent.

Jonathan Kestenbaum, NESTA's Chief Executive said: "The success of the project proves that when communities are incentivized, empowered and supported they become a compelling force in solving some of society's biggest challenges."

Green Energy Project

The Green Valleys Project from Wales was one of the three joint winners, and reduced their carbon emissions by 20 percent. This was achieved across 155 households and 4 community buildings, and included 10 hydroelectric systems. The team of 21 small communities will invest their £300,000 ($480,000 USD) prize in other micro hydro-electric schemes. Also sharing in the jackpot was the Isle of Eigg, an entire island community which has adopted a number of projects, including low-carbon transport schemes, that has cut CO2 emissions by 32 percent.

The open innovation challenge proved to NESTA that world-beating and ingenious environmental ideas are not just the preserve of scientists, politicians and international conferences, but can come from communities. More than a third of applications came from groups without a previous focus on environmental issues. And at least 50 percent of the entrants who reached the second stage of the competition are following through with their ideas, despite not being selected as one of the ten finalists. In addition the contest reached individuals and groups that would have usually been missed by grant-led initiatives as they are not members of any registered charities, companies or public bodies.

Inspiring Contest

The Big Green Challenge has attracted international attention, including interest from the X-Prize Foundation, as many other countries are looking at open innovation to stimulate civic action.

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