Technical University of Denmark: Green Challenge drives ambition for social sustainability

One project aimed to rethink podiums for wheel-chair users at concerts. Another wanted to end poverty in refugee camps by the collection and upcycling of plastic. These examples were just some of the innovative projects that competed in DTU’s Green Challenge 2021 that had a particular focus on social sustainability this year. Around 100 students took part in the competition, which was a hybrid event with the vast majority of the student teams present at DTU Skylab, while others participated online. The student projects were rated by an expert jury, which counted prominent members from corporate, non-for-profit, academic and political organizations.

Green Challenge was initiated by Marianne Thellersen, Senior Vice President of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at DTU – The Technical University of Denmark.

“We are so fortunate to welcome you all to Green Challenge 2021, after having the event cancelled last year because of the corona pandemic. The pandemic has taught us how to adapt to change, so why don’t we utilize the same adaptability for the changes, we all need to make in order to create a better future for humans, planet earth and the economy. Green Challenge is a day of celebration, where we gather at DTU to discover all the ways in which we can make an impact on society,” said Marianne Thellersen.

Highlight on Social Sustainability
Green Challenge 2021 saw a particular focus on social sustainability which was highlighted by Sif Holst, Second Chairman of Disabled People’s Organisations Denmark (DPOD) who gave a speech about “Sustainability and the opportunity to leave no one behind”.

In her speech, Sif Holst, made clear it that the 17 SDG’s all are encompassed by the principle of “leave no one behind”, which aims to alleviate discrimination and inequality in technological advancements. She encouraged the students to advance accessibility for minority groups such as disabled people, when developing new sustainable and technological solutions.

“We tend to develop new innovative solutions to people that resembles us, but what if we challenged ourselves to tap into how to best reach and engage diverse communities with a focus on inclusivity and accessibility. We would make a greater impact. I dare you to accommodate people that are different from you. Consider someone who is dyslexic, when designing a system for waste sorting and recycling. That would greatly impact and improve climate action,” said Sif Holst.

In the best of both worlds, future technological advancements would be able to accommodate the entire population: children, the elderly, disabled people – amongst others. According to Sif Holst, the best way to accomplish this goal would be to start asking hard questions, challenge misconceptions and deal with the lack of data about persons from minority communities, when developing green solutions.

“For example, we are well aware that women are most likely to use public transportation, still the majority of our planning around public transportation accommodate men. Studies show, that women take complex routes when getting from A to B; they make multiple stops in order to purchase milk from the supermarket or pick up children from daycare, but we still prioritize building new highways over new bus lanes,” said Sif Holst.

Students competed on equal terms
Over 60 student projects competed in Green Challenge 2021, and true to tradition, the projects were divided into 4 different categories, so everyone had equal opportunities to participate whether you were an undergraduate or graduate student. That gave way to first, second and third place prizes within a) Bachelor courses, b) Bachelor finals, c) Master courses and finally d) Master thesis. In total, 11 teams were awarded prizes this year, as two teams shared second prize in the Bachelor finals category.

The competition spared little time for breaks in between the pitches, some conducted online, which resulted in this constant stream of innovative ideas and solutions tossed back and forth between the expert jury and the participants. The Arena at DTU Skylab, one of three spaces where the pitches took place, was decorated with green balloons, and had a calm and focused vibe.

As one team were being asked about their business models and value propositions by the judges, another team received a pep talk from their mentors moments before being thrown into the Lion’s Den. The moderator measured time with a stopwatch, so that each pitch would not surpass the allocated 120 seconds followed by a three-minute questioning session. Overall, the teams came prepared and had no problem keeping time.

The first prize(s) goes to…
The four winning students projects that received first prize and a monetary reward of 30.000 DKK were:

Winner of the Bachelor course: “Paint’R: Rethinking the packaging of paint” for their sustainable and user-centered paint bucket, that reduces CO2 emission by 75 %.

Winner of the Bachelor final: “Palladium and platinum containing zeolite catalysts for complete methane oxidation” for presenting alternative fuels to the crude oil most ships run on today.

Winner of the Master Course: “Reducing global greenhouse gas emission from peatland degradation and fires” for their IOT system that monitors peatlands, which is an area that has a huge effect for biodiversity and climate action.

Winner of the Master Thesis: “Utilization of PET fibre waste to develop a cotton based composite fabric for sportswear applications” for their sustainable fabric, that blends cotton with polyester and is based on recycling.
Second place winners were awarded 20.000 DKK in the competition, while third place winners won 10.000 DKK. In total, 11 student projects collected 240.000 DKK whilst competing in Green Challenge 2021.

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