“How far could we go if we really had the courage?”: The EarthHack judges talk live in our first Google+ Hangout

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20 June 2013

LONDON: On June 18 we hosted our first live Google+ Hangout in London with a panel of judges from the EarthHack contest, who revealed that challenge-driven innovation solutions are a key component of the global clean revolution. [Watch the full or edited video of the live Google+ Hangout.]

EarthHack is a global crowdsourcing challenge run jointly by The Climate Group and Marblar and with support from IKEA and Philips, that asks competitors to re-imagine existing technology to help create a more sustainable home. The winner will receive a top prize of US$15,000 at a Climate Week NYC ceremony, as well as gain valuable feedback from IKEA and Philips on the business potential of their idea.

The Hangout took the form of an interactive video panel whereby challenge participants could tune into the livestream and ask questions via social media about their specific entries. An edited version of the full-length video will be available soon.


Over the course of the event, it was clear that the judges agreed that contest-driven innovation solutions are a key component of tackling the climate challenge and accelerating the global clean revolution.

Sir Richard Friend, Cavendish Professor of Physics at University of Cambridge, opened the discussion by stressing the absolute necessity of urgent climate change action: “The challenge of ever increasing carbon dioxide levels is one which we have to take increasingly seriously”. He elaborated that there is considerable potential for improvement in the homes: “We use energy appallingly inefficiently in the home at almost every level; we ventilate inefficiently, we insulate inefficiently, and we light inefficiently.”

Sir Christopher Llewellyn Smith, the former Director General of CERN and the current Director of Energy Research at University of Oxford, was equally passionate. He was quick to add: “Nearly 80% of our energy comes from burning fossil fuels, and of the remainder, 10% is from burning waste and biomass, very little of which is carbon neutral.”

All of the judges were unanimous in their conviction that now is the time to act on climate change, both at the individual and corporate level. Matt Stanley of IKEA’s Innovation and Sustainability Unit highlighted that by 2016, IKEA will only have LED lighting within its range, as the technology is “85% more efficient than traditional incandescents”. CEO of The Climate Group, Mark Kenber, also highlighted the importance of efficiency when he said energy waste can be addressed by “being smarter about how we use, where we use and when we use”.


The focus then shifted to EarthHack, as Robert Trezona, Business Development Director of the IP Group admitted he was “very excited about the global reach of the competition”. When asked by moderator Ben Ferrari of The Climate Group what the participant demographic actually looked like, Dan Perez, CEO of Marblar, proudly admitted that currently over 100 different nationalities are registered with the site.

Commenting on the inclusive nature of the EarthHack, Dan stated that the goal is “to engage a wider audience, not just scientists and engineers. Even if you don’t win, even if you don’t submit an idea, we’re hoping you take a look at some of the ideas, comment on other people’s ideas, vote for your favorite and leave the competition more informed."

Sir Chris was also keen to emphasise this point. Drawing on the historical “grand-daddy” of innovation challenges, The Longitude Prize, he noted encouragingly that “the great brains were there -- but it was the simple technician that did it.”

Will Ray, Head of the Energy Design Centre, Rockwool added that digital technology will play a central role in modern challenge-driven innovation: “What the web’s really good at is answering really complex questions, really quickly”, he remarked.

IKEA’s Matt Stanley argued that everyone should be aiming for workable solutions which are proportionate to the level of environmental damage that is occurring at such an alarming rate. He said: “Doing a little bit is good, but at the end of the day we need to be finding scalable solutions that drive significant change


The final point addressed by the panellists centered on the commercial viability of EarthHack entries. Robert Trezona, who invests in Marblar, reminded participants that “thinking through the business opportunity which underpins your idea is going to be very important”. He also noted that Marblars should be working on “ideas that can be realized in a year or less”.

To capture IKEA’s interest, these ideas must be “simple, intellectually robust and well designed”, Matt Stanley said. Competitors must also focus on ‘desirability’, ‘affordability’ and ‘accessibility’. He advised: “When you’re building your business case, think about those three dimensions and frame your business plan around those.”

Ben Ferrari then took questions via social media, one of which related to whether working in teams was allowed. Dan Perez swiftly replied that not only is it entirely possible, but in keeping with the collaborative nature of the competition. Mark Kenber observed: “We’ve all got a role to play and it can be a very exciting role”.

Sir Chris was optimistic about how the competition would revolutionize consumer consumption, stating: “The EarthHack will make people think about their behavior in relation to energy.”

In Sir Richard Friend’s words: “How far could we go if we really had the courage?

So what are you waiting for? Enter the EarthHack!

Read more:

EarthHack competition: One week in, 72 ideas submitted

Interview: Dan Perez, Founder and CEO of Marblar

Watch the full or edited video of the live Google+ Hangout

By Alana Ryan


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