Nurturing innovation for climate action


This summer, Europe has been facing a major heat wave. In central Germany, once fertile stretches of land resemble deserts; due to low water-levels cargo ships can only carry half loads on the Rhine and massive, unprecedented forest fires hit Sweden.

Think big, stop climate change!

The latest series of disruptive meteorological events seem set to become the new normal and hint at one irrevocable insight: climate change is here to stay. While everyone knows we have to do something, top down efforts such as the 2015 Paris Agreement do not work. Could a bottom up approach be a more effective measure to slow down climate change? If yes, what could be the springboard? This is where EIT Climate-KIC steps in, the EU’s “largest public-private partnership addressing climate change”.

The journey

The goal of EIT Climate-KIC, supported by the European Institute of Technology is to “change through innovation” and to “build a zero-carbon economy”. One of their key educational programs is called “the Journey”, a summer school with 440 international students made up of 20 teams drawn from across Europe. The aim is to identify problems related to climate change, to generate, test and iterate ideas, culminating in a series of pitches to experts, with the overall winning concept provided the chance to secure funding.

One outstanding performance

Spark Works mentored 40 of the international students from one of the 20 journeys that visited Zürich for 3 days. Our mission was to lift their experience and their ideas to another level by immersing the participants to the fast-pace environment of a three-day design-thinking workshop.

At the end of the second day, after 9 hours of brainstorming, prototyping and feedback, an encounter with Leyth Hampshire, one of the students stood out. With the students due to test their prototypes on the public the next day we discussed the secret to a successful interview and test phase. Leyth who had been eagerly participating the entire session, volunteered for a spontaneous roleplay. He took all our teaching and delivered a perfect example of user-testing your prototype and received enthusiastic applause for his flawless demonstration.

Many solutions to one problem

On the third and last day, the teams spent 2 hours testing their prototypes with users at Zürich main station. That afternoon, the teams implemented the collected feedback and ultimately pitched the identified problem, the idea and the process that lead to it. Many of the projects were related to reduce waste or to take advantage of waste to create new products. For example, WASTIC providing packaging companies with a biodegradable bio plastic made from wastewater from the pulp and paper industry, and the case of Bananature, creating a reinforced bio plastic using natural fibers from underutilized banana tree residue.

The starting point

A few weeks after the journey had left Zürich we received a message from Leyth, thanking us for our support: His team was crowned ‘winner’ of the Journey. Their idea, «Revolt», is an integrated solar energy and storage solution utilizing second-life EV batteries for refugee zones and disaster regions. They are now in contact with UN to assess if they can continue with the project.

When we work with students I am always amazed by their creativity and flexibility. We could see that this generation is eager to make a difference – you could feel their ambition and enthusiasm. It felt great to provide the students with the right tools, methodology and concepts with the chance to make their own difference to climate change.

by Mattis Stolze, Business Associate


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