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Wege Prize 2024: Sustainability Innovations & Circular Economy

Wege Prize 2024: Sustainability Innovations & Circular Economy

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With the largest roster of competing teams and participants in its 11-year history, Wege Prize announces the exciting onset of its 2024 international sustainability and innovation competition.

This year, a record-breaking 290 higher education students worldwide are working in diverse teams of five to devise real-world approaches to combatting “wicked problems” facing the world today, such as hunger, pollution, and waste, as they vie for Wege Prize 2024’s top spot and cash prize pool of $65,000 USD.

Representing 155 unique academic disciplines and 109 colleges and universities worldwide—including institutions in Mozambique, Kenya, India, Denmark, Slovakia and other countries—the competition’s unprecedented 58, five-person student teams bring together a cross section of participants from Rwanda, Uganda, China, Bulgaria, Venezuela and other nations around the world. View the full list of teams and participants at http://wegeprize.org/2024-teams.

Wege Prize, which is organized by Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD), invites students in higher education from around the world to form diverse, five-person teams to develop actionable products, services, or business models that address challenges affecting people and the environment. Throughout the competition’s several phases, the teams refine their inventive ideas into real-world solutions to help advance the circular economy.

“We’re excited to help advance the innovative, collaborative approaches of Wege Prize’s largest group of student teams, yet as they develop solutions for a circular economy,” says Gayle DeBruyn, a KCAD professor of Collaborative Design and Wege Prize principal organizer. “The teams’ work is helping to reduce waste and pollution, extend product longevity, and enhance natural systems, benefitting economies, businesses, and communities around the globe.”

58 Teams, from 38 Countries

As select student groups advance through Wege Prize’s seven-month, four-phase term, they work with the competition’s multidisciplinary panel of expert judges to fine-tune their innovative solutions for real-world applications. The finalist teams will earn the opportunity to present their developed solutions and compete for a portion of $65,000 in cash prizes.

Wege Prize was established in 2013 to investigate complex, layered, “wicked problems” and to encourage students in higher education to take a diverse, collaborative approach in developing new, tangible solutions to produce and consume essential goods, design for the circular economy, and apply their business models or products to be implemented after the competition’s conclusion. Based on its success, Wege Prize was awarded major grant funding in 2021 to extend the annual competition for an assured five years, thanks to the continuing financial support of The Wege Foundation.

Wege Prize 2024’s global field of multidisciplinary higher education student team competitors boasts eight more groups than 2023’s field, including 40 additional student participants and nine more academic disciplines represented by a cross-section of 239 undergraduate students, 41 graduate students, and ten doctoral students.

A Platform for Innovation

With Wege Prize’s multidisciplinary framework advancing the collaborative perspectives of student teams across academic majors and countries of origin to develop sustainable innovations, examples of the 2024 participant initiatives include:

  • Mitigating the environmental and economic implications of wood processing through the conversion of sawdust waste into biodegradable packaging and interior materials.
  • Addressing urban heat islands and unsustainable energy consumption by introducing solar panel shading and circular container farms in open parking spaces.
  • Circularizing the coffee production process through sustainable farming practices and an increased development and use of valuable sub-products to eliminate waste from the process.
  • Addressing the medical sector’s dependency on single use, non-recyclable plastic by redesigning medical equipment packaging.
  • Transforming traditional brick production in Pakistan by optimizing the manufacturing process to reduce pollution and utilizing existing non-recyclable plastic waste in new brick materials.
  • Addressing marine pollution caused by fishing nets by designing biodegradable fishing nets made from coir fiber extracted from coconut husks and creating a process to remove existing non-biodegradable nets.
  • Harvesting harmful algae blooms from lakes and rivers and converting them into valuable resources including nutrient rich animal feed.
  • Establishing a year-round, circular production facility of senene (grasshoppers) to be used as a meat-alternative protein source that minimizes resource use, enhances feed efficiency, and raises awareness of   sustainable foodsystems.

Many Wege Prize competitors are realizing their ideas as successful ventures. Among the program’s notable achievers are:

  • 2023 winner Banana Leather’s start-up Banofi Leather won the $1 million Hult Prize 2023 for its sustainable leather alternative made from banana waste and whose lead member was interviewed on NBC Now.
  • 2023 team finalist Green Poultry Farm has secured customer interest in its biofertilizer made from poultry waste and continued its winning streak in subsequent sustainability competitions, worldwide, including first-place winner at the 2023 Climate Launchpad Mozambique national finals, plus finalist in both the Youth4Climate global competition and Third Hengqin Scientific and Technological Entrepreneurship International Competition in Macau, China.
  • 2023 team finalist UnWasterwater has been noticed for its innovative approach to convert carbon dioxide into organic compounds, enabling waste to be remade into valuable organic chemical feedstocks.
  • 2022 finalist team SCUP Aquaculture was shortlisted by the prestigious Moonshot Awards.
  • 2021 competitor, the Chilensis team that has been recognized for its sound isolators made from discarded palm leaves to ease invasive indoor noise pollution in Chile.
  • 2020 winner Hya Bioplastics was accepted into a prestigious incubator and has advanced their business.
  • 2019 team Rutopia created concepts for eco-sensitive tourism that won the Hult Prize in 2019 and garnered the attention of top editors at Forbes, among others.

The recognition of key teams’ solutions for a circular economy is a high testament to the value of their innovative concepts and solutions,” says KCAD’s DeBruyn. “With insight gained from industry experts, these young leaders are working to make meaningful strides to solve challenging problems around the world through collaboration, innovation, and intention.”

About Wege PrizeWege Prize, a West Michigan-born concept developed by Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University’s (KCAD’s) Wege Center for Sustainable Design with the support of The Wege Foundation, is an annual competition that ignites games-changing solutions for the future by inspiring college students around the world to collaborate across institutional, disciplinary, and cultural boundaries and redesign the way economies work. To learn more, go to wegeprize.org.

About KCADLocated in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University (KCAD) is committed to creating lasting impact in West Michigan and beyond through collaborative partnerships, cultural innovation, and an educational model that prepares students for leadership in design, the visual arts, and art history; provides innovative, collaborative education that fosters intellectual growth and individual creativity; and promotes the ethical and civic responsibilities of artists and designers, locally and globally. For more information, please visit kcad.edu

About The Wege FoundationPlanting seeds that develop leaders in economicology, health, education, and arts, and enhance the lives of people in West Michigan and around the world. For more information, please visit wegefoundation.com

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