For six years, the annual Wege Prize competition has explored and developed one specific design concept: to redesign the way economies work. Each year, the Wege Prize holds an international design competition featuring collegiate teams from around the world, of which, each aim to create ways of converting linear economic models into circular, regenerative ones.
Teams create different approaches to developing these solutions, often in the form of products, business models, or services that are organically restorative by design. The Wege Prize is organized by the Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University’s, or KCAD, Wege Center for Sustainable Design, with the support of The Wege Foundation.
During Wege Prize 2019, nine teams representing 14 countries—and 40 academic disciplines—entered the competition that addresses layered and systemic “wicked” problems and to compete for $30,000 in total cash prizes. On May 31, 2019, the five finalist teams were announced on KCAD’s Grand Rapids, Michigan campus.
The winning team, called Redent, is a group of undergraduate students from Nigeria studying chemistry, entrepreneurship, engineering, and agricultural science. The team proposed a solution for the waste created by discarded cocoa pods husks often seen dispersed throughout Nigerian farm land, and its winning organic fertilization product solves dual issues: unutilized natural waste and the high cost of traditional fertilizer in the region.
“The judges were very impressed by how, in the midst of a large systemic issue such as waste, Redent honed in on a specific waste source and a specific solution for extracting maximum value from that waste; the elegance of that is very commendable,” said Alysia Garmulewicz, panel judge, an associate professor of high tech entrepreneurship at the University of Santiago in Chile, and an associate fellow at Oxford University and the Institute for Science Innovation and Society, in a press release.
Redent was awarded $15,000 for their solution and the five-member teams has plans to eventually engage potential customers after refining the concept.
Other winning teams proposed ideas in food and plastic waste, or converted wastewater, water shortage, and furniture product waste into solutions yielding an organic return. The second-place team of Considered Furniture, which was awarded $10,000, proposed a model furniture company that would produce low-cost furniture intended to disassemble into smaller pieces for re-use; their lifecycle ultimately ending in sawdust that can be combined with different organic materials for agricultural use.
The third-place team, called Wet Technik, created a water filtration system that upcycles grey water using a mixture of repurposed plastic bottle caps, bio filters, and constructed wetlands to minimize pollution and reduce the cost of water usage in Uganda. The team was given $5,000 for its solution.
“The leadership, passion, and insight displayed by Wege Prize 2019 teams have been both remarkable and inspiring,” said Leslie Bellavance, president at KCAD. “By empowering both current and future generations of problem-solvers to explore new ways of thinking, seeing, and working with one another, this competition proves that when we strive for collective intelligence, shared value, and social equity, we can solve any problem, on any scale, anywhere in the world.”
Each of the five winning teams has plans to carry on the process of integrating their solutions for a circular economy even after the competition. The Wege Prize competition serves as a catalyst for this implementation, which has been its goal since being established in 2013. The goals of the annual competition mirror those of the Wege Foundation itself. Established in 1967 by Peter M. Wege—also founder of the Metal Office Furniture company, now known as Steelcase—the foundation’s core values involve enhancing quality of life and preserving the environmental health of West Michigan and worldwide.
Text: R. Collins | GLBD writer