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Big Sustainability Ideas Triumph: COINS Construction Industry Grand Challenge



Construction Industry Solutions Ltd (Slough, Berkshire) has revealed the winners for the inaugural COINS Construction Industry Grand Challenge (CCIGC) at the Grand Final Gala Dinner & Awards Ceremony.

The first of the night’s winners was Jacob Johnson from the USA who won the New and Emerging Technologies award. Jake’s big idea was on Solar Desalination, involving the purification of salt or fresh water without the grid and simultaneously providing a sustainable energy source. Solar Desalination takes inspiration from the earth’s precipitation cycles and Jake’s idea replicates that process in an innovative community-level system.

Jake is an architectural designer and engineer who is dedicated to projects surrounding sustainable engineering and building. Jake secured a place at Singularity University’s 7 day Executive Program.

Jake commented on his big idea, saying, “I am 100% dedicated to sustainable engineering and using my time to resolve environmental issues. I primarily want to focus on the drought that is devastating wildlife and threatening the economic stability of the California coastal farming region. With enough of these Solar Desalination systems around the world, millions of lives could be saved and help to ensure California’s economy remains stable.”

The second big winner of the night was Toby Quirk from the UK, who won the Leadership 35 award. Toby’s idea centred on improving the environmental impact of construction in the residential sector, by creating government schemes to enforce and reward the development and purchase of greener homes.

Toby is on the graduate scheme at Taylor Wimpey Plc and has a BSc in Construction Commercial Management and MSc in Quantity Surveying. Toby wins a place on the Postgraduate Certificate course at the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

When asked about his idea and winning Leadership 35, Toby responded, “This idea will change the way sustainability is viewed by the nation. The aim is to create, at volume, homes that produce more energy than they use throughout their life cycle. The development of sustainable homes will be seen as a real commercial opportunity for everyone involved. This idea will benefit supply-chain, developers, local governments and most importantly customers, increasing the quality of their lives.”

Robert Brown Chairman of the COINS Grand Challenge committee, added, “We received some impressive entries for the COINS Construction Industry Grand Challenge. The big ideas from Jake and Toby really stuck out because of the impact they would have on society and the construction industry. Both of these ideas gained recognition from the judging panel and we look forward to supporting both winners with their ambition and determination to help solve society’s hardest problems.”

The 3rd big award of the evening was won by Hermione Crease, cofounder of PurrMetrix, a company which uses the Internet of Things and data analytics to help improve the performance of HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning) in commercial buildings. This will help to reduce the level of energy used by HVAC systems in the built environment.

Hermione scooped the Bouygues UK Special R&D Award, which gives the opportunity for PurrMetrix’s idea to be taken forward as part of Bouygues UK’ corporate R&D programme.

Hermione Crease commented on her award, “I am thrilled to have won and we are looking forward working with Bouygues UK to take this idea forward. The Internet of Things is a widely discussed topic, but in construction it has the potential to drive a much greater level of efficiency in heating and cooling systems. By heat-mapping buildings in real time, PurrMetrix identifies when and where problems arise, so facilities management can easily identify any problems.”

The award was handed to Hermione by Aleksandra Njagulj, Head of Sustainability and Innovation at Bouygues UK, she commented “The industry’s made great strides in improving the energy performance of buildings through design and construction. However, information around the actual use of buildings and their energy performance once occupied is still very much the Holy Grail. I’m excited about Hermione’s idea which, in conjunction with the Internet of Things, could really help us to bridge that gap. This detailed insight into the world of buildings once they are in use will allow us to build on the solid work we’ve already done and make even more informed choices earlier in the build process, optimising for maximum efficiency.”

Aleksandra Njagulj presented two additional awards of 3-month paid internships to Tim Errington (UK) and Alex C.Y. Wong (Malaysia).

Runners up in the Grand Challenge include Toby Ferenczi (UK), in the New and Emerging Technologies category, and Anielle Guedes (Brazil), for theLeadership 35 award.

The full shortlist of finalists and their big ideas is available on the COINS website.

This COINS Construction Industry Grand Challenge was open to anyone who had a big idea that could positively impact the lives of millions of people, by improving energy consumption and/or sustainability leadership in construction.

The competition offered two challenges, each with a unique prize. The first challenge – “New and Emerging Technologies” – relates to uncovering a big but viable technology-based idea that will significantly reduce energy consumption at any or all stages in the lifecycle of built assets. The second challenge – “Leadership 35” – is for people under 35 who have the vision and personal qualities to bring a new approach to sustainability leadership within the construction industry.

On the judging panel and attending that evening was Larry Sullivan, Derek Leaver and Robert Brown of COINS, Aleksandra Njagulj (Bouygues UK), Ian Heasman (Taylor Wimpey), Thomas Lau (Laing O’Rourke), Christopher Dyson (Carillion), Dr Deborah Morecroft (NanoFab Tools), Mike Halsall (Singularity University), Catherine Tilley and Dr Louise Driffill (University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership), and Ben Haldin (Fulcro Engineering).

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Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?



self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo |

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.


Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.


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