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What happens at a proper, roll-up your sleeves, Climate Change Hack-a-thon

by on April 20, 2016

Author: Fatima Crerar, Senior Manager, Social Impact @ ecobee

One of the things I enjoy a great deal about my work at ecobee, is the network we’re in. We operate in a sweet spot in between design and energy, or heart and science.

Just recently, I was invited to serve as a judge at a “Climate Hack-a-thon”. With me on the judging panel were: Jim Baxter from the City of Toronto, Karen Clarke-Whistler from TD Bank, and Karen Clark from the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (and yes, that’s two “Karen Clarks”!)

Source: Brookfield Institute

Hosted by a fresh, new think tank called the Brookfield Institute, the four of us reviewed 15 pitches at five minutes each.

The Hack-a-thon was focused on crafting desirable, feasible and impactful ideas whose launch and growth would support a low carbon future for Ontario. TD Bank was a sponsor: they have an active portfolio of environmental action, and the Province and the City both have set greenhouse gas reduction targets in the public’s interest. ecobee was there because we’re a Toronto-born, smart home energy company. We design great products that help people use less energy, and live better. It’s awesome.

Source: Brookfield Institute

The Honorable Glen Murray, Ontario Minister of Environment and Climate Change opened the day with purposeful remarks, pointing out that the average Ontarian today has a footprint of 12 tonnes per year. He wants us all to get down to two tonnes, in support of the Under2MOU to limit warming to less than 2˚. He explained that his current footprint is 2.88 tonnes per year. You can’t improve if you don’t measure, he pointed out. He’s right. I am figuring out mine, and will report back.

Walking into the event, I was focused on finding ideas that delivered tangible and measurable greenhouse gas reductions, in ways that were immediate and sustainable over the long term (more simply put, ideas that would reduce GHGs now and forever). I was also intent on rewarding ones that served people rather than asked something of them. I don’t think green behavior has to be something we are always conscious of. In fact, the most sustainable ideas would just be designed into our lives by the people who make the stuff and services we use. That is one of the big reasons I love ecobee. We do all the thinking about your home comfort, so you don’t have to.

Each of the Hack-a-thon pitches was different from the next but there were clear clusters in the thinking. Commuting and food were by far the most popular issues. And we saw lots of app-based ideas.

The three most stand-out pitches included an idea for small-plot, high intensity farming in under-used backyards (our second place winner); an app that figured out your best commuting options taking into account things like the weather, congestion, schedule and carbon footprint (first place – great pitch!); and a lifestyle app targeted at teenagers that showed off their green-ness through community and competition (third place winner; really insightfully developed).

Source: Brookfield Institute

Source: Brookfield Institute

Source: Brookfield Institute

Commuting and food are big parts of our lives (the blue and teal slices in the pie below). Hands-down, they were the most top of mind issues for the Hackers. Energy use in homes and buildings was much less popular. There were ideas for heat exchangers in the shower, community ground-source heating, and lots of the reminder/reward-app ideas included energy actions things like turning off your lights.

In Ontario, energy for homes and buildings is a significant part of our current GHG emissions (everything in the purple pie slice, plus some of the Residential and Commercial wedges of the green slice.) Looks like 20-25%. The purple slice is big because our heating mainly comes from natural gas in Ontario. Natural gas, though less polluting relatively, is still a fossil fuel and non-renewable, and we heat our buildings at least six months of the year. Electricity, the green slice, on the other hand, is relatively low-emission in Ontario. We use mainly nuclear and hydro, with a growing mix of solar, wind and biomass.

Source: Province of Ontario, Climate Change Strategy

Being part of the event was a little thrill; a judge at a Hack-a-thon. So 2016! And judging was not easy. Jim, the two Karens and I had some healthy debates about which ideas could really, truly work and support a low-carbon future in Ontario. I really appreciate the Brookfield Institute and the other hosts for having me out.  Anytime you want to share an idea that helps people use less energy and live a better life, get in touch. We love that stuff!