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Submissions: Design an Everyday Solution to an Extraordinary Problem

We recently challenged the GOOD community to come up with an everyday solution to an extraordinary...

We recently challenged the GOOD community to come up with an everyday solution to an extraordinary problem—something simple, brilliant, and easy to implement that could have a big impact. We received a wide range of submissions, including everything from academic papers to infographics to single tweets. See a selection of submissions below. Some of these have been edited for length. The winner of the project gets a $500 gift certificate from Nau clothing. We'll announce the result on April 6, 2010.

From Kyle Williams

Problem: Waste in the form of paper and plastic cups... and forgetting to bring a reusable bottle.

Solution: The Belt Bottle! Never forget your bottle again.

The Belt Bottle is a water bottle with a rigid cap/mouthpiece and a collapsible body. The cap would have cool designs and velcro straps, so you could keep it on your belt and wear it as an accessory (looking similar to a belt buckle, but anywhere on the belt). The body could be a thin but durable plastic bladder that could scrunch up against the lid, or a harder plastic with a construction similar to Tupperware's FlatOut products—collapsing flat.

From Brittany Bowden

A global issue? Sure! Trying to find items in the grocery store...

Rushing through a crowded Whole Foods with a crying newborn is a challenge. A challenge that is greatly intensified when I can't find that one last item on my list.

Why not have a simple type-pad search engine mounted to the handle of your grocery cart? I would type in "tahini" and "isle 4 / 2nd row / near checkout" would appear. Simple!

Particular brands and grocery stores could use this small screen to showcase specials and points of interest while a search is not being preformed. Why not have the information relative to what section you are shopping in?

From Jeff Halsey

From Colleen Maley

My idea: A workout facility in every hospital.

The backstory: I had this idea this weekend while visiting my grandmother in hospice care at the hospital. My mother has been taking care of my grandmother for the past month, and the only exercise she has gotten during that time has been her trips up and down the eight flights of stairs to my grandmother's hospital room. Some hospitals have workout facilities, but they are not standard (as they are in many hotels these days). Why shouldn't those caring for the sick have the same privilege afforded to business travelers? I know that my mom, who usually walks or hits the gym every day, would appreciate having an on-site facility where she could take a few minutes for herself amid the stress of caring for a critically ill loved one. While hospitals might not want to invest in a venture that isn't immediately revenue-generating, the availability of such a facility might be a dealbreaker for some caregivers who are deciding among health facilities. Additionally, the hospital could tout the facility as part of a 360-degree devotion to wellness.

From Nicole Fischer

Human-generated power. More of it. We should apply the idea of “green gyms”—using peoples’ motion to power gyms—to households. It’d encourage more activity and movement within houses and power homes. You could hook up your treadmill or stair-climber to this grid and power your home with the energy you make.

From Joshua Duchenne

Global problem: Some people know nothing about politics, yet they have a vote that can have drastic implications on the future of the planet. If we are forced, at a young age, to know the basics of politics and the significance of our votes, future generations may become more aware and more conscious of their place in the world.

Global solution: Teach and assess 15-year-olds on the simple and currently relevant tenets of politics across three basic streams: political ideologies, current world leaders of major economies, and major political structures. Teenagers should be assessed by a simple multiple choice exam (30 minutes, no more) and given a certificate if they pass. They should then be able to vote in local and national elections.

From Opira John

It's common knowledge that one of the major causes for climate change is deforestation as a result of human activity. This change is gradually affecting every region, country, town, and village on planet earth and yet not everyone recognizes this threat. My simple idea is about tree planting involving everyone.

Come World Environmental day, each person should go plant a tree near her or his former school. If the school is far, go to the nearest school and plant a tree. The school administration should assign each tree to a student to take care of and protect, water and nature.

From Edna Aphek

The Problem: Our society places much emphasis on the young, the new, and the changing. In such a world the past looses its importance. The voices of past knowledge and experience become obsolete. People 55 and older are often looked upon as people whose ability to contribute to the workforce and to society is somewhat limited.

