19th March 2013

Hacking for greener business


Photo of participants Env Hack Last weekend (16 -17 March) we were busy supporting the env[:hack] organised by Environment Agency and Geeks of London. The event, held at the University of Bristol attracted over 50 software and hardware developers to look at the problems associated with environmental responsibility and create some cool and innovative demos showcasing how technology can help us all be more green.

The weekend kicked off with presentations from Environment Agency which highlighted some of the barriers to business in improving environmental performance, and how this can be turned to opportunities – such as re-use of waste?  There were also examples of good practice.

This was followed by a presentation from GeoVation where participants learnt about the current GeoVation Challenge ‘How can we help British business improve environmental performance?’ in which successful ideas can win a slice of £100,000 to help make their idea a reality.

GeoVation winner, Jason Davies of Staffordshire and West Midland Probation Trust, gave an interesting talk and showed a video of their idea, the Community Payback Visibility app, showing how GeoVation funding had made it possible to develop this.

A variety of data, including OS OpenData and OS OpenSpace and Environment Agency data was available over the weekend to help participants consider the health impacts, location of pollution and the demographics.

Following the presentations, people split into groups and the serious  hacking to help encourage greener business commenced throughout Saturday afternoon and into the evening.

Doors opened bright and early on Sunday morning, with all hackers arriving from 8am onwards. With just five hours of development time remaining, the teams really were working against the clock to complete their hacks. There was time for a quick spot of lunch before the presentations kicked off, where the teams were invited to showcase their hack to the rest of the group and judges.

hacking in action

With 15 teams presenting, there was a lot to get through. Fortunately, the Geeks of London – who, it must be said, did an excellent job facilitating the whole weekend – were on hand to time each team’s presentation and make sure everyone had an equal opportunity to pitch their hack. With just so many great ideas being presented, regrettably, we’re unable to summarise all of them here on the blog. However, here are just a few:

Polish off a Penguin’ – who picked up the prize for best hack (voted by the judging panel) – was an idea developed in response to the following, make-believe scenario: “If a boatload of penguins was to magically arrive in my neighbourhood overnight – how many of them would perish?”. Their hack used datasets relating to factors such as: the climate; hazardous waste, water pollution etc. to highlight how different areas of GB fare, in terms of living quality. Check out this slide deck for more information.

The ‘RecycleLink’ team came up with a service-based concept that allows small businesses and individuals to sell useful waste to companies who are willing to buy it, rather than potentially damaging the environment by removing the waste themselves. They used OS OpenSpace as a mapping platform, allowing users of their system to visualise the results for any given area on an Ordnance Survey map.

The ‘Waterwatch’ team built an app that enables both the general public and businesses to report problems that might exists with a watercourse at any given time, all via the web. It’s a great concept that could be applied to combat other environmental issues we all face today. They were kind enough to release the source code written to develop the app – publishing it here on github.

So, all in all – ‘Env[:Hack]’ proved to be an extremely productive weekend, with some great hacks being developed. It acts as a perfect feeder for the forthcoming GeoVation challenge, where we’re currently inviting innovative ideas that address the question “How can we help British business improve environmental performance?”