Every year the Buckminster Fuller Challenge awards $100,000 to support one exceptional project that addresses a major problem facing humanity - and the distinguished jury just announced five finalists competing for the 2013 prize! This year's projects address issues ranging from housing challenges in Mexico to replacing plastics with bio-materials made out of mushrooms and getting cleaner chemicals in college classrooms. The Buckminster Fuller Challenge has been called "socially-responsible design's highest award" - it honors projects that have the potential to address modern challenges and helps implement these projects more quickly and on a larger scale than may have been possible. Hit the jump for a look at this year's finalists!
The EPA has found that plastics make up 25% of the volume in our landfills, with expanded plastic foams being the worst contributor. These products are also highly flammable and have been deemed likely carcinogens. Ecovative has developed a new alternative, which is literally grown to replace these plastics. Calling the product Mushroom Material, they take agricultural waste, such as corn stalks, pasteurize them and saturate them with water. This waste is then combined with fungal cells to grow tiny fibers around the waste. Through this process, the material forms itself into almost any shape in 5-7 days, with no fossil fuel input. The product is then dried to kill the organism, resulting in a strong composite to replace plastics which has a reduced environmental impact and uses far less energy.
The Green Chemistry Commitment
Despite being banned for decades, children born today can still be found with traces of the chemicals like DDT in their blood. Concerns about the toxic and lasting effects of the chemicals used in our environment prompted the Green Chemistry Commitment, which aims to educate university students about the dangers of toxic chemicals and provide alternatives, so that the scientists of tomorrow will have a better understanding to create cleaner chemicals. Right now, most science students never receive education in mechanistic toxicology or environmental harm, so it is no wonder that these students may go on to create hazardous materials. But the Green Chemistry Commitment seeks to change this by giving students the tools they need to make informed decisions and create health and planet friendly chemicals in the future.
Echale a tu Casa
In the developing world, home owners are often their own home builder, which may be excessively costly and inefficient and often leads to inadequate housing. The issue is further worsened by the lack of financial institutions willing to lend to these populations so they can build more adequate homes. Échale a Tu Casa initially tried to fill this gap by offering free homes, but scarce funds limited the effectiveness of the program. So, instead trying a for-profit model, they developed cheaper construction blocks made mostly of earth, allowing for homes to be made more easily and effectively, but allowing them to reach more home builders. Along with these cheaper materials, they also offer blueprints and technical assistance to those building their own homes. Through this, communities have been able to build over 30k homes and improve another 150k.
PITCHAfrica: Waterbank Schools
Over 1 billion people on the planet lack access to safe drinking water. But there is enough rain falling in many parts of Africa to provide enough drinking water for the entire population many times over. PITCHAfrica hopes to tap this under utilized resource with Waterbanks: community reservoirs that collect rainwater and can also be used as a gathering place like a school or community center. Rainwater is collected and filtered all within the same building. The Waterbank School in Kenya, completed this last December, has a 350,000 liter capacity has been collecting enough water to provide 300 children with 4 liters of water a day, all year round. PITCHAfrica hopes to expand the project across Africa, providing water to those who need it.
Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science
As nations develop around the world, the need for energy and the demand for goods is increasing. The increase in pollution is an unintended consequence of this, which impacts communities everywhere. Oversight of those producing pollution often exists, however, enforcement may often be lax, or even at times corrupt, and may not address issues until disaster occurs. Public Lab attempts to answer this concern by offering the public a way to verifiably measure the impact of pollution in their areas, in order to more effectively demand accountability of polluters. It began as an effort to bring light to the unacknowledged impact of the 2010 BP Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but has now been expanded to a global movement. Through open-source tools and encouraging do-it-yourself research, Public Lab allows anyone to research environmental impact in their area. Public Lab even offers tools, training, education and support to these residents, in an attempt to bring greater attention to pollution which might otherwise go unaddressed.