Sustainable Electronics Initiative Competitions

International Sustainable Electronics Competition

International Sustaianable Electronics Competition LogoThe International Sustainable Electronics Competition was a project of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) from 2009, when it started as a local student competition, through 2013, by which time it had expanded to an international level. Participants explored solutions to both remediate the existing e-waste problem and prevent e-waste generation in the future. It was open to current college/university students and recent graduates, and participation was free. Cash prizes were awarded to winning entries, made possible by corporate sponsorships.

During the Spring 2009 semester, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) students were challenged to create appealing, useful products from e-waste as part of the Sustainable E-Waste Design Competition. Participants were encouraged to enroll in a School of Art and Design course on sustainability and e-waste issues (ARTD 391/591) taught by industrial design professor William Bullock. Students in this class conducted an e-waste collection on campus to gather unused CPUs, monitors, keyboards, mice, printers, scanners and cell phones as fodder for design competition projects.

In 2010, the competition expanded to a global scale , and applicants were asked to submit videos of their concepts. The name was changed to the International E-Waste Design Competition. While the competition had expanded to an international scale, Professor Bullock’s class participated with the local Champaign County Electronics Recycling Drive, and the class received donated electronics from Advanced Technology Recycling, which was used by the students to participate in the e-waste competition. To view the winning videos from this and other years, please visit the SEI YouTube Channel. Entries were submitted from six countries including Australia, Canada, Cyprus, South Korea, Turkey, and the US.

In 2011, competition categories were changed to "E-Waste Prevention" and "E-Waste Reuse" to shift the focus away from the waste end of the spectrum to a broader, whole life cycle approach, to emphasize that e-waste generation could be prevented by modifications to product design and manufacturing. These categories were continued through the 2012 competition. During 2011-2012, entries were submitted from teams in the US, England, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, South Africa, Turkey, and South Korea (including one bi-national team in 2011).

In 2013, the name was again changed, to the International Sustainable Electronics Competition, to emphasize that it was not focused on reuse of electronic scrap, or meant solely for industrial design students. The categories and judging criteria were changed to better reflect the types of entries we have received. Instead of Reuse and Prevention as categories, we focused on Product and Non-Product categories with aspects of reuse and prevention embedded in the judging criteria. Besides emphasis on a whole life cycle approach, we felt this would better reflect the submissions, which by 2012 had started to incorporate aspect of reuse and prevention regardless of the category to which they were submitted. 2013 entries were submitted by teams in Australia, Canada, India, Mexico, Togo, and the US.

The competition was discontinued in 2014 to devote staff time to other activities, however, its concepts and goals continue to be applied to sustainable electronics education. Creating a mock entry for the competition was used as a final project option in a spring 2014 course taught by SEI staff at UIUC (ENG/TE 498), entitled "Sustainable Technology: Environmental and Social Impacts of Innovations." In fact, entry in the competition was incorporated in several courses at institutions nationally and globally during the time it was an online, international event. This is fitting, considering the competition was born from a class activity. Mock versions of the competition have been used as part of educational outreach to K-12 students via the Girls Learning About Materials (GLAM) summer camp on the UIUC campus, the Orpheum Children's Science Museum in Champaign, IL, and other venues. If you are interested in applying the concepts behind the competition to activites or presentations in a high-school or college course, or special educational event, please contact Joy Scrogum.

The concepts behind the ISEC also live on through influence on other competitions and recognition programs. For example, Janice Johnson of the US EPA Sustainable Materials Management (SMM) program, observed the 2013 competition and judging to learn more about the process and how the categories had evolved. As a result, Non-Product and Product categories, with definitions influenced by ISEC category definitions, were incorporated into the SMM Electronics Challenge Awards for retailers and original equipment manufactuers (OEMs). The SMM Electronics Challenge was launched in 2014.

For more information, see the International Sustainable Electronics Competition web site or contact Joy Scrogum. Additional information is aslo available on the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) Press Coverage page and the SEI Photo Gallery.

