The second European Innovation Race – sharing big ideas for creating a sustainable university!

Published on March 7, 2022.

Last Thursday, March 3rd, the second European Innovation Race finally happened! The event aimed to generate ideas on making universities sustainable through encouraging skills such as design thinking and teamwork. 

This one-day hackathon took place online with teams of international participants and partners. The organizers of the event were thrilled that many students from both University Jean Moulin Lyon 3 and the University of Padova joined the event. The European Innovation Race is an annual event run by the internACTional project, a collaboration between the University of Bergen, University Jean Moulin Lyon 3, Vilnius University, and Knowledge Economy Forum (KEF) Vilnius as a part of the Erasmus+ strategic partnership.

This year’s EIR was introduced and facilitated by Erika Mackevičiūtė (KEF), with Susan Johnsen (University of Bergen) introducing the case. Jevgenija Avedenij, a representative of Vilnius University, introduced the participants to design thinking. If you are not yet familiar, design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for success.

Guided by design thinking principles, the students split into four groups to provide the strongest pitch to make future universities more sustainable. 

The success of each team’s ideas was judged based on the persuasiveness of their presenting speech and how realistic and beneficial their concept is. Will the idea work long-term? How expensive is it to launch it? Can the benefits of the proposal be measured? The judging panel was in for quite a challenge here!

The first team highlighted that universities are not self-sustainable enough right now. To correct this, the group suggested installing a system of kinetic tiles, which would generate energy simply through university students and staff moving over the tiles, placed below ground. This would help a university become more sustainable and educate the academic community on the importance of sustainability. 

The second team of students proposed rethinking the university’s food system. Simple changes into how much food is prepared regularly and discarded were presented as an easily achievable method of fostering sustainability on university campuses. The proposal of the second team includes an ahead-of-time system for ordering food, which would help accurately measure the amount of food needed, reducing potential food waste. Speaking of food waste, the team also suggested installing a composting system, which would allow for less trash to be generated. Considering the large number of students and staff who regularly eat their meals on campus, such an idea would help make a university more sustainable.

Team number three focused on the modification of how a university distributes scholarships. They compared the scholarship systems in France and Italy, pointing out the issues of too much aid going to international students and abandoning local students who may also struggle financially. The team suggested modifying the access criteria for local students, helping a more significant number of local, financially struggling potential students access higher education.

Finally, the fourth team happened to bring forward the same idea as team number one. Reiterating the proposal of the first team, the team brought up the importance of a self-sustainable university, using the energy generated by the tiles to power university buildings and their equipment. The group suggested this idea because of relatively low installation costs and that such a system is already implemented and successful in Heathrow airport, located in the United Kingdom. 

After a challenging deliberation, the judging panel awarded the victory to team number four, acknowledging the quality of their presentation, which went into the crucial details regarding the measurements of the costs and success rate of the proposal. 

To conclude the event, feedback was collected to improve this event for next year with the hope of attracting even more inspired and motivated students to participate next year.