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4 Reasons Youth Innovation Challenges Should Be Part of Your Sustainability Rebrand

Image Credit: Susie4music/Twitter

Despite – and/or because of – the recent seismic shift in U.S. political leadership on sustainability, companies are looking for ways to continue embracing corporate action that makes both economic and environmental sense.

Youth - more specifically, Generation Z, born between 1995 and 2005 – have been largely untapped by large brands. Digging into the data, we find that over half (53 percent) of Gen Z relates favorably to “brands that do good for the environment.” This is true across demographic segments, as well. A youth-targeted sustainability challenge is a brilliant model to discover fresh ideas and build trust with future consumers. Consider The Paradigm Challenge, an annual competition from Project Paradigm – a non-profit private foundation – that inspires youth to address important social issues. Through the Challenge, Project Paradigm has engaged over 50,000 young innovators, and makes a great case study on the potential of crowdsourced social innovation. Using this example, let’s take a look at the reasons that a youth challenge can support the rebranding of sustainability for your organization.

1) Incentives enable enormous reach and participation

Project Paradigm’s first Challenge sought to generate new ideas to prevent injuries and fatalities from home fires — America’s #1 disaster threat. That Challenge was open to kids from 7-18 and welcomed all ideas, including posters, videos, inventions, messages, community events, websites, mobile apps, or anything else that will help save lives. In its inaugural year, over 50,000 students participated in the Challenge, generating a huge number of ideas aimed at solving a significant problem. Financial incentives targeted at the youth market are a great way to activate ideas at scale: For a 12-year-old, the idea of winning $100, let alone $100,000, is a powerful motivator to think through a problem and create a solution.

2) Sustainability challenges are strategic branding opportunities

Do you want your brand to be associated with forward-thinking boldness? Do you want to reach, resonate, and connect with the Gen Z market? Challenges are the best way to show the world that your brand 1) cares deeply about sustainability and innovation; 2) is taking dynamic, actionable steps to be more sustainable and innovative; and 3) is maintaining relevance in an increasingly complicated and divided world. Project Paradigm’s new challenge, Waste Reduction, is focused on getting creative youth aged 4-18 to generate solutions to reduce, reuse and recycle; finalists will have the opportunity to fly to Los Angeles and compete for the $100,000 grand prize. Similar to the corporate innovation model, this strategy has developed patentable IP and created a platform for young inventors and their support network of teachers, mentors and family. All participants are a part of the Project Paradigm ecosystem and are united by their commitment to make the world a better place.

3) Crowdsourcing innovation yields superior outcomes, faster and cheaper

Products and services that leverage the crowd have become commonplace – just look at the success of companies such as Uber, Airbnb and Taskrabbit. A youth-targeted sustainability challenge isn’t just a call to action; tt’s a model that produces practical solutions. Among the solutions yielded by Project Paradigm’s Fire Safety challenge: A kitchen product to suppress stovetop fires, educational videos and apps, a comprehensive fire-detection and safety system, and a devices that reduces dryer lint fires. An innovation challenge with a multi-stage approach - including ideation, prototyping and deployment stages, with experts and mentors to give feedback throughout - can move solutions through the entire innovation pipeline, taking new ideas from concepts to full-fledged products. The right type of prize incentives and outreach will generate groundbreaking ideas that can be used to solve a host of corporate sustainability challenges.

4) Opportunity for collaboration

The Challenge model presents an opportunity for strategic partnerships. Marketing a youth sustainability challenge allows you to connect and engage an expanding generation with content that they highly support. There are also significant co-branding opportunities for organizations that have aligned sustainability missions or objectives. Co-branding and co-marketing a Challenge also allow organizations to maximize their reach, leverage resources, and demonstrate commitment to sustainable action.

Having run 10+ innovations challenges in 2016, we have seen these four reasons hold true in different verticals. We look forward to seeing several Challenges targeted at Gen Z launched in 2017.

If you have (re-)committed your organization to its sustainability mission, a sustainability challenge is a proven, clever way to appeal to and energize youthful doers on your behalf.

SensisChallenges – a division of Sensis - builds innovation programs for brands and organizations such as HHS, CDC, US Army, KaBOOM!, and Project Paradigm.


Dr. Contreras is Co-Founder of SensisChallenges – Sensis’ crowd-innovation practice.  He has run some of the world’s most impactful challenges transforming ideas into outcomes. Through a user-centered approach, SensisChallenges has developed a marketing tech capability that crowdsources ideas and brings… [Read more about Michael Contreras]


Oliver Gerland is a strategist at Sensis and an International Management graduate from Switzerland immersed in digital strategy, behavioral analysis, cultural insights, marketing, branding, and design-thinking in the public health and open innovation space. 

He has 3+ years of experience in…
[Read more about Oliver Gerland]


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