Grants, awards, scholarships, and programs abound for the young or people 30 to 45 years old. When it comes to those who in the old days were the sages and source of wisdom, however, one could hardly find any sources of funding.

This project proposes to train older people in the tools of creativity, entrepreneurship, and teamwork so that after the training the trainees will initiate money-generating start-ups.

From Vanessa Stafford

I designed a cup as a solution, to encourage people to carry their own cups. It saves paper, energy, time, and resources.

When I go to Starbucks I feel as if I'm the only one to bring my own cup. I bring it specifically to save paper. When I buy a pastry I ask them to put it on a ceramic plate, to save paper. Otherwise they put it in a paper bag.

If everyone started bringing their own cups, it would save a vast amount of paper.

From Louise Bruce

More and more community gardens and parks are composting in New York City, which is amazing! However, because of the busy nature of life in New York, people don't always have time to show up to these organic waste composting sites during the drop-off hours. Instead, they hang their food-scrap-filled plastic bags on the gates and fences. The waste quickly starts giving off unpleasant odors, and it looks terrible. It is just one more reason people think composting is so disgusting, and it could cause a compost site to be shut down.

My idea is simple. Let's create a compost drop-off bin, much like the after hours video return bins at most video rental shops. It would be a heavy free-standing bin that could be accessed through an opening in the fence. The bin should be big enough for a wheelbarrow to fit inside. That way, the food scraps would fall directly into the wheelbarrow and could be easily rolled over to the compost pile.

Instead of having drop off hours, sites could be receiving compost 24/7. The easier we make compost for people, the more likely they will do it right?

From Bruce Tharp and Stephanie Tharp

"One World" is a simple hand gesture that allows anyone to communicate approval and disapproval to others about their behavior as it affects the health of the environment. Harnessing the power of social pressure, it offers a recognizable "language" that can encourage beneficial behavior and discourage harmful behavior.

The "One World" gesture is based upon the action of 1) pointing at the individual who you wish to praise or shame with the index finger, and then 2) rotating the finger back toward yourself while creating a "one" with the index finger and a circle with the remaining fingers (see visual). This is done in quick succession and appears as a single, fluid gesture. If this gesture is meant to praise another's behavior, then the one smiles while gesturing; if it is meant in disapproval, then one scowls while gesturing.

From Jimena Valoz

My solution consists of a little device with a screen that you install on everything that uses water in your house: faucets, toilets, washing machines, etc. This little device would shame you into reducing your water consumption by measuring the amount of water you are using and telling you how it could be used by someone else. For example: "You are using x litres of water. With that amount of water, a poor family in Africa could satisfy their demand for a month."

From Abrar

My name is Abrar and I'm a student in the United Arab Emirates. Water shortage is a pressing global problem. Yet water wastage is even more alarming. In the sketch attached, I tried to make a simple drawing of what my dad and I do at home to save water in a very easy and effortless way.

From Adam Ludwin

Please find my submission of a forehead-smacking idea to reduce the incidence of the common cold:

From Curtis Rogers

Reusable bags are great, but they are not yet the norm. Using our own bags means the cheap ones will never be litter (in neighborhoods, the ocean, or anywhere else) and they'll never be produced.

This idea creates an incentive for people to get into the habit of using their own bags: each time they shop with their own bag, a small donation will be given to a local school, whose logo could be printed on the grocery bag. If we can encourage kids and parents to use reusable bags to benefit schools, they'll be encouraged to take a good concept and convert it into a good habit.

From Andrew Whitman

My name is Andrew Whitman, and I am an architecture student at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. My proposed solution to the growing problem of increasing waste and garbage polluting our earth is to create a community recycling garden. First you would need to select a site, then you would build tepee-like structures and plant vegetables and herbs for the community using plastic water bottles as planters. The soil could come from an on-site compost and humanure from the community (optional). Not only would this site serve as a interactive gardening spot, but there would be recycling bins for leftover containers that could not be used for planters. The ultimate goal here is to make recycling and gardening fun, while reducing the amount of waste ending up in landfills.

