• “We hope the MIT community will join us in identifying a range of potential solutions to meet our institutional climate goals,” Don Holmes says.

    “We hope the MIT community will join us in identifying a range of potential solutions to meet our institutional climate goals,” Don Holmes says.

    Photo: Christopher Harting/AboveSummit

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Crowdsourcing contest to focus on reducing campus emissions

“We hope the MIT community will join us in identifying a range of potential solutions to meet our institutional climate goals,” Don Holmes says.

MIT challenges the community to identify cutting-edge solutions to reach carbon reduction goals.


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The MIT Office of Sustainability, in partnership with the Department of Facilities, the Environmental Solutions Initiative, and the MIT Climate CoLab, has launched a crowdsourcing contest to engage the MIT community in proposing methods to reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions at least 32 percent by 2030.

This emissions reduction goal, called for by the MIT Plan for Climate Action, has been paired with a commitment to activate the campus as a test bed for climate solutions. In March 2016, MIT’s vice president of research also released a shared statement on climate action that reaffirmed and strengthened this goal, noting that the Institute will strive to reach carbon neutrality as soon as possible. 

This contest challenges teams to submit solutions to a critical question: How can MIT demonstrate innovative climate mitigation solutions on campus? The Climate CoLab’s crowdsourcing platform is hosting the contest as an opportunity for members of the MIT community to contribute and collaborate on solutions. 

Campus climate plans

Staff across MIT — led by the Department of Facilities, Office of Sustainability, Office of Campus Planning, and Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) Office — have already begun to identify operational strategies to help reach MIT’s emissions reduction goals. An energy and greenhouse gas working group has been launched to coordinate a diverse portfolio of programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within MIT’s operational units. To enhance and further inform MIT’s current efforts, this contest calls on innovators to propose solutions that specifically address MIT’s role in demonstrating climate solutions that have a global impact beyond the campus doors.

The contest strengthens the group’s efforts by engaging a broader spectrum of students, faculty, and staff in developing and demonstrating innovative proposals.  “We hope the MIT community will join us in identifying a range of potential solutions to meet our institutional climate goals,” said Don Holmes, MIT director of maintenance and utilities, and lead member of the working group.

Contest teams can use the MIT Greenhouse Gas Inventory, released in early 2016, to understand MIT’s current sources of emissions. The inventory data for 2014 and 2015 reveal that MIT’s largest source of emissions, by far, is the energy associated with operating campus buildings, accounting for 98 percent of emissions in 2014 and 97 percent in 2015. 

Diverse solutions sought

“We hope to solicit ideas from the MIT community about how the campus can be a test bed for climate solutions that have an impact beyond our own operational goals,” explained Sarah Brylinsky, project manager for the Office of Sustainability and advisor for the contest. “We need big, bold, creative solutions that challenge us to think about the role this Institute plays in solving the challenges of climate change for society.”

Proposals will be reviewed by an expert team of staff, faculty, and students who are actively engaged with a variety of climate action planning components across MIT’s administrative and academic departments. The contest advisors will seek to connect contest proposal teams to emerging climate action efforts across campus. 

Contest proposal teams are invited to submit an early draft of proposals by May 1 for a chance to workshop their ideas with MIT community members working to implement climate solutions. Teams who meet this early deadline can elect to receive feedback at MIT SustainabilityConnect, a day-long working session for members of MIT’s sustainability-related committees, on May 9.

Harnessing collective intelligence for campus solutions

This challenge is part of a new series of contests launched by the MIT Climate CoLab, a crowdsourcing platform of over 50,000 members. The series seeks high-impact proposals on how people, organizations, and governments can tackle major climate change challenges. Entries can win prizes — including a $10,000 cash award and a chance to present at MIT — and also feed into larger climate action plans for the global community.

“The mission of the Climate CoLab is to test how crowds and experts can work together to solve large, complex problems, like climate change,” says MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Malone, director of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence and founder of the Climate CoLab. “This contest applies that idea to the MIT campus.”


Topics: Climate change, Administration, Campus buildings and architecture, Contests and academic competitions, Environment, Facilities, Sustainability, Community, Energy

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