Juror Spotlight – Professor William Bullock

This post was written by ISTC staff member Kirsten Walker.

The International Sustainable Electronics Competition is delighted to welcome UIUC Industrial Design Professor and Product Interaction Research Laboratory (PIRL) Director William Bullock back to the competition in his new role as juror. Professor Bullock  was the founder of the original competition in 2009 on the University of Illinois campus. He has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in product design and development for over a decade and recently developed the first course at UIUC on sustainable product design. He collaborated with engineering colleagues to develop a course on the topic of electronic waste (e-waste) and organized the annual international electronic waste (e-waste) design competition, which is now known as the International Sustainable Electronics Competition. His career spans three decades as an academician, administrator and practitioner, and includes the direction and advancement of industrial design programs at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, The Georgia Institute of Technology, and Auburn University. He is an active Fellow in the Industrial Designers Society of America, and a National Association of Schools of Art and Design accreditation evaluator. Bill has served several terms on the IDSA National Education Council and is current Chair of its SAGE section and Vice Chair of the Design Foundation.

PIRL links education and research design in the classroom where advanced students from engineering, design and marketing collaborate to conduct product development studies for industry. As an affiliate faculty member with the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) his current research focuses on design for the environment and development of sustainable product designs. At ISTC he has helped build the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI), which is dedicated to the development and implementation of a more sustainable system for designing, producing, reusing, remanufacturing, and recycling electronic devices.

We feel that Professor Bullock will add a unique perspective to this year’s competition as someone who has special ties to the competition and appreciates the growth and direction it’s taken since it’s inception.

Competition Inspiration: Digitizer

The 2013 International Sustainable Electronics Competition begins in less than a month. The spirit of this competition is to prompt the industrialized world to dialogue about product designs and non-product concepts for environmentally responsible green computing and entertainment. The goals of this competition are to learn about ways to extend the useful lifecycle of electronic products, reuse electronic scrap for new and productive means, explore ideas to address the social and environmental impacts of electronics, and contribute to the body of knowledge that advances the practice of environmentally responsible product design for current and future technology products. We invite you to create a broad range of concepts and innovations to address these issues. Engineering, design, sustainability, or business knowledge will be helpful, but are not required for success in this competition. We encourage participation from interested students and recent graduates from any academic discipline. See the “Rules” section of the competition web site for complete details. Registration is free, and cash prizes will be awarded.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be featuring some of the winning videos from previous years’ competitions as inspiration for those of you who may be considering entering. Below, check out a concept called “Digitizer” for making a film camera function like a digital camera when desired. The unit was also conceived to be manufactured from e-waste, thus preventing the generation of e-waste by keeping older cameras from being discarded, and/or giving analog cameras a dual function, and reusing scrap that might otherwise be landfilled. This concept was 1st place in the “Reuse” Category in 2012 and was submitted by J. Makai Catudio and Ryan Barnes. (Note that the categories have changed this year. See our previous blog post and the “Categories” descriptions on the competition web site.)

What can you imagine as a solution to the environmental and social problems related to electronic device design, production, use, and end-of-life management? See more concepts from previous winners on the SEI You Tube channel.

And for those of you who are not eligible to enter, if you find ideas like Digitizer inspiring and want to support SEI’s efforts to encourage students around the world to consider the impacts of our ubiquitous electronics, consider making a donation in support of the competition. Your gift will go toward cash prizes and program administration, and will be acknowledged on the “Sponsors” page of the competition web site. Questions can be directed to Joy Scrogum.

UIUC Technology Entrepreneur Center to Provide Feedback for Competition Participants

The 2013 International Sustainable Electronics Competition will begin in just one month (registration opens September 1 and closes November 1, 2013). In addition to the new categories, an additional new feature has been added for the benefit of this year’s participants. Entrants who submit a concept for a product or business may receive feedback on their idea from experts at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Technology Entrepreneur Center (TEC).

Part of the College of Engineering, the mission of TEC is to “provide students and faculty with the skills, resources and experiences necessary to become successful innovators, entrepreneurs and leaders who tackle grand challenges and change the world.” TEC offers courses, certificate programs, workshops, venture and product competitions, and other curricular and extra-curricular events to inspire and guide students through the processes of technology innovation and market adoption.

Feedback for International Sustainable Electronics Competition participants will be in the form of comments and possibly contacts or resources for further exploration by the participants as they see fit. Comments may discuss the feasibility of the concept, marketability, potential barriers to success, and areas for further development and research if the entrant(s) wishes to pursue their idea as a money-making venture. Please note TEC will NOT be helping individuals transfer their concepts to the marketplace, but merely providing some advice to those who may wish to pursue such a venture on their own after participation in this competition.

