Today, What Design Can Do in partnership with IKEA Foundation launches its third worldwide challenge: the WDCD Clean Energy Challenge. This time, designers around the globe are invited to find answers to local energy issues in five world cities on five continents: Delhi, Nairobi, São Paulo, Mexico-City and Amsterdam.

‘The main reason to focus this competition on cities is that we are now in a race against time to reach the Paris agreement goals,’ says Elizabeth McKeon, Head of Portfolio at IKEA Foundation, who has been very much involved in developing this new challenge. ‘The concentration of people in cities makes it possible to be most effective when it comes to reduction of carbon emissions.’

Elizabeth McKeon

The overall question in this new challenge is: How can the predicted population growth in cities be combined with a decrease in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions? The briefs for the five cities each address a specific topic relating to energy use: building (Delhi), eating (Nairobi), moving around (São Paulo), waste prevention and processing (Mexico-City) and producing energy within the city (Amsterdam).

Richard van der Laken

‘We hope that by concentrating on these five cities we bring more focus into this new challenge,’ WDCD’s creative director Richard van der Laken adds. ‘Climate change is a worldwide problem that asks for local solutions. That’s why we asked participants in our previous Climate Action Challenge to specify for which area their idea was meant. By this time preselecting five cities we hope to increase the impact and receive proposals that will be very concrete and directly applicable in these cities.’

Local expertise

The topics addressed in each city are chosen in close collaboration with local experts, city officials and designers. In design jams they helped to determine and specify the energy related theme that is most urgent in their cities. So, for São Paulo, where commuters on average lose one month per year sitting in traffic jams, it was obvious that moving around would be the most sensible topic to address. Likewise, the biggest challenge for Delhi in India is the sustainable housing of millions of new inhabitants that are expected to settle here in the coming decennia.

‘In general, our aim is to activate and empower the creative community around the world to use their skills for social renewal,’ says Van der Laken. ‘By concentrating on these five cities we have a great the opportunity to empower the local design communities. I personally attended the design jam in Nairobi, in which some 30 designers participated. They told me afterwards that they were moved by the invitation to collaborate in establishing the brief. That was something entirely new for them. And of course, we hope that the local briefs will activate creatives in the different cities to join the challenge.’

Separate briefs for each city present the issues in clear graphics

Entrepreneurial spirit

It is because of this approach that McKeon warmly welcomes the continuous collaboration with WDCD, which started with the Refugee Challenge in 2015. ‘Design for the many has always been a key value for IKEA. Therefore, at IKEA Foundation we have a keen interest in design thinking as a tool for addressing social issues. Again, we’re really impressed with the amazing research done by WDCD’s research partner STBY and the very thoughtful approach of WDCD to things. I really admire the entrepreneurial spirit at WDCD, continuously reaching out to new opportunities and now getting even bolder with this focus on these cities. WDCD was already rooted in São Paulo, but now Mexico-City, Nairobi and Delhi are added.’

Open to all

Meanwhile, designers in other parts of the world are as welcome to enter their proposals. ‘The topics addressed are of course not exclusive for these five cities,’ Van der Laken explains. ‘Still, we ask for the ideas entered to be specifically targeted at these cities, to enlarge the chance that they can actually be implemented. You may enter from Hong Kong or Seattle, but we ask from everyone to specifically design for one of these five cities. I would therefore encourage everyone to really get to grips with the local situation and where possible seek partnerships with local creatives, to ensure the highest possible impact.’

FOR ALL THE DETAILS AND BRIEFS OF the Clean Energy Challenge Go to the CHALLENGE platform>>

McKeon heralds this focus on collaboration: ‘The work by the WDCD team is really breath-taking. They’ve put so much effort in creating the conditions for a really collaborative effort to find solutions for the social issues of our time. And as always I’m impressed by the way the studio has visualized the briefs and the entire campaign.’

The briefs also contain suggestions for possible design interventions

A positive counterbalance

Mobilizing the creative community to find realistic and concrete answers to the big issues of these days, also serves a bigger objective, Van der Laken adds. ‘For some time now a wave of conservatism sweeps through the world, which will not quickly disappear. It’s my belief that one of the few real counterbalances is creativity. Creation is not left or right, it is always positive and inspiring. Our challenges show the public that we can actually do something about the issues that concern us all the most. All the energy that the participants in these challenges show is worth a lot. For me that is the power of design.’