Imagine all the problems that could be solved if we really took the time to brainstorm and innovate. That was Abhinav Bhushan’s plan when he secured a grant from the Office for Sustainability to host Harvard’s first Sustainability Hackathon. Buhshan, from the Harvard Medical School, organized the day-long event along with volunteers from the Harvard Council on Business and the Environment, the Environmental Action Committee, and other groups. At the Hackathon on Saturday, participants from all different schools and backgrounds came together to tackle pertinent sustainability issues at the Harvard iLab.
The term “hackathon” may be misleading, Bhushan mused, because the event was about more than coding: participants were “hacking” lifestyle problems—from electronic e-waste disposal to engaging businesses in sustainability. While some solutions did involve the construction of an app, others centered on programs to make disposal processes more efficient or to engage citizens in more sustainable transportation.
Six topics were tackled at the Hackathon, including reducing chemical waste in labs and reducing gas consumption in car-centric cities. The diversity of the teams contributed to the creativity of solutions—there were participants from many different countries and in many different fields.
There was a spirit of collaboration in the air as people chatted, sketched on whiteboards, and enjoyed the well-stocked buffet of food throughout the day. At the end of the day, the projects were judged on how innovative they were, how much they would impact sustainability, how feasible they were, and how well the ideas were presented. The collaborative spirit was apparent even during judging, as judges praised the projects and offered suggestions for improvements, bringing up other existing initiatives that could relate.
The two teams that tied for first place were TagIt—a system for tagging chemicals to easily track expiration dates, storage information, and exchanges between labs; as well as a plan for encouraging people to bike with an incentive-based app that unlocked the location for a flash mob.
Overall the participants appeared pleased with the outcome of the day and enthusiastic about all the ideas that had been developed. Bhushan hopes to improve upon the event for next year and draw in even more bright thinkers to hack away at sustainability issues.