The GreenHack Challenge - connecting students with businesses, designers & academics

This post is submitted by Martin Charter - Director of The Centre for Sustainable Design & Professor at University for the Creative Arts.

#GreenHack_Challenge March 4th and 5th 2014

The #Greenhack_Challenge© (GHC) March 4th & 5th 2014 www.cfsd/ was devised and led by Professor Martin Charter from The Centre for Sustainable Design® (CfSD) based at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) with support from Scott Keiller (CfSD) and Rob Maslin (We All Design) and was held at UCA Farnham on March 4th and 5th 2014.  This open innovation event was designed to bring together businesses, designers and academics with postgraduate students from a range of creative disciplines from School of Craft & Design (SoCD) at UCA to develop Solutions to sustainability Challenges. Seven companies presented real sustainability Challenges related to their products or services.  Thirty three delegates took part in the 1.25 day workshop and formed teams to develop Solutions to these Challenges. Solutions were presented at the end of the second day to all delegates and feedback was provided to Challenge Teams by an expert panel, consisting of: 

  • Professor Martin Charter, Director, The Centre for Sustainable Design®
  • Scott Keiller, Manager, Sustainable Innovation, The Centre for Sustainable Design®
  • Rob Maslin, Director, We All Design 
  • Ben Peace, Knowledge Transfer Manager, Environmental Sustainability Knowledge Transfer Network

Challenge owners are being contacted directly by CfSD to determine their interest in further development of the Solutions presented. CfSD will act as a catalyst to progress concepts and where appropriate create linkages between Challenge owners and Solution providers. CfSD will complete any follow-up activities through the FUSION project

#GreenHack_Challenge was organised within the FUSION project with support from the Creative Industries Knowledge Transfer Network and the Environmental Sustainability Knowledge Transfer Network.*




Summary of Challenges and Team Solutions

Challenge #1 Closed Loop Packaging – Rapanui Clothing Ltd

The challenge was to design a prototype direct mailing package for Rapanui’s new premium range of Bamboo T-shirts that could be retained by the customer for the future return to Rapanui of the T-shirt at the end of its first life.   Under Rapanui’s new Return On Investment programme customers are awarded a £5 voucher incentive for the return of used items. 

Five delegates chose to work on this challenge. The team explored options for second use of the delivery package, ie the box converting into a game a document folder and shoulder bag. The team also suggested that customers might simply be given instructions on how to convert their used T-Shirts into a shoulder bag, rather than returning the item. The expert panel felt that the team had presented three creative and visually attractive prototype solutions but noted more work was needed on assessing and refining the suitability of the designs as return packaging.


Challenge #2 Second Life for Everyday Objects – Computer Agents Ltd

The challenge was to choose a common everyday object and propose how the design could be changed so that it could be better re-purposed for another merit-worthy use in its second-life. 

Four delegates chose this challenge. The team chose to focus on repurposing end of life car components into designer furniture. A prototype barstool/counterstool constructed from a car steering wheel drive shaft/ steering column was developed and presented. The panel recognised the creativity in upcycling end of life car components into what would likely be a highly durable product that could have appeal to niche markets. It was acknowledged that the team had chosen to focus on repurposing of existing objects rather than exploring the initial design of the constituent parts to facilitate repurposing.



Challenge #3: Smart Consumer Electronics – IFIXIT

To develop a concept for a new ‘smart’ product, service or new business model that is smarter environmentally, easily repairable, energy efficient and designed to last. Consideration should be given to product lifecycle, design strategies such as architecture and form, materials and information for end users. 

Three delegates chose this challenge. The team chose to focus on powertool design and new business models. To reduce resource consumption a concept for a tool with interchangeable heads was developed, consisting of a base unit with electric motor and separate heads for drilling, sanding, mixing etc. It was proposed that a base unit could be purchased and then the owner could either buy the required heads or lease/borrow the required tool heads as and when required. An online peer to peer business model was conceived to enable sharing of tool heads. The panel felt that the combination of product concept and new business model design was laudable and highlighted research that could help to refine the solutions presented.


Challenge #4 Circular Innovation Hub – One Planet Ventures –

To transform an open warehouse space through design of layout and interior into a new Circular Innovation Hub - where people and ideas can move, grow and interact with the space and each other. The space should provide facilities for green entrepreneurs and enable immersive engagement of local communities in Circular Economy thinking/Sustainability. 