From Kendall Wu

Wire and plastic clothes hangers are used by millions of people every day including consumers, retailers, dry cleaners, and the hospitality industry. And yet most people don't think about the impact of using these hangers.

A couple of statistics to put it into perspective: Three-and-a-half billion wire hangers are thrown into U.S. landfills each year. Each wire hanger requires 40 inches of wire. That's roughly 2.2 million miles of wire, or the equivalent of 100,000 tons of steel. Of the typical polystyrene or polypropylene hangers, only 15 percent are recycled properly. The rest end up in landfills, taking hundreds of years to degrade and releasing harmful chemicals into the environment.

The solution: a clotheshanger eco-cycle. Environmentally-friendly hanger options exist made out of bamboo, PET, and paper. People just need to use them. For industry, programs can be created to encourage use of these options such as trade-ins and cost-sharing. Besides, it's the mark of a socially and environmentally responsible business. For you, the consumer, recycle hangers with your cleaners, get your clothes pressed/folded instead, and encourage your local businesses to use eco-friendly hangers.

From Jill Allyn Peterson

My simple, DIY solution to an everyday problem has to do with biking. One of the main issues that prevents people from biking on a daily basis in cities is the sense of danger you often get as a bicyclist among cars. The best solution to this problem would be a network of protected bike highways throughout and between cities, covered in smooth surfaces. Until that happens, bicyclists need ways to be better seen by motorists. This reflective, neon, waterproof bike chain cover is a step bikers can take to assert their place visually. Since many riders, especially in New York City, wear their bike chain across their shoulder or around their waist as they ride, I thought, "why not cover that in something bright and reflective?"

Made from zero-porosity rip-stop nylon, heat-transferred reflective striping, velcro, and batting, the bike chain cover serves a few purposes all at once: protecting clothing from a dirty chain, providing some padding to the chain making it more comfortable to wear, protecting the chain from exposure and rust, and protecting the safety of the rider by providing an extra reflectivity for motorists to notice.

Now imagine all bikers wearing some kind of reflective neon strip! It could become a sign of pride for the biking community, while providing an extra element of protection in the form of a convenient accessory. A small step toward making bicycling safer, which makes it easier to adopt as a form of transportation on a daily basis.

From Stefan Friesen

I'm a seventeen-year old high school student that lives in a town where it seems some of the other students don't appreciate the beauty that they live in. I come from a small town and it is absolutely beautiful here; still, many people don't seem to acknowledge the mountains teeming with wildlife, the extensive wetlands, the glittering lake, or the breathtaking rivers. They seem more worried of what they're going to drink on the weekend or how they're going to get out of here when they graduate. It's discouraging to hear ignorant comments like "There's nothing to do here" or "I can't wait to get out." If people had at least an appreciation for where they live then they would be more content with their surroundings. It's not a wrong thing to desire to see other places in our world, but when you want to leave you town because you find it a complete drag, I think that is a problem. An outdoor educational system would be a very good thing for my community and many others like it. I don't know if many already are in place or if they even exist, but I'd imagine them being two- or three-month programs for students that would get them hiking and camping and learning about nature.

From Matt Wachsman

The great pacific garbage patch is a global problem. The conventional method of cleaning it is wrong and unworkable from the perspective of thermodynamics. The effort involved in scooping up the plastic produces its own significant problems. Using nets and other scooping methods will disrupt sea life, use tremendous amounts of energy (and time and money), and the trash will tend to move away from the scoop anyway.

Oil and water separate. Oil attracts oil; water attracts water. Putting a corralled section of oil onto the area of ocean that has garbage will suck up the plastic debris into the oil where it can be removed. Then the oil can be taken back from the plastic and the process repeated in the same spot in the ocean. The garbage will be sucked into the oil, and the ship won't be required to move over a large section of ocean. Relatively non-toxic oil (fish oil? olive oil?) can be used.

From Kyle Yugawa

Cycling in general requires you to carry a few extra items in your bag that can be an inconvenience because of their bulk and weight. If you are going to the market or coffee shops, you need to carry decent bike lock, which weighs anywhere from 2 to 5 lbs. In addition a heavy-duty chain or cable would be needed to secure quick-release wheels.

