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‘Zero miles from farm to fork’: écoHackMTL tackles urban sustainability

A daylong hackathon brought IT and environmentalism together at Concordia
October 22, 2014
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By Sara DuBreuil

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How can digital tools be used to build environmentally healthy cities? And what solutions can be thought up in just seven hours?

These are the questions écoHackMTL sought to answer as it brought together teams with expertise in urban sustainability and IT at a Concordia-sponsored hackathon on October 18.

“The idea is to think up projects that will make cities more liveable,” said Alex Aylett, director of écoHackMTL. “We really try to encourage teams to aim as big and as wide as they can.”

It helped that there were also $3,000-worth of prizes at stake.

With sketches, notes, laptops and tablets spread out across the table, Concordia’s five-member team worked under the time crunch to come up with ways to make the Loyola and Sir George Williams campuses more environmentally friendly. They ultimately pitched two projects: Campus Microgreens and Better Bins.

The interdisciplinary team was made up of Mikayla Wujec from the Department of Environmental Health and Safety; Cheryl Gladu from the David O’Brien Centre for Sustainable Enterprise; urban planning student Robert Seitzberg; environmental geography student Sebastien Christ; and Eryn Fitzgerald, Concordia’s community relations coordinator.

“We want to make it so that all the microgreens eaten here come from the campus itself,” said Seitzberg of the Campus Microgreens project. “Basically, zero miles farm to fork.”

He explained that the system would be an automated greenhouse pre-coded for specific types of greens that could be used at Concordia locations like the Hive Café.

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The second project, Better Bins, is an interactive waste diversion installation that would encourage people to properly recycle or compost.

“As you approach it, sensors would light up the system,” Gladu said. “If you put stuff in the right spot — compost, for example — you get rewarded with an image that shows how much is in there. The image might be a seed germinating or growing into a flower as the bin fills up.”

Other écoHackers presented ideas including a neighbourhood suggestion board, an online marketplace for sharing items and an app that finds vacant property in Montreal.

For some teams, the hackathon was the final event of six months of programming, pitching events and work nights. Others, like Concordia’s crew, got together for the first time right before the event.

All the teams had a diverse set of backgrounds — something that is key to écoHackMTL’s mandate.

“The urban environmental scene and the IT scene right now are still far apart,” Aylett said. “We’re a blend of three things: we’re part hackathon, part start-up incubator and part living laboratory. It’s a unique approach and we’re proud of that.”

This variety of perspectives was a big attraction for Concordia’s team.

“It was really interesting,” said Seitzberg. “All the people on our team had amazing creative ideas, and the synergy of all of our ideas and expertise combined made today a great day.”
 

Find out more about écoHackMTL’s projects.

Find out more about the Campus Microgreens project and the Better Bins project.
 



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