Taking local action on global climate change

Published Oct 31, 2018

With climate change experts recently warning governments around the world that they must make rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society by 2030—if we are to avoid disastrous levels of global warming—Wellington’s recent Climathon event has never been more important. 

Part of a 24-hour international challenge organised by Climate KIC to reduce carbon emissions and build resilience to climate change, the fourth Wellington Climathon was held simultaneously over the weekend with 112 other cities around the world.  

Co-hosted by Victoria University of Wellington and the Wellington City Council, the event kicked off on Friday night with participants asked to think about how they would solve three of the capital’s biggest challenges, i.e. how to transform waste into resources or otherwise rethink waste, how to create a sustainable food network, or how to reduce air transport emissions in Wellington.

The attendees—whose diversity was represented in both age (from 16 to 60) and occupation (from students to business professionals)—then pitched solutions to each other and formed teams around the best ideas. On Saturday morning, teams discussed their solutions with the start-up coaches, business experts and academics on-hand to help, then ran experiments and carried out market research to test the viability of their ideas. 

On Saturday evening, they presented their solutions as two-minute pitches to the judging panel, who were looking for the environmental, social and economic impact the ideas could have on Wellington, as well as their long term viability, scalability and sustainability. 

The teams were competing for a host of prize packages aimed at supporting further development of their ideas post-Climathon.  All teams have automatic entry into the first round of the WCC’s Low Carbon Challenge in 2019. 

The overall winner was Reusabowl (pictured), who wanted to eliminate 30 tonnes of avoidable plastic waste in Wellington each year—simply by swapping out one-use plastic lunch trays in cafes with stainless steel bowls which could be returned to a collection point for sterilisation and re-use. The Reusabowl team not only won the first prize of $2,000 from the Wellington City Council (WCC). they were the category winners for the Waste Challenge (receiving $1,000 from the Ministry for the Environment), and a business progression award comprising $500 from Callaghan Innovation combined with two months of co-working space and strategy consulting services from BNZ. 

Two of the Reusabowl team members (Sarah Booher and Seiko Kurokawa) came into Climathon with the same idea—one inspired by the mountain of plastic resulting from each week’s “curry Friday” at her workplace. 

“Plastic is awful,” says Sarah. “In addition to its negative environmental effects, plastic has many chemical additives that adversely affect human health. Our whole team was committed to doing something that would reduce its use as food containers.” 

Climathon judge and WCC Councillor Iona Pannett says the team’s idea deserved to win because “it actually takes plastic waste out of the system,” rather than recycling existing plastics. “We think businesses and the public across Wellington will be thrilled about this idea” 

The other major prize was a spot in Victoria University of Wellington’s summer entrepreneurship accelerator— the Victoria Entrepreneur Bootcamp—valued at $7,500. This was awarded to team Happy Earth, whose big idea involved developing a gaming app that shows players the direct effect of their actions on the environment.  The team now has the opportunity to develop their business over the next three months with the support of weekly coaching and workshops, and the support of other more established entrepreneurs. 

“With an issue as pressing as climate change, we simply can’t afford to be passive,” says Viclink’s Emily Sullivan, who co-organised the event with Bart de Vries, a strategy consultant at Motif and founder of the sustainable office furniture company Limber. “Climathon gives cities like Wellington the opportunity to take action—to take our future into our own hands and implement grassroots solutions that make Wellingtonians feel empowered along the way. Supporting the teams to progress their businesses in our vibrant ecosystem is proving itself by increasing the number of climate friendly startups”   

Bart says the global Climathon alumni network is an important resource. “It gives you a way in to speak to an engaged and connected community, with a massive global network of people to help get projects growing and effect real change.” 

Both agree the event could not happen without the support of its co-hosts, partners (Viclink, the Greater Wellington Regional Council, Ministry for the Environment and Callaghan Innovation) and the largest number of supporters to date. 

“We are so grateful to these organisations and, of course, the judges and volunteers who give up their time to help us run it each year,” says Emily.

To find our more about this year's winners, visit the climathon.nz website.

For further information, please contact Emily Sullivan. 

Photo credit: Mark Tantrum Photography / Elias Rodriguez

Pictured: Wellington City Councillor Iona Pannett with overall winners Reusabowl: Sarah Booher, Seiko Kurokawa, Martine Bucher, Sally Hutt, Martin White, Daphne Wang.