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The Smart Zero Carbon Cities Challenge


Question: How can smart technologies drive a rapid transition to zero-carbon cities?
Submit proposals:
Rules: All entrants must agree to the Contest Rules and Terms of Use.
Deadline: Monday, May 23, 2016 at 18:59:59 PM Eastern Standard Time
Judging Criteria & Prizes: See below.


Cities are key actors in efforts to respond to climate change. Over a decade of urban innovation and leadership has shown that meaningful action on climate change is possible.  But with the climate crisis nearing critical thresholds, the type of action that we need to see has reached a new level. In urban areas old and new, we now face the inspiring challenge creating a rapid transition to zero-carbon cities.

Smart technologies present us with powerful tools to apply to that challenge. We’ve seen impressive results in increasing the efficiency of building, infrastructure, and transportation systems. But more is possible, much more.  This contest is open to all projects that propose innovative applications of smart technologies to the creation of zero-carbon cities. 

Key Issues

Smart technologies weave people, data, and tools into networks that can understand and transform cities in completely new ways. Employed to their full potential, they can catalyze systemic shifts whether by enabling a holistic understanding of urban systems, facilitating collaboration between multiple groups, or providing tools to enable ambitious forms of planning and action. 

This opens up the possibility of effectively engaging with the messy complexity of urban emissions. This is critical given that the bulk of urban emissions lie outside the direct control of any one group or government agency.  Potential projects may include smartphone apps for the general public, or specialized tools for specific groups of users (planners, engineers, or members community environmental organizations, for example). They may be sensors that reveal new facets of urban carbon footprints; or a mash-up of existing social media, mapping, and mobile technologies to enable community-wide campaigns or to gamify ambitious collective action.

SCOPE:  This first round of the “Smart Zero-Carbon City” challenge is intentionally broad, to enable a wide range of participants and to take the pulse of current “smart” approaches to zero-carbon city making. Projects do not need to be stand-alone technical solutions that directly reduce emissions (such as building automation systems). We are also very interested in projects that effectively use the information sharing, social networking, and collaborative functions of new technologies as part of larger campaigns to facilitate complex actions such as community energy transitions, to influence individual and collective behavior, or to facilitate new approaches to planning or implementation of low-carbon strategies.

Judging Criteria

Projects will be judged based on how well they apply digital technologies to help create significant emissions reductions within cities. Projects should demonstrate a clear understanding of the carbon footprint of cities, and also of the potential applications of various smart technologies. To achieve this, we encourage groups to form interdisciplinary teams that bring together expertise from multiple areas. 

Judges will include experts in both information technologies and urban sustainability.


Top proposals in each contest will be awarded…

Judges’ Choice Winner – Strongest overall

Popular Choice Winner – Received the most votes during the voting period

The Judges’ and Popular Choice Winners will be invited to MIT to present their proposal, enter the Climate CoLab Winners Program and be eligible for the $10,000 Grand Prize. All award winners will receive wide recognition and visibility by the MIT Climate CoLab.

If your proposal is included in a top global climate action plan, you will receive CoLab Points, which are redeemable for cash prizes.

"The Ask"

In collaboration with the Climate CoLab team, this competition will introduce a new feature called “The Ask.” In this field of the project description, teams can highlight key resources that they need to carry out their project. This may include different forms of expertise, technical resources, equipment, or financing. This field can be updated as the project progresses to reflect changing needs. We encourage project teams to think strategically about what they include in this section, and we suggest that teams work to attract people to their CoLab page throughout the competition (and not simply during the voting phase) to maximize chances of finding the resources they need.

Resources for Proposal Authors