Three delegates chose this challenge. The team presented plans for the interior layout with defined spaces (storage, retail, workspace, Café, permanent Makerspace and seminar room) radiating around a glass walled central Circular Creative Hub; the heart of the Circular Innovation Hub. The Creative Hub would be a place for making, expos and community immersion into the Hub’s work and principles. The team also developed a prototype private meeting space, which could be moved and easily arranged into varying configurations or stored when not in use. The panel acknowledged the creativity of the concepts presented and suggested additional considerations regarding the environmental performance of the building/space.


Challenge #5 Sustainable Plant Pots – Lettuce Flowers Ltd

To design a prototype of a visually appealing impermeable cardboard (renewable and biodegradable) plant pot for table-top edible-flower displays at conferences / event dining. 

Three delegates chose this challenge. The team developed three prototype cardboard pot designs. One based on the shell of a chambered nautilus, one constructed to enable light penetration into the base of the pot and another c. 60 cm high consisting of a main pot with attached smaller pot openings radiating around. The panel was impressed with the quality of the designs in this challenge which was predominantly about the visual appeal of the pots. 


Challenge #6 Sustainable Laundry – Unilever

Each year the laundry industry provides the products (durables and consumables) for around 500 billion washes – most of these are by hand but more consumers are purchasing washing machines in Asia and Africa. Washing machines have revolutionised women’s labour and transformed an arduous task that can take up most of the day into a fraction of this time. However, the adoption of Western washing habits in developing markets is not without its issues. If all the consumers in China adopted this habit this would increase GHG emissions by the equivalent of Bangladesh’s current total annual emissions of GHG. Part of Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan is to half the environmental impact of its products by 2020. The challenge is to propose how Unilever can give the consumer what she needs and desires – clean hygienic washing, with minimum effort and with significantly reduced environmental impact.

Three delegates chose this challenge. The team chose to concentrate on a solution in India where a large number of microbusinesses of predominantly male ‘washermen’ do the laundry for paying customers. From the outset the concept was developed to help ensure that this group would not lose out from developments in laundry. A concept for a renewable energy washing machine was developed using rain water collection to supplement water use, solar thermal/biomass powered water heating and with the potential for a bike powered rotary drum. It was identified that detergents would need to be tailored for use in the process. It was suggested that the renewable energy machines could be owned and operated by existing washermen as a microbusiness. The panel acknowledged the depth of thought that had gone in to the machine concept and the caution that had been demonstrated that existing microbusiness should not suffer as a consequence of the innovation.     


Challenge #7 Zero Draught – Nigel’s Ecostore

Draughts through poorly insulated doors account for 15% of heat loss in a typical home. Draught excluders are a popular product at Nigel’s Eco-store but they tend to be innovative in their function rather than in form/aesthetics. More people could be encouraged to use draught excluders and improve home insulation if products looked great and performed well. The challenge is to design a functional product that looks great, for a reasonable price – a desirable draught excluder! 

Three delegates chose this challenge. The team presented a number of alternative designs in terms of form and function including the use of upcycled marquee fabric, pneumatic excluders constructed of used bicycle inner tubes to create an efficient seal on door closure and devices for personalised decoration on draught excluders. One of the concepts enables the owner to insert pre-manufactured or personalised slot-in card designs, which would be visible at the base of the door. Suggested slot-in designs included a Christmas decorative design. The panel felt the slot-in card design could have merit to a niche market and the pneumatic seal concept although not about aesthetics might provide a less visible and efficient solution to exclusion that some existing designs.

*Please note these two separate KTN organisations (along with thirteen others) have now merged to become part of the Knowledge Transfer Network.


For more information contact:

Professor Martin Charter


The Centre for Sustainable Design ® 

University for the Creative Arts



Scott Keiller

Manager - FUSION

The Centre for Sustainable Design ® 

University for the Creative Arts

Email Tel 00 44 1252 892772

No comments yet. Be the first.

Most read articles

The GreenHack Challenge - connecting students with businesses, designers & academics

This post is submitted by Martin Charter - Director of The Centre for Sustainable Design...

Designing Smart Cities in 2013

This guest post is submitted by Mischa Dohler - Chair Professor at King’s College London,...

Case Study Film: Design in Innovation

What is "design in innovation" and how can it be used to benefit UKplc and public,...