Participants who wish to have their entries reviewed by TEC staff must indicate this on their online submission forms, by checking the appropriate box. Only those entries that have indicated this as part of the submission form will be reviewed by TEC. Note that feedback from TEC may not be appropriate for all entries, since not every concept submitted will be for a new product or business venture. Feedback will be sent via email to the address (es) supplied on the online submission form. Because such review will take time, responses may not be sent until after the competition winners have been announced (in early December).

The Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) is pleased to offer this opportunity for critique to participants. Juror comments (minus any identifying information) may also be provided to participants to help them evaluate what worked or didn’t work in their concepts. It has often been the case that attendees at the competition awards ceremonies have wished aloud that they could purchase a proposed product or service. We hope that this option inspires participants to seriously consider careers developing innovative, sustainable solutions to environmental and social issues related to technology. Our thanks to TEC, and in particular Dr. Brian Lilly and Jennifer Bechtel, for their support of this collaboration.

Questions may be directed to Joy Scrogum.

Call for Applications: StEP E-Waste Academy–Scientists Edition

The United Nations University Institute for Sustainability and Peace (UNU-ISP) has announced its call for applications for the StEP E-Waste Academy–Scientists Edition (EWAS).

Organised by the United Nations University under the aegis of the StEP Initiative, the EWAS has over the past three editions brought together nearly 60 young researchers from around the world, looking at solving the e-waste from different disciplinary perspectives. It has become the foremost forum available to young scientists to share their knowledge, interact with experts from academia, industry and policy and to develop collaborative partnerships.

Thanks to the generous support of SWICO Recycling, Dell, EMPA, Philips, Secretariat of the Basel Convention, Umicore and UNU, the EWAS2013 is set to take place in Switzerland, with the Secretariat of the Basel Convention hosting participants at the International Environment House (IEH) in Geneva.

The EWAS is open to PhD students, post-docs and early-career researchers from social and physical sciences investigating the political, social, economic, environmental, health or technological aspects of e-waste.

Topic areas include, but are not limited to:
• Transboundary e-waste flows, international e-waste governance
• Legislation review, policy & regulatory approaches & tools; standards
• Financing and business models; take back system design; reverse logistics
• Design for Re-use and Recycling (DfR) / Eco-design; corporate social responsibility (CSR); extended producer responsibility (EPR)
• Environmental & public health issues
• Consumer recycling / reuse/ disposal behaviour; consumer awareness campaign design and communication; marketing
• Technological developments in material recovery and disposal technologies; formal and informal recycling of e-waste;
• Critical raw materials in e-waste
• Modelling and forecasting methodologies

The deadline for submission of completed applications is July 31, 2013, with July 19th as the deadline for priority consideration for travel grants.

Please visit the website, http://step-initiative.org/index.php/ewas.html, to download application documents and for more information on this and past years’ academies.

Email ewas@unu.org with any questions.

Thanks to Deepali Sinha-Khetriwal, EWAS Project Manager, for sharing this information with SEI.

International Sustainable Electronics Competition: Sponsorship Opportunities

Donations are being accepted to support the International Sustainable Electronics Competition, part of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC). These donations are used for cash prizes in the competiiton and program administrative costs. There are five sponsorship levels: “Friend” is for donations up to $99; “Bronze” signifies gifts of $100 to $499; “Silver” donations are from $500 to $1499; “Gold” sponsors have provided $1500 to $4999 in support; and “Platinum” designates sponsors that have contributed $5000 or more. As a donor, you will be acknowledged on the competition web site unless you wish to remain anonymous. Corporations and organizations will have their logos and a link to their web site featured on the competition web site.

The competition began in 2009 as a local event on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and grew out of a class on e-waste issues taught by UIUC industrial design professor William Bullock. Participants focused on reuse of electronic scrap to make new products that first year. The event became international in 2010 with submission and judging occurring online. This continues currently, with entries including a brief YouTube video of the concept, among other requirements. The competition categories have evolved over time to include prevention as well as reuse, and for 2013, the categories have changed to “Product” and “Non-Product” to make the multidisciplinary nature and whole life-cycle focus of SEI more apparent. See our previous post, “International Sustainable Electronics Competition: New Name, New Categories, New Criteria” for further information on the changes for 2013 and the competition web site for complete rules, requirements, and videos for previous years’ winners. Also, check out the recently finalized list of expert jurors for 2013.

Each year, SEI staff members are amazed and inspired by the interesting and innovative ideas put forth by competition participants. It makes us proud to be part of this unique educational experience, which prompts college students and recent graduates throughout the world–society’s future leaders–to learn about and propose solutions for the environmental and social issues associated with our ubiquitous electronic devices. So consider even a modest $15 donation to show your support for inspiring students to conceive of new, more environmentally responsible ways to design, manufacture, use, and manage electronics. Contact Joy Scrogum (217-333-8948) for more information or see http://www.ewaste.illinois.edu/sponsors.cfm.

