This year's 2015 semi-finalist list for the Buckminster Fuller Institute's yearly challenge are an outstanding group of innovators in sustainable design. Including contributions from NASA engineers, research scientists, community advocates, and local volunteers, this year's semi-finalists are addressing challenges as diverse as energy production, ocean conservation, fresh water production, and community development. From the 15 semi-finalists in the challenge, one will be chosen to receive "Socially-Responsible Design's Highest Award" and the $100,000 cash prize that goes along with it. Click through the gallery to see how each of them is improving our world.
Identifying unused urban spaces and working with disenfranchised residents to reclaim them for public use, Living Lots has already transformed dozens of spaces in New York City. Living Lots works with residences to help them create vibrant public spaces on formerly empty lots – already a dozen of the lots have been made into permanent public spaces through transfers to the Parks Department or public authorities. By partnering with community organizers, Living Lots has grown rapidly and is now also operating in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and New Orleans as well as in cities in Australia, Canada and the UK.
Few young farmers are able to afford their own land and 70% of working farmers are set to retire during the next two decades. This is a crisis in the making, allowing giant corporations to add to their agricultural land holdings while independent farmers become a thing of the past. Agrarian Trust is helping to address this situation through a variety of ventures: establishing nonprofit trusts and bequests of farmland; creating farmland commons with lifetime leases for young farmers; and democratic management by regional committees, shareholder, and investor based land acquisition.
With a focus on cost-effective water purification, Algae Systems has developed a process that uses locally-sourced algae to provide cost-effective wastewater treatment. Along with purifying water, their system removes CO2 from the atmosphere and its byproducts are limited to carbon-negative bio-fuels and fertilizers. In Daphne, Alabama, Algae Systems’ demonstration plant showcases a system that could revolutionize waste treatment globally by allowing us to turn our waste into much-needed resources.
Cement manufacturing is one of the most pollution-heavy industries in the world and brick manufacturing is responsible for approximately 800-million tons of global CO2 emissions every year. By using biomass, aggregate, nutrients, minerals, and bacteria to produce a natural bio-cement, bioMason is capable of “growing” resilient bricks in less the than three days. The raw materials they use are naturally occurring and renewable, but they may be also extracted from industrial waste streams, making their production even more ecologically beneficial.
After preventing open-pit mining in the central mountains of Puerto Rico and establishing a National Forest in the region instead, Casa Pueblo evolved into a vibrant community organization which became one of the key players in Puerto Rico’s environmental movement. As a part of their efforts, they founded The Forest School, located in the heart of the National Forest. The school teaches students about agro-ecology and biodiversity, climate change, water issues, renewable energy and community development.
United by their vision to “let the people be the solution”, Community Architects Network is a group of architects, planners, builders, engineers, lecturers and volunteers spread across 19 countries in Asia. The members of CAN share their expertise to inspire grassroots action towards a range of projects including urban neighborhood status issues, post-disaster rebuilding, sustainable rural development, low-cost bamboo construction and the preservation of urban UNESCO Heritage sites. The group also participates in education, exposing young professionals and architecture students to real-life communities and projects.
Creating a water-smart future for Los Angeles is no easy task. The Drylands Resilience Initiative has developed HAZEL, a computational engine that will allow analysis of overland surface and groundwater flows in and around the city. DRI is working to make HAZEL a tool that will support coordinated, whole-systems thinking and decision-making at regional levels; shape water-smart urban planning, zoning and building policy; build a water-conversant citizenry; transform design education; and guide societies to make the most appropriate, sustainable water choices.
With overfishing and climate-change induced disruption of species, our oceans are in trouble and so are the people who make their living on the water. As an answer to some of these problems, GreenWave has developed a method of aquaculture that they call multi-species 3D farming, in which floating ropes are used to grow seaweed, scallops and mussels while stacked oyster and clam cages lie below. This low-cost high-yield system is non-polluting. It even restores ocean ecosytems by filtering and cleaning millions of gallons of seawater and providing a habitat for wild marine and bird species. GreenWave’s first working farm is thriving off the shore of Conneticut and they are currently seeding four additional farms in the US while sharing their open-source initiative around the world.
This new project from the SEWA trust is focussed on helping poor urbanites in South Asia with the rising challenges posed by climate change, including increasing heat waves, flooding, water shortages, and vector borne diseases. The team engages regional and municipal governments, scientists, and engineers in developing strategies while also working with the urban poor to develop grassroots initiatives and teaching local women to collect and interpret scientific data. The Climate Resiliency Initiative uses the data for risk assessment and deployment of appropriate technologies to communities in need.
Climate change, deforestation and increasing population have made traditional building techniques in the Sahel region of Africa obsolete. In an effort to address this, The Nubian Vault Programme have resurrected an ancient building technique which requires only low-cost or free durable, sustainable, local, natural materials, allowing people to build their own shelters without relying on corrugated iron, sawn timber or concrete. The project team trains local masons who learn as they work and then pass their skills on to other local people, creating a cascade of entrepreneurs who help create sustainable local economies and address housing shortages at the same time.
The Omega project began as a NASA research project with the objective of meeting the demand for fuel without using limited resources such as land, freshwater, or fertilizer. It evolved into a plan to integrate algal biofuels production with water recycling and solar energy production. The non-profit Omega Global Initiative was created this year to provide a detailed plan for implementing the Omega vision in coastal communities around the world, transforming wastewater into a resource that produces algal biomass and potable water, expands local food production, increases the use of solar power, and supports local economies through jobs and new sources of revenue.
Rising sea levels are a threat to coastal communities all over the world and residents of low-lying tropical islands are facing a range of challenges compounded by poor fishing practices, inadequate waste handling, rising fuel costs, and declining food security. The One People One Reef team collaborates with communities on the Yap Islands in Micronesia to understand local patterns of ecological and cultural decline and to develop conservation plans to disrupt these patterns. These efforts emphasize the re-establishment of traditional practices and create models of ocean management that can be applied in similar communities worldwide.
The Drawdown project is focused on reducing the excessive CO2 and other greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. By researching and analyzing more than a hundred technologies, the uptake of which could have a huge impact on our atmosphere and climate, the team intends to inform and catalyze large-scale action using practical and feasible solutions to climate change. More than 200 institutions and individuals across the globe are working towards releasing a book, an interactive platform and an open-source database detailing their findings, all to be available before the UN Climate Talks in Paris in December 2015.
In 19 years, the unique Sandele Eco-Retreat and Learning Centre will be gifted to the community located in the politically and environmentally challenging area of South Gambia in West Africa. At the heart of their initiative is a luxurious resort, which provides tourists with accommodation just moments from the beach. Every guest stay generates a payment toward community development and the retreat is committed to regeneration, sustainability, wildlife protection, renewable energy, the use of natural building materials, and local citizens’ education and personal development. The management team works closely with the local population, providing employment and offering technical expertise to help neighboring villages develop resilient infrastructure.
In poor regions where potable water is rare, finding water becomes a daily challenge and sometimes a full-time occupation. Warka Water is a 33-foot-tall, robust but lightweight modular tower which harvests water from dew and fog and transforms it into a unique source of drinking water. Conceived by observing natural designs, such as cactuses and spider webs, and constructed using Ethiopian vernacular architecture and traditional basket weaving for inspiration, the Warka tower can collect up to 100 litres of drinking water per day. The first demonstration tower is being deployed this year in a mountainous region of Ethiopia, a nation with among the worst water availability and quality in the world.