Solution: A rethinking of bike parking devices. Instead of leaning your bike against a metal fixture planed in the cement that may scratch or awkwardly fit your bike, use a simple stand that holds your bike in place through the bike crank, avoiding any harsh contact marks from the frame. A hinged enclosure will secure the bike as well as protect the lock from clippers or any would-be thief. By creating a tamper-proof enclosure around the lock, a heavy-duty cut-resistant lock would no longer be needed. A simple masterlock would do. Also, a meta-rod attached to the hinged enclosure would secure both the front and back wheels eliminating the need to remove wheels or carry a chain.

From Kelli Perez

I make bowl covers that replace tinfoil or plastic wrap. They're pretty and totally functional!

From Crystal Dreisbach

Problem: A large amount of waste is generated from food packaging, especially take-out and to-go containers from dining establishments. Indeed, evidence plainly points out that Styrofoam is hard to recycle and most of it ends floating in the ocean, so why do so many restaurants continue to use it? While I love the idea of bringing my own reusable food storage containers to a restaurant for leftovers (and occasionally I see a die-hard environmentalist do this and I admire it), it is simply not something I ever remember to do, nor would I expect most average folks to do it.

Solution: Somehow I do manage to bring back reusable glass milk bottles to the grocery store. Why? Because of the refund! The money is the motivation.

Following this logic, here's what can be done: Participating restaurants carry a modest supply of durable, reusable food storage containers, such as glass Snapware containers. (I love these. They are so sturdy, and those little locks are so satisfying to snap down!) When the customer needs a to-go container, the restaurant simply supplies him or her with one of the durable, reusable food storage containers.

Restaurants that take part in this scheme can promote themselves as "waste-free restaurants" (need great logo and promotional campaign for this) and let customers know up-front that they provide only durable, reusable food storage containers. They charge customers a "deposit" of a dollar or two to cover the cost of the containers. The customer can then bring the container back to any participating restaurant for a refund of his deposit, which equates to a couple dollars off his meal.

From Nathan Ross

Over-consumption of products causes pollution. To address this problem, we created a dating service that would make people aware of what they use.

From Matthew Harrison Smith

Cargo bicycles can negotiate alleys and take care of overflowing recycle bins! Folks want to recycle, but the moment a business has an overflowing green bin that desire is mitigated. I envision on-call cargo bikes that can be dispatched and then take the materials to a central location. Increased recycling, exercise for the cyclists, no new routes for the waste disposal company! I will be working on a more detailed proposal in my spare time, but I hope this is enough to give you the overall idea.

From Brian Jones

Everyday problem: Billions of disposable cups are used and thrown away daily to hold coffee for less than an hour.

Everyday solution: Create an organization that advocates the use of ceramic mugs and travel tumblers. Everyone has easy access to one, but the most difficult hurdle is breaking the habit of convenience.

The idea would be to get cafes and individuals to join the movement, promoting the benefits of mugs (i.e. usefulness, taste, the environment). Ultimately, using paper cups could be as undesirable as being seen with a plastic bottle of water or plastic shopping bags. Cafes who support the cause would promote coffee to-stay, incentivize people who bring their own mugs, (with a 10th drink free card, for example), or charge a $.50 premium for purchasing a to-go cup. In order for habits to change, consumers need to be guided in the right direction. Giving like-minded consumers a banner to rally under will inform, inspire, and encourage change.

From Stephanie Cheramie

Project: Beautiful Soles.

Beautiful Soles would provide struggling women searching for jobs a simple, basic need: good dress shoes. Many places offer wearable clothes for women's shelters or low-income families, but shoes are often overlooked or the ones provided are out of style. Beautiful Soles would take gently worn dress shoes and provide the shelters or distribution centers with more up-to-date styles for women who need interview-style clothes. Over 300 million shoes go unworn every day in American closets alone and Beautiful Soles would put those shoes to good use.

