Webinar: Health Effects Associated with Harmful Algal Blooms and Algal Toxins

Wed, Oct 28, 2020 1-2 pm CDT
Register here.

Some, but not all, types of harmful algal blooms (HABs) are overgrowths of toxin-producing algae in fresh or marine waters that can adversely affect human and animal health and local economies. Cyanobacteria (also known as blue-green algae) are a type of bacteria that exhibit characteristics of algae and can form these HABs.

Cyanobacteria HABs (CyHABs or CyanoHABs) typically occur in nutrient rich, warm surface water bodies and have the potential to produce potent toxins. Occurrence of CyHABs is increasing globally, and blooms are accompanied by sporadic reports of human and animal illnesses and deaths. This webinar will summarize the state of the science and describe how a One Health approach to CyHABs can inform human health risks.

Webinar: Brewing Up Energy Savings

Tue, Oct 27, 2020 1-2pm CDT
Register here.

As the brewing industry continues to grow, focusing on efficiency can help keep energy use and costs low. Join us for a broad look at the state of sustainable brewing and a deeper dive into the changes breweries, both large and micro, can make to become more energy efficient.

With experts from across the country, you’ll learn how to have your own Treasure Hunt using the new ENERGY STAR® Microbrew Treasure Map, and gain insights from past Treasure Hunts at local Vermont microbreweries.

Want to solve society’s most urgent problems? Cash prizes can spur breakthroughs

Many prizes that aim to spur innovation are winner-take-all. VCG for 2019 RoboMaster Robotics Competition Final Tournament via Getty Images

by Luciano Kay (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Innovation is a critical part of tackling problems in areas as diverse as transportation, housing, public health and energy. But the scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs who might generate creative solutions often investigate issues or pursue economic opportunities in other less urgent fields. Incentives for science and innovation try to steer efforts toward the most pressing societal problems.

Prizes – cash rewards for scientific, engineering and other achievements – are one form of incentive that has been around for a very long time. In the 18th century, for example, organizations such as the Royal Society in the U.K. awarded medals to scientists for their breakthrough research.

Today, in addition to this type of scientific award, there are also prizes for solutions to diverse problems including the invention of new transportation means for disabled people, the engineering of new battery recycling methods, and even the development of technologies to treat COVID-19 patients. There are also “open innovation” websites, such as InnoCentive, that companies use to source ideas and inventions from thousands of problem solvers in exchange for prizes.

All these prizes seek to focus creativity and investment by attracting the smartest and most creative people who, with the right incentive, might focus on the highlighted problem and in turn come up with amazing breakthroughs. Researchers like me work to determine how effective these prizes really are as drivers of innovation.

people on stage holding awards
Breakthrough Prize winners, onstage in 2019, are recognized for remarkable achievements in fundamental physics, life sciences and mathematics. Xinhua/Wu Xiaoling via Getty Images

Reward past achievements, motivate future breakthroughs

There are two main types of prizes. Scientific awards, which include both historic medal awards and the more recent Nobel Prizes, for example, are a retrospective recognition for outstanding contributions to science rather than an incentive to embark on one specific line of inquiry. To award them, every year, a number of judges examine the achievements of the nominees and pick winners.

Grand prizes, in contrast, offer rewards to the first participant who achieves a particular feat that is of interest to the prize organizer. For example, in the 1990s, the Ansari X Prize offered US$10 million for the first private manned spacecraft that went to space twice within two weeks. Participants had to meet these specific criteria to be able to claim the prize, which ultimately sought to promote space tourism. Generally, this type of prize names a single winner who takes home all the prize money. But sometimes there are smaller second and third prizes too.

Thanks to the Ansari X Prize and other popular competitions like the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize for Moon exploration and the $5 million DARPA Grand Challenges for the development of autonomous vehicles (all case studies that I investigated), companies, governments and nonprofit organizations began using prizes more actively and, with help from the internet, made them more popular and exciting.

astronaut stands on top of SpaceShip One holding American flag
SpaceShipOne took home the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004. AP Photo/Laura Rauch

Analyzing prizes’ effects on innovation

When I started researching how competitions work as incentives back in the mid-2000s, there was little empirical evidence, even though prizes have been around for a very long time. Since then, research has helped untangle the way prizes work and their potential to encourage science and innovation.

Studies have found, for example, that the motivations to compete for prizes are as diverse as the people and teams that participate. Bigger cash prizes help attract media attention and more participants, but also draw innovators with the possibility of finding a new job, the chance to learn about science and technology, or simply the opportunity to participate in a project that could help change the world.

Prizes compete with other more prevalent incentives for the innovators’ attention and efforts in today’s globally connected and fast-paced world. Prestige, for example, is a very important motivation in science, and lucrative markets drive innovation within companies.