Jury Finalized for 2013 International Sustainable Electronics Competition

 The jurors for this year’s International Sustainable Electronics Competition (formerly known as the International E-Waste Design Competition) have been announced. Returning again this year are past participants Bill Olson, Director of the Office of Sustainability and Stewardship for Mobile Devices Business, Motorola, Inc., and Jason Linnell, Executive Director of the National Center for Electronics Recycling (NCER). They are joined this year by: UIUC alum and President of HOBI International, Inc., Craig Boswell; competition founder, UIUC Professor of Industrial Design in the School of Art + Design and ISTC Affiliated Faculty Scientist, William Bullock; Executive Director of the Northeast Recycling Council and Program Manager for the State Electronics Challenge, Lynn Rubinstein; and CEO of iFixit and Dozuki, Kyle Wiens. For complete juror bios, see http://www.ewaste.illinois.edu/judges.cfm.

Registration is free and opens September 1, 2013. Participants are asked to explore solutions to remediate the existing e-waste problem, prevent e-waste generation in the future, and foster a more sustainable system for electronic device development, use, and management. Submissions include a project description, brief YouTube video, and bibliography. See the competition Rules for complete details on eligibility, categories, judging criteria, and submission requirements. Cash prizes will be awarded to the top three entries in each of two categories. For more information on participating, incorporating the competition into a class, or sponsoring the competition, contact Joy Scrogum via email or at 217-333-8948.

The Challenge of Teaching Sustainable Electronics to Elementary Students

This post was written by ISTC staff member Kirsten Walker.

When I first started at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) last year, it took me a while to wrap my head around all that is involved with sustainable electronics. As an environmental educator it quickly became clear that I had to figure out a way to translate this information and its environmental connections and concerns to learners of all ages. At first, I thought this material would not be appropriate for students younger than middle or high school because of the concepts behind circuits, conflict minerals, and toxic materials. I soon learned that I needed to alter my thinking and come up with ways to present this to an audience we meet with frequently–elementary students.

Two events helped me with my perspective on teaching in this area. The first was the Naturally Illinois Expo. Learners of all ages attend the Expo every year to see presentations by the scientists at the five Illinois Scientific Surveys (Illinois Natural History Survey, Illinois State Archaeological SurveyIllinois State Water SurveyIllinois State Geological Survey, and the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center). Many of the elementary schools from the East Central Illinois area attend the Expo to see science in action. After some initial observations, I realized that elementary school aged students understand the value behind precious metals (found in many electronics) and neurotoxins when the word is broken down and explained. Once students realize that there are precious metals and neurotoxins found in electronics, the importance and needs related to the environment, personal health, and recycling become very clear.

The second event was when Joy Scrogum and I were asked to teach a hands-on lesson for two hours about sustainable electronics to a group of mostly second grade girls. We felt a true test on the horizon. There were challenges and barriers  we had to overcome. First, there were a number of small and potentially hazardous parts to be found in something as simple as a cell phone, so displaying those parts was troublesome. We often carry around two keyboards to different outreach events. One is an older model that has a full circuit board and the other is a newer, lighter version with a plastic sheet circuit board (see below). Those visuals helped, but the older circuit board has sharp solder points, so it is not conducive to hands-on activities.

Circuit board of older keyboards.
Modern Keyboard
Lighter weight keyboard with plastic circuit.

It came down to a variety of approaches on the topic starting with a discussion of what would happen if they had lost their personal game devices. Since students felt an emotional attachment to their devices, the students were able to see their own value in making sure they take care of them. We presented a short video from a PBS show (Loops and Scoops) on the materials found in game devices and the problem with disposal of electronics. We briefly presented the number of miles it took for the parts of an electronic gadget  like a laptop or game device to be assembled and shipped to them. We talked about the solutions and problems associated with electronic items and the current landfill ban in Illinois. Finally, we presented them with some of the concepts that college students have submitted to our annual International Sustainable Electronics Competition . Then we challenged them to create a new electronic device out of old electronics that would otherwise be discarded. It took some time and collaboration, but then the ideas were flowing and the girls were excited to draw what they would invent with discarded electronics. One of my favorites was a device that could be hooked up to the carrier of one of the girl’s cats that would translate her “meows” to human speech. The girl thought it would be a great way to know what her cat wants and she could communicate to her cat in return. Genius.

A second grader’s idea on how to recreate a new electronic from other electronics.

The picture above was from girl who seemed to grasp the concept that everyone seems to lose the remote control but not their phones, so why not have your cell phone double as device to change the television channels?