Why just shoes? As a woman I can express my desire to have fashionable shoes to wear. Not only are shoes fun but they also provide confidence. You may have heard of the "perfect little black dress." Well there is such a thing as the "perfect pair of heels." Beautiful Soles would empower women in the smallest way, enableing them to gain confidence and improving their self-image.

From Ben Curtis

The problem: Energy efficiency is the fastest, easiest way for us to immediately reduce our energy consumption and curb air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. But many people don't buy energy-efficient items and appliances because they cost more at the check-out counter—even if the energy savings means they cost far less over the lifetime of the item.

Many people will buy these same items with a credit card, spreading the cost out over many months, or even over the entire lifetime of the item.

The solution: Don't charge the purchase to your credit card. Charge it to your utility bill. Then, the cost and the energy savings are in the same place, allowing people to compare two price tags easily. The regular refrigerator reads "$1500, or $42/mo for 36 months," while the energy efficient refrigerator would read "$1700, or $37/mo for 36 months" because it saves you $10 per month in electricity. Just like your credit card, the bill arrives every month. No habits need to change.

If stores drop the full price and only list the price on the utility bill, then buying the efficient item would be a no-brainer every time: It's the obvious, cheaper option. Stores would be encouraged to do this, because for them they are selling the more expensive (likely higher-margin) item. It's only cheaper on the price tag and on the final bill.

This would be especially useful for fluorescent lighting, air conditioners, refrigerators, and other appliances. Some weatherizing services might actually be able to get rates so low they are free—or the consumer gets paid to buy the product.

From Paul Hess

The challenge: Mainstream clothing is not sustainably made, packaged, advertised, or shipped, nor is it ethically produced. Clothes are another one of those products, like food, that everyone consumes, but few have any idea where they come from or how they are produced. I for one am fairly educated in my food choices but I could tell you very little about the source of the actual material that is on me right now. For all I know my pants could have been sown for a fraction of a penny in some impoverished region using material and manufacturing techniques that are completely antithetical to sustainability.

Thankfully, I don't just have an opinion on this challenge, I have a practical plan of action to change my own ignorant harm: a clothing co-op. This would be a relationship between clothing experts and a group of consumers who come into an agreement to exchange good, sustainable, stylish clothing for generous compensation. The expert supplies knowledge of clothing sustainability and trends, garment making, and a repair and recycling program as a form of guarantee. The co-op members receive a trusting relationship with where their products come from, a definite connection to the quantity, and a story of our own consumption. The clothing expert receives a good living, an outlet for creative design, a chance to inspire the world with a new concept.

Lets use an imaginary interaction to illustrate: As a part of this as-yet-imaginary co-op, I am meeting with my clothing expert person with whom I am creating an agreement as to what my basic wardrobe is to be, how the material will be sourced, the styles I desire, how often I expect new clothing, what is to be done with clothing that I no longer wish to wear, or if I can I get my socks darned for longer use. All of the answers to these questions will determine the share I pay into the co-op. Maybe I have a service that the clothing expert could use in exchange and with that I can offset some of my cost. As with recent revelations on how our food is produced I think many will be suprised at the hidden negatives in commercial clothing manufacture. I'm sure I'll be more motivated as I learn more myself.

From Subramaniam

The problem: Increasing basic literacy levels for children who miss education as they are made to work, especially in under-developed and developing countries.

The solution: Create a Sand School, where instructors write and draw in the sand with a stick. The earth is the blackboard and open skies are the roof.

The benefits:

  • No notebooks, textbooks, or pencils are required for the kids or the teacher. These kids are poor and probably cannot afford them. It also requires zero investment from the local education department.

  • Classes can be held anywhere. You can literally take the classroom to the kids.

  • Classes can be short. These kids will be tired after working long hours. Classes can be simple and short, from 30 minutes to an hour.

  • \n

What will be taught? Basic math and language skills. This will have to be designed keeping in mind the ‘unusual’ methodology. The objective is for the participant to get the basic skills without having to go through formal education.

Who will teach? Volunteers, graduates, and social workers, who will come to teach equipped with passion and a stick! Their class could consist of a single child or even a group of children.

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