Students Tackle a ‘Wicked Problem’ for $30,000

Consider what these things have in common.  A vegetable garden in every living room; potato-made plastic bags; a hands-on cradle-to-cradle learning center in the now vacant Grand Rapids Public Museum.  If you said whiz-kids’ solutions for creating a circular economy, a gold star for you.  Another star if you know that in order to “save our planet,” as Peter Wege phrased it four decades ago, we must build a circular economy.

What Wege addressed by starting The Wege Foundation was the hard fact that we are depleting Earth’s finite natural resources at an unsustainable rate. In short, we are using up what we can’t replace.  Herein lies the wicked problem.  Enter the Wege Prize, a competition for West Michigan college students to come up with the best ideas to help jump-start a circular, cradle-to-cradle economy.

(First place team – FusionGRow)

Run by the Kendall College of Art and Design, the rules were simple and reflected two of Peter Wege’s driving principles. The first is economicology.  Wege coined the word to mean balancing the needs of the ecology with those of the economy by requiring contestants to represent at least two different academic disciplines. Second, collaboration: students had to come from at least two different colleges.

Six teams competed and March 3 the judges heard presentations by the three finalists and chose the winners.  Team FUSIONGROW members shared the top $15,000 prize with their plan to make hydroponic stands for growing vegetables indoors using recyclable aluminum in an attractive, sculptural design.

The Wicked Solutions team members won the second-place $10,000 prize for their idea to make plastic grocery bags out of PLA, a plant starch found in potato wash, charging a small deposit to ensure return and recycling.  Wicked Solutions also took home $5,000 for winning the on-line Public Vote.

First place team FusionGRow (left to right) Jacob Czarniecki (General Business, GVSU), Aziza Ahmadi (Public Administration and Sustainability, GVSU), Philip Han (Collaborative Design, KCAD), Yulia Conley (Applied Economics and Urban Planning, GVSU), and Eric Choike (Industrial Design, KCAD)
Second Place team is Wicked Solutions Inc (left to right) Justin Burton (Industrial Design, KCAD), Evelyn Ritter (Mechanical Engineering, Hope College, Matthew Johnson (Industrial Design, Kendall College of Art and Design, and Kristina Raiz (Sustainable Business, Aquinas College)
Wege Prize Judges (left to right) Michael Werner (Sustainability Strategist, Haworth Inc.), Gretchen Hooker (Biomimicry Specialist, Biomimicry 3.8 Institute), Colin Webster (Education Programme Manager, Ellen MacArthur Foundation), Ellen Satterlee (CEO, Wege Foundation), and Nathan Shedroff (MBA Program Chair, California College of the Arts)


Photos courtesy of Kendall’s Matt Gubancsik