The evidence also shows that new grand prizes attract new investments and may also raise awareness of important problems and influence the direction of ongoing research. Participants who have no scientific or engineering experience might still contribute novel ideas and solutions in prizes that have fewer eligibility requirements and attract more diverse contributors.

Note that since prizes pay only for results – the winning solution – participants need to be resourceful and actively seek support from friends, family and investors.

So, well-designed prizes can stimulate more creativity and innovation, but whether they achieve certain goals ultimately depends on who participates and the broader economic conditions when prize competitions are held. The Google Lunar X Prize, for example, was a fairly open competition and attracted diverse participants, including some who probably didn’t have the skills and experience to complete a lunar mission. The financial crisis of 2008 and its aftermath made fundraising even more difficult for them.

man holding plaque beside a model of a robotic spacecraft
Rahul Narayan led Team Indus in pursuit of the Google Lunar X Prize. Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images

Making prizes more effective

There are at least two important questions that researchers could investigate next so that companies, governments and other prize organizations have more insights into the potential of prizes to accomplish their goals and foster creativity and innovation.

First, how can one systematically measure the impact of prizes? The very nature of prizes makes them difficult to evaluate. For example, volunteers, part-time participants and indirect investments are sometimes not accounted for, which gives an incomplete picture of their true impact.

Second, what are the best cases in which to use prizes? Conflicting views in favor of and against grand prizes for COVID-19 solutions provide just one example of how little is known about when it is the right opportunity to use this type of incentive. Grand prizes have helped develop space technologies, for instance, but other areas such as COVID-19 solutions, cancer research or climate change mitigation might require other types of prizes or entirely different incentives.

Today, prizes are just a small part of the diverse motivations of scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs to come up with new ideas and technologies. Figuring out more about how prizes fit within this ecosystem will unlock their full potential and make them more effective incentives for science and innovation.

Luciano Kay, Research Associate at the Institute for Social, Behavioral and Economic Research, University of California, Santa Barbara

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Biden could pursue ‘easy’ climate solutions, elements of the Green New Deal if elected: experts

Read the full story at Utility Dive.

Renewable energy, storage and transmission projects will continue to face challenges even in “Blue” states and regions supportive of such development, experts say.

Will Putting Honey Bees on Public Lands Threaten Native Bees?

Read the full story at e360.

As suitable sites become scarce, commercial beekeepers are increasingly moving their hives to U.S. public lands. But scientists warn that the millions of introduced honey bees pose a risk to native species, outcompeting them for pollen and altering fragile plant communities.

Can We Halve Global Food Waste by 2030? Not Without Our Suppliers

Read the full story at Sustainable Brands.

While some nations and food companies have made encouraging progress and crossed the halfway mark towards meeting Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, there’s still a long way to go.

Kroger sees family meals as catalyst for reducing food waste

Read the full story at Supermarket News.

As part of its Zero Hunger | Zero Waste initiative, The Kroger Co. is zeroing in on the family meal in the push to reduce food waste.

Cincinnati-based Kroger said Friday that a national shopper survey by 84.51˚, its data analytics subsidiary, found that food waste prevention is a focus for many families as they eat more meals together at home amid the COVID-19 crisis. 

Survey finds asphalt producers among top recyclers in US

Read the full story at Construction & Demolition Recycling.

According to a recent national survey, asphalt mix producers reclaimed 97 million tons of old asphalt–enough to fill up the dome of the U.S. Capitol 1,223 times.

Walmart, Schneider Electric team up to help suppliers transition to renewable energy

Read the full story at Supply Chain Dive.

Walmart is partnering with Schneider Electric to make renewable energy more accessible to suppliers. This move is part of the retailer’s Project Gigaton effort to reduce it’s supply chain emissions by one billion metric tons by 2030. 

The initiative with Schneider Electric’s Energy & Sustainability Services, titled Gigaton PPA (power purchase agreements), seeks to educate suppliers on their renewable energy options and help them through conversion — a process Walmart’s Senior Director of Sustainability Zach Freeze said can be daunting for any supplier — especially small ones. Gigaton PPA aims to bridge the knowledge gap and pool like-minded, co-located suppliers to combine purchasing power. 

“Procuring renewable energy is complicated. It requires knowledge of things like market principles, terminology, contract structures, management risks, internal stakeholders, convincing your leadership and your finance team that it’s worth making it a longer-term commitment … So, this process is really designed to help companies that are early in that journey,” Freeze said. As with many of the elements of Project Gigaton, supplier participation in the Gigaton PPA is voluntary. 

DASANI launches bottle caps made with recycled plastic

Read the full story at SME North America.

Coca-Cola North America is bringing a new twist to sustainable packaging by using caps made from recycled high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic – a beverage industry first – on DASANI bottles.