Competitions administered by other organizations

Current competitions

Smartphone Encore ChallengeSmartphone Encore Challenge logo

Sprint, in collaboration with HOBI International, Brightstar, and Net Impact, debuted the Smartphone Encore Challenge in 2015. From the competition web site: "Millions of smartphones get discarded each year as consumers upgrade to new models. The old phones get tucked away in drawers or thrown away, burdening landfills. According to the EPA, only about 10% of phones in the U.S. are reused or recycled. It's such a waste – these devices are still wonders of technology, with an amazing capacity to capture, process, store, and transfer data. They’re often chock full of features, including an accelerometer, gyroscope, GPS, camera, and more. They're also an untapped business opportunity…We want you to find profitable and innovative ways to repurpose old smartphones or their components. You get to put your creative and business skills to use addressing an important issue, and, if you win, you'll get some support to put your idea in motion."

Specifically, the winning team will receive $5000 which can be used toward attending a Startup Weekend (powered by Google for Entrepreneurs) to work on the development of their idea. Winners will also receive guidance from executives at Sprint, Brightstar, and HOBI to strengthen their business model. "In addition, the winner and two runners up will be featured in a Net Impact 'Issues in Depth' webinar on Earth Day. They'll also present their business ideas to sponsor executives through a videoconference, and will be highlighted in a national press release from Sprint." Participation in the competition is limited to the first 25 registrants.

P3 logoUS EPA P3: People, Prosperity and the Planet Student Design Competition for Sustainability

This competition is focused on benefiting people, promoting prosperity, and protecting the planet through innovative designs to address challenges to sustainability in both the developed and developing world. The competition has two phases. Initially, interdisciplinary student teams compete for $10,000 grants. Recipients use the money to research and develop their design projects during the academic year. Then, in the following spring, all P3 grant recipients attend the National Sustainable Design Expo featuring the EPA's P3 Award competition in Washington, D.C.

Verb U (Dell's Social Innovation Challenge)

As part of Dell's Social Innovation Challenge, university students were invited to create or join a team to develop and share ideas to solve social and environmental problems (not just those related to electronic products). Participants had access to a community of mentors and network of university students.VerbU logo Students could enter under one or both of the competition tracts: Grand Prize Awards (five cash prizes totaling $105,000) and People’s Choice Awards (17 cash prizes of $1,000 each). Participants could post written descriptions, photos and videos to their idea page for everyone to view and supplemental documentation to be view by the judges only. The Social Innovation Challenge has evolved into a program called Verb U. University students and recent graduates can join Verb U to enter exciting entrepreneurship competitions run by Verb in partnership with global companies, foundations and governments.

Past competitions

Design for [Your] Product Lifetime

This challenge, sponsored by Autodesk and iFixit in 2012, was meant to keep alive the belief that designers can make a difference in a product’s lifetime and anyone has the right to maintain or repair it. Core77 asked students to focus on product design for durability and reparability and provided free tutorials from Autodesk to help with the innovation and design process. Cash prizes were awarded.


Our Planet, Our Stuff, Our Choice Video Competition

The EPA sponsored a video competition asking participants to submit a 30 or 60 second video which would focus on any of the following issues: reducing/reusing, recycling, composting, consumption and environmental footprint. Winners were announced in April of 2010. First, second, and third prizes were $2500, $1500, and $1000, respectively. 2 student winners (between 13 and 18 years old) will received $500 each.

Greener Gadgets Design Competition

Greener Gadgets was a one-day conference held in February 27, 2009 that featured key representatives from some of the largest consumer electronics companies in the world, innovators from academic think tanks, members of startups focused on renewable energy, and other leading minds in the word of sustainable design and business. A competition was held in conjunction with the conference in which designers were invited to submit concepts for more environmentally-friendly consumer electronics products. Designs sought to minimize the environmental impact of these devices at any stage in the product lifecycle. Areas of sustainability to consider included energy, materials/lifecycle/recycling, social impact, and educational development. Designers could focus on a particular area of human enterprise (learning, playing, communicating, etc.) or a particular context (work, home, school, etc.), a particular material, or a specific device. Entries could also seek to create new paradigms for products and services. Greener Gadgets partnered with Core77 to present the competition. More information, including descriptions of winners and finalists, may be found on the Core77 web site.