Environmental, Social, and Governance

Hacking Global Sustainability

What happens to a hackathon that challenges its global collaborators to solve the planet’s most urgent problems when a worldwide pandemic hits? It pivots and goes virtual, of course!

More than 100 teams from around the globe participated in the 48-hour Odyssey Momentum hackathon that took place Nov 13-15, 2020, competing for €200,000/$243,000 in prizes developing solutions addressing 21 critical social and environmental challenges. Odyssey is a non-profit, online incubator for multi-stakeholder collaboration with open-source developers. VMware teamed up with technology partners Dell Boomi and DAML to sponsor the track “Outcompete Destructive Systems” with two challenges:

  1. Consumer and Organization-Driven Decarbonization: incentivizing consumers and organizations to accelerate decarbonization by creating a CO2 footprint measurement, accountability, and an investment tool
  2. From Plastic Pollution to Upcycling Economy: enabling more corporations to utilize the global supply chain by ensuring social benefits for communities sourcing plastic from the ocean and beaches.

Originally scheduled for April 3-4, Odyssey had to quickly convert its historically in-person event to a virtual one when the pandemic hit. In just a few months, the team built a scalable, engaging, remote-collaboration platform that re-created the in-person experience — no small feat!

A Herculean effort by the tech team produced the incredibly cool Odyssey Momentum hackathon platform that went live, literally at the last second. Its virtual-reality-like experience was so successful that VMware is considering leveraging it for future hackathons to encourage collaboration among our global innovators.

The judging criteria

Winners were evaluated for the viability of the solution and the team’s ability to bring its idea to fruition with strong external partnerships and seed funding from Odyssey. Volunteers from VMware (Jan-Willem Lammers, Gintaras Pelenis, Albert Chiang and Nicola Peill-Moelter), Dell Boomi (Mike Bachman), and DAML (Luciano Joublanc, Chris Albrigo) served as the track “mayors,” “Jedis” (subject-matter experts), and judges, both before and during the hackathon. They met with teams to provide support, feedback, and technical assistance. For example, during the hackathon, some participants’ computers weren’t powerful enough to run the virtual Momentum environment, so Jan-Willem set them up with VMware VMs, providing a seamless, real-time experience.

By the end of the long weekend, there were lots of creative and compelling ideas, which made it tough to choose the victors.

The winners

Poort8: Road-freight carbon emissions represents 30% of transport-sector emissions. Poort8, the winner of the decarbonization track, leveraged publicly available data to rank logistics and freight companies based on the carbon emissions of their trucking fleets (think DHL, FedEx, and Vox Logistics). This information can be used by companies looking to decarbonize their logistics supply chains. By publicizing the ranking, logistics companies will be rewarded for low emissions or incented to improve them by using more efficient technologies and cleaner fuels. Based in the Netherlands, Poort 8 is collaborating with government agencies and other partners to incorporate semi-public data to refine its ranking system. It believes that logistics companies will also be incented to provide their own data to improve their ranking: a race to the bottom, so to speak.

WasteParty: There is growing demand from global corporations for recycled plastic for products and packaging sourced from plastic pollution that’s littering beaches and communities. Driven by their sustainability commitments, these companies aim to minimize brand risk by ensuring that the supply is provided in a sustainable and socially responsible fashion (without child labor, for example). An obstacle is that the communities who would most benefit from this economic activity are also the least able to provide the required transparency.

WasteParty developed WastePoints, a framework for “a grading system that combines trustworthy data sourced via existing frameworks and new innovations around social, environmental and impact elements together with incentives to directly increase the livelihoods of the waste pickers and makes systemic change a priority. WastePoints ensures provenance transparency for the “first mile,” from the plastic source, to the pickers, to the recycler. The solution also includes mechanisms to register pickers via mobile phone to ensure no child labor is used and for corporate buyers to make additional investments in the form of “Boosters” toward local community programs, driving systemic change.

What’s next?

The journey does not end with the hackathon weekend. VMware continues to stay involved, supporting these and other teams in bringing these innovative ideas to fruition.

Why VMware’s volunteers were inspired to help with the Odyssey hackathon:

  • It aligns with our EPIC2 values of execution, passion, integrity, community and customers, and being a Force for Good.
  • Sustainability is the emerging global innovation frontier. Solutions to critical global social and environmental issues require formidable digital capabilities, including edge computing, blockchain, AI/ML, IoT, distributed cloud, 5G, and big data — all areas where we excel. We are well-positioned to support and accelerate these solutions using our current and emerging technologies.
  • We wanted to learn how we could bring traditional hackathons to the next level by leveraging this new global mass-collaboration arena.

Perhaps the most compelling motivation is that Odyssey is a great way to meet, spend time with, and mentor highly motivated, talented, and creative entrepreneurs with a passion for tackling the world’s most critical issues.

What the Participants Had to Say

WasteParty: “The problem of plastic pollution is one of the most pressing issues of today. If we are to tackle this issue, urgent, collaborative and effective action is necessary.” — Mesbah Sabur, Co-founder, Circularise

“This is the second year in a row that we joined the Odyssey Momentum. This year, we worked on the problem that’s very close to our hearts: the issue of plastic pollution. I believe this is the first step and there are many more to follow.” — Jordi de Vos, Co-founder, Circularise

Poort8: “Poort8 is the very proud winner of this year’s Odyssey’s challenge: ‘Consumer- and Organisation-Driven Decarbonization.’ Reducing carbon emission is a responsibility of us all, and it’s time for action.” —Willem Maagdenberg, Founder.

VMware: “With Odyssey, I was given the opportunity to help tackle one of the planet’s toughest challenges: decarbonization. It was great to see so many powerful ideas that presented new grounds for collaboration come to life.” — Jan-Willem Lammers, Principal Solutions Architect

Learn more about this event via the resources below: