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BFI Highlights Projects Catalyzing Change in Architecture, Education, Food Systems and More

Image Credit: Urban Riggers

Ahead of announcing the 2017 Buckminster Fuller Challenge semi-finalists, the Buckminster Fuller Institute (BFI) has unveiled some of the initiatives that were selected for the 2017 Catalyst Program, representing the top 17 percent of entries this year.

Launched in 2007, the Buckminster Fuller Challenge has defined an emerging field of practice: the whole systems approach to understanding and intervening in complex and interrelated crises for wide-scale social and environmental impact. Each year, the Challenge attracts bold, visionary and tangible initiatives focused on creating comprehensive, anticipatory and integrated approaches to solving the world’s complex problems.

For the 2017 challenge, 461 entries from more than 100 countries were submitted. Each year, top-tier entries are selected for the Catalyst Program, through which applicants receive feedback from the Fuller Challenge review committee on their application; press coverage and media support; and the possibility of funding and opportunities through the Buckminster Fuller Institute’s network of partner organizations.

The highlighted projects represent a range of disciplines and, though not selected as Semifinalists, satisfy the seven Fuller Challenge criteria: visionary, anticipatory, comprehensive, ecologically responsible, feasible, verifiable and replicable.


Image Credit: Urban Rigger

Bjarke Ingels Group submitted a proposal for Urban Rigger, a prototype for floating, carbon neutral housing designed for mass production, with the goal of creating an affordable alternative to rising housing prices in major cities. At a quarter of the cost of traditional student housing, Urban Rigger uses hexagonal configuration of nine upcycled shipping containers to offer twelve individual residences, storage and laundry rooms, a kayak landing, bathing platform, courtyards and roof terraces. Multiple units can be configured to fit any port in blocks of varying size allowing for flexibility.

Urban Design

Encouraging the development of cooperative landscapes, Fruit Futures engages citizen scientists to reboot soil, study microclimates and cultivate small fruits. Its Community Lab Orchard emphasizes experiential learning and curiosity, while its “Seven Year Lot” teaches innovative and traditional growing techniques for native and cultivated fruits. Its Climate Cooridor focuses on temperature-sensitive native fruits, a linear planting method that transforms streetscapes into microclimates. Its most technical approach, the Remediation Arboretum is a new kind of public green space and demonstration landscape, with the purpose of investigating how fruiting trees and shrubs can revitalize urban soils.

Food Systems

With the advent of industrial agriculture and global food supply chains, fewer and fewer nutrients are being recycled from fields to consumers and back to the fields. Kulisha is changing the way we look at waste and produce food by working with food and beverage companies to convert organic waste byproducts into protein made from insects for use in animal feeds. The startup has developed a biological system that uses microbial communities and black-soldier fly larvae to metabolize waste, cutting disposal costs and offering a sustainable alternative to fishmeal.


Maya Universe Academy is the first and only system of free private schools in Nepal that provides quality education to marginalized and cash-poor communities. At Maya’s free private schools, parents pay with time instead of money. They contribute labor for classroom construction, to support daily school activities, to maintain the schools’ farms and income-generating small businesses that help fund the school.

By engaging parents and students in entrepreneurial ventures such as chicken-raising and organic herb gardening, Maya works to create an entrepreneurial community that thrives on sustainable, local agriculture. Maya’s curriculum also directly involves students in local landscapes and economies in order to engage them in the economic development of their communities.


Developed by the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, BerkShares is an experiment in relocalization and economic democracy in western Massachusetts. BerkShares is a currency that engages citizens in supporting and developing local businesses to meet local needs, thereby decreasing reliance on fossil fuel and imports from afar. First issued in 2006, the currency is directed by Berkshares, Inc., a place-based non-profit, democratically structured organization. The currency’s sophisticated design celebrates the region’s history, geography, culture and values, while a 95-cents-to-1 BerkShare exchange rate encourages citizens to spend their money with more than 400 locally-owned businesses that participate in the program. Berkshares is the leading North American example of local currency issue.

Sociocultural Sustainability

Image Credit: Thread

In Eastern Senegal, Thread acts as an agricultural hub for the rural village of Sinthian and its surrounding villages, providing training, fertile land and a meeting place for social organizations of the local community. Concurrently, Thread is a sociocultural center that houses artists’ dwellings and studio space for local and international artists’ residencies. The innovative roof design collects and retains rainwater, creating a viable source for the majority of these new agricultural projects during the eight-month dry season. Thread demonstrates how the built environment can link the alleviation of cultural, agricultural and economic stagnation, while connecting local and global communities.


The Toothpick Project addresses a critical problem: 40 million African smallholder farmers lose between 20–80 percent of their maize, sorghum, millet and rice crops to Striga, a parasitic weed. Striga’s origin in Africa is unclear, but its devastation on smallholder farmers has increased for the last seven decades. In Kenya, the Toothpick Project has designed and deployed an ecologically sound solution: a biocontrol technology using a fungus substance, technically an “inoculum,” embedded onto a toothpick that kills Striga and improves crop yield by an average of more than 50 percent. With the large majority of Kenyan maize farmers being women, they have designed a delivery system that uses women’s knowledge of food preparation to prepare the inoculum substrate.

These seven projects represent just a few of the six-dozen that were selected for this year’s Catalyst Program. Other Catalyst Program projects will be shared via email, BFI’s Trimtab newsletter and social media over the coming months.

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