Keyboard beads made from broken keyboards collected for recycling by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

We finished the class with an activity that required a lot of preparation on on our part. Keyboard keys can be made into personalized bracelets. It required removal of back posts and drilling holes to feed string through the keys, but they are always a big hit. The girls were particularly happy to see that we had created kits with the letters of their names and extra decorative beads for “bling.” Overall, we achieved our goal presenting sustainable electronics to students at a grade school level. I’m sure modifications will be made to improve the format of the day if we take another opportunity to present, but we feel the activities were appropriate and enjoyable.

Student Involvement: Museum Studies and Raising Awareness of the Impacts of Electronics

Karen Morrison, at her museum studies minor defense, May 10, 2013, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

In addition to conducting and sponsoring research, the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI), works to integrate principles of sustainability into the curricula and educational experiences of engineers, industrial designers, computer scientists and others involved in the design, manufacture, consumption, and end-of-life management of electronic products. With its location on the UIUC campus, SEI is well positioned to work with the academic community to address electronic product life cycle issues and sustainability, as well as to involve students in such considerations via internships and research projects. The connections to discplines such as industrial design, materials science, and electrical or computer engineering are fairly obvious. But we like to point out that sustainable electronics can relate to virtually any field of study, especially when you consider how ubiquitous electronics have become in our society. We all use and benefit from electronics, and are all in some way part of the system related to electronic device production and consumption, which must be made more sustainable as part of the overall effort of making human existence more sustainable. So we need to all be part of considering and creating those sustainable solutions, regardless of factors such as our individual area of expertise. As a fine example of this, we had the pleasure of working with a student this past semester (Spring 2013) who was minoring in Museum Studies here at UIUC. “We” being me, Joy Scrogum, Co-coordinator for SEI, and ISTC’s Environmental Education Specialist, Kirsten Hope Walker. Karen developed an interactive display related to sustainable electronics for use in outreach activities. She was a chemistry major, so she was comfortable with science and translating scientific concepts to the general public, but she had no previous experience considering the sustainability of electronic devices. So it was great to watch as she worked her way methodically through the issues with our guidance, and considered how to present them, effectively learning the material and then figuring out how to teach it to others. Karen wrote the blog post below, describing her experience. We’re extremely proud of this intelligent, resourceful, and affable young woman, especially given her recent acceptance of a position with the California Council of Science and Technology in Sacramento. Congratulations, Karen!

Interdisciplinary is the new buzzword in academic circles. Being interdisciplinary is all about crossing boundaries and using techniques and notions that were designed or developed in one field to benefit or answer questions in another. Interdisciplinary is often used synonymously with progress, radical ideals, and breaking barriers, and many of the original melded areas (chemical biology or women’s studies) are today recognized as established disciplines in their own right.

By its very nature, sustainable electronics is an interdisciplinary field. The lifecycle of electronics – development, manufacture, sale, disposal or reuse – touches aspects of computer science, environmental law, operations research, sociology, human rights, and economics. The questions and problems in creating and empowering sustainable electronics are complex and cannot be addressed with simple answers.

One of the biggest challenges in sustainable electronics, then, is translating this complex problem to you and me (and the broader society we live in) and encouraging us to respond in some way.

This is where being interdisciplinary becomes helpful. Presenting material and then probing the public to engage and respond is one of the central tenants of modern museum studies. Although it is easy to think of the science museum where every panel is carefully constructed with simplistic information, or the art museum where visitors are visually stimulated and left to form their own conclusions, modern museums are aiming to do so much more. Museums exist in a unique sphere where people from different backgrounds and experiences can come to one location and engage with questions that are faced by our current society.

My goal in working with the ISTC Sustainable Electronics Initiative was to apply the theories and paradigms of content display used by museums to SEI. This involved four key steps: narrowing down the material, identifying the audience, creating display material, and revising the material iteratively.

In my initial discussions with Joy and Kirsten, we loved the idea of an interactive globe to show how the physical materials in a laptop move across the globe, from raw materials to the final product and sale. Logistically, however, this was difficult to execute in a reasonable amount of time. We also wanted material that was flexible and could be used for adult or school-age audiences.

With that in mind, I developed a scrolling presentation that identified the locations that laptop materials came from, the factories where parts were manufactured and assembled, the countries where laptops are sold, and where laptops move after their first use. Although this presentation met many of our content needs, it didn’t allow for people to engage directly with the material or choose what topics they wanted to learn more about. In essence, we were feeding information to people rather than engaging or provoking them to dive deeper on their own.

This realization pushed me to a web-based platform. Web 2.0 allows users to navigate through many layers of material at their own pace based on their personal interests (much like you’re doing with this post now!). Ultimately, this platform addresses many of the fundamental questions we wanted to originally address and will hopefully spur more discussion about the complicated questions faced in creating and maintaining sustainable electronics!

Check out the project: evokewonder.com/istc2.

–Karen Morrison