Published August 5, 2021
A plan to offset carbon emissions by converting brownfields to fields of bamboo. An “ecoscaping” initiative that would encourage even the busiest of people to grow food in their backyard by using ready-to-install garden beds. A program called Recyclboxe, which aims to reduce food waste by making leftover meals from Campus Dining and Shops, packaged in reusable and returnable containers, available for purchase at a discounted price from a vending machine.
These were among the big ideas pitched as part of UB’s inaugural 10 in 10 Design Challenge. UB Sustainability and Blackstone LaunchPad teamed up to present the competition, which challenged student teams to develop climate action solutions for UB as part of the university’s goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030.
The challenge took place over three weeks in June, with the first two weeks devoted to one-hour sessions that allowed students to engage with experts and practitioners in climate action. Teams met with project mentors and crafted their pitches during the final week. Prizes were awarded for first place ($2,000), second ($1,000) and third ($500).
“With this challenge, we asked students to use our climate action plan, UB’s 10 in 10, as a lens to create scalable solutions to help the university achieve its carbon neutrality goal,” says Derek Nichols, UB Sustainability engagement coordinator.
Students met virtually as a group for the first half of the challenge, learning about the 10 key strategies comprising UB’s 10 in 10. Blackstone LaunchPad then led two sessions on developing a business plan. From there, students formed smaller teams based on their interests and began developing their ideas.
There were eight pitches in all, with about 30 students participating in the challenge. As a networking component to the challenge, students had access to a rolodex of mentors from industry practitioners with whom they could schedule appointments to pick their brains.
“The design challenge allowed students to turn their passion for climate action into a business,” says Hadar Borden, Blackstone LaunchPad director. “The opportunity to engage with thought leaders and experts in the field on issues where you want to impact positive change, creatively problem solve and learn how best to approach implementation, while expanding their professional network is experiential learning that develops their entrepreneurial mindset. These students gained skills that make them career ready to contribute to the innovation economy.”
Judges for the challenge were Chantal Englert, communications officer at the University of Luxembourg; Sara Goodman, program manager for UB’s Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships; recent UB graduate Isabel Hall, water resources engineer at Tetra Tech; and Eric Poniatowski, grant administrator for UB Business and Entrepreneur Partnerships.
“We take the effort out of home gardening by offering ready-to-install beds and as-needed maintenance services, combining the roles of a nursery in a landscaping company,” explains Josh Maroney (cognitive science), who was joined by Jay Pierce (civil engineering). Their project, called Ecoscaping, won the competition.
“Through this, people can have the benefits of a garden even with a busy schedule. On top of that, we’re taking advantage of unused backyard space that otherwise serves no purpose,” Maroney says. “Our value proposition to customers is, your backyard is worth more than grass.
“What makes Ecoscaping original is the offer of landscaping-type services that center around food production and not simply sterile aesthetics.”
Students Vicky Huang (environmental engineering), Sabrina Alam (engineering science) and Toniqua Lawrence (counseling psychology doctoral student) created second-place winner Recyclboxe — which they call “the lunch box that pays you back” — to help cut down on the 6% of total greenhouse gas emissions caused by food waste. Food waste also accounts for one-quarter of all landfill material.
Students would pay $15 to join the Recyclboxe program, which would allow them to browse available options of after-hours meals using the GET app. Meals would be dispensed in a reusable, returnable container, and students can get their $15 deposit back whenever they want to opt out of the program.
Cleanliness and safety are critical to Recyclboxe’s success, and Lawrence notes the program would comply with all cleanliness and food preparation laws, including the Food Donation and Food Scraps Recycling Law, which goes into effect in January. In the short term, Recyclboxe would leverage UB Campus Dining and Shop’s Pride of NY vending machines, with an ultimate goal of designing their own.
“From our research, among college students there is demand for after hours with eco-friendly options,” Lawrence says.
Third-place Go DC proposes providing a distributed direct current (DC) electrical system for commercial or residential spaces.
Many of the devices used in households work on direct current by using adapters at the ends of power cords to convert the alternating current (AC) into DC.
However, “These conversions waste energy, up to 30% of it depending on the device,” says Go DC team member Sean Cunnion. Go DC includes students Abhishek Pitale, Lisandra Viegas and Mudit Jindal.
Go DC’s solution is to offer a hybrid inverter that takes in AC supply from the power grid and DC supply from solar panels and converts that supply into a purely DC output that can be stored in batteries, used for electric vehicles or in HVAC for home usage.
“The value to our customers is that the increased efficiency of their solar and battery power will allow them to fulfill more of their power demands from those sources, resulting in a lower electric bill,” Cunnion says.
For many of the students who participated in the challenge, the work will continue: UB Sustainability has begun placing some of them on 10 in 10 climate action plan working groups, where they can put their passion into practice at UB.