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 Thursday, December 15, 2011
ITU Green App Challenge - Meet the WINNER! - Interview with Ms Lis Lugo Colls

The first ITU Green ICT Application Challenge, supported by RIM and Telefonica, sought to uncover innovative concept papers for climate change related ICT applications. ITU announced the Challenge’s winner and papers deserving special mention at the Green Standards Week held in Rome, 5-9 September 2011.

The Challenge’s Winner, Ms. Lis Lugo Colls from Spain, developed a concept for an application entitled “Smart Recycling.” This innovative application helps mobile users locate recycling and garbage bins in their area, and aims to contribute to the reduction of pollution and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by waste. The application will benefit citizens, government recycling programs and private recycling companies by creating a more sustainable and resource-efficient future through community engagement and eco-design.

We approached Lis to discuss the inspiration for her concept and her experience with the challenge. Here is what she had to say.

[Question] Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.

[Answer] I am a 27 year-old woman with a strong passion for life and our planet. My view is that a strong work ethic leads to a high quality of life, and so I believe in working hard to get what you want. I was born in Venezuela, but have since lived in several countries. This has given me a broad cultural vision of how the world works. At the same time, I have dedicated my life to computers and technology, and studied Systems Engineering with a specialization in ICT Management and e-Business. I am currently taking a masters degree and working for a telecommunication company in Spain, where I have lived for the past 2 years. I have been working on city automation, with projects related to Smart Metering, Machine-to-Machine, Smart Cities, and Data Grids, and this has proven an incredible opportunity to combine my knowledge of computers, technology and telecommunication.

[Q] How did you find out about the ITU Green ICT Application Challenge?

Every day I spend some time reading the news, and have found that social networks are very useful tools in following companies, groups or people that interest you. To keep up-to-date on telecommunication and energy efficiency standards, I have been following @ITU_News on twitter and Telefonica’s “RC and sustainability” blog. This is where I found out about the challenge.

[Q] Why did you decide to take part in the challenge?

I have had many innovative ideas, most with a focus on increasing social welfare. Often these ideas remain as dreams, because becoming a social entrepreneur is far from simple. When I heard of the challenge, I thought it a perfect opportunity to test one of these socially-oriented ideas, and improving recycling systems really appealed to me. My idea also fitted the challenge’s goals very well, and this secured my motivation to enter. Only after entering did some real work and frustration come. Turning an idea into a real, feasible concept takes months of long working hours and no shortage of courage. This is the first competition I have entered, and at times I did question why I was putting so much time and effort into something with such an uncertain result. But, as the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs’ mantra goes, “don’t be afraid to fail, because the more times you fail, the closer you are to success.”

[Q] Have you developed an app before or was this experience new to you?

I have been  developing software and websites since I was young, and I wanted to step up to smartphone application development. It is not a drastic change as the programming logic is the same, but its methodologies and tools have evolved in a way that makes the task of developing apps easier and more intuitive.

[Q] Was the application that you presented something you’ve been working on for a long time or did you develop the app for this challenge?

I had the idea many months before the challenge appeared. It was therefore a great boost to hear about the challenge, as it was a perfect opportunity to turn the idea into a reality.

[Q] What was your biggest challenge when designing the application?

The biggest challenge was to create a smartphone application that would be useful to citizens, and require only minimal technological know-how to use. Behind these easy-to-use applications there is a great infrastructure that integrates high-technology tools like databases, geo-positioning, RSS feeds, and so on. It is a big challenge for a computer scientist to understand the issues of usability and user-centered design.

[Q] What was your motivation behind developing an app to combat climate change/promote sustainability?

Everyone should be committed to caring for the environment and reducing climate change – these are global issues. We take for granted the resources we use, and live in a consumer-oriented society where people buy, consume and dispose of goods carelessly. Sustainability should be a goal to all human-beings, and I believe recycling is a way for individuals to contribute meaningfully to the environment.

[Q] Where did your inspiration for this application come from?

I was born in Venezuela, a developing country without national recycling policies. When you are aware of the  world’s environmental problems, this causes a feeling of helplessness. When I came to live in Europe, I became curious as to how municipal solid waste was treated, how the system was implemented and how people worked together to help the system. This is how I came up with the idea of building a tool that could reach individual citizens, helping them better recycle their waste. Smartphones are widespread and the Internet is accessible to everyone, so I believed my app could even help create awareness about recycling in countries without national recycling policies.

[Q] What other activities are you involved in to help fight climate change and promote environmental sustainability?

I have assembled a group of motivated entrepreneurs with different skills to work on this subject of Smart Applications for the City. We are working on a web site called www.smartapps.es, which will provide information on sustainability applications. We are currently working on the Smart Recycling application but, at the same time, we are connecting with more communities and people interested in these issues.

[Q] What do you expect from this application in the future? Are you planning to further develop it?

This application’s objective is to create a technological platform merging the recycling efforts of citizens, recycling centers and local waste collection systems. With local people’s help, this application could be available to several countries in the coming year.

[Q] What is your advice to developers wishing to create apps to help combat climate change/promote sustainability?

You don’t need to be a genius or invent the wheel! You need only be altruistic, and think in big actions to improve society’s systems and help planet earth.

[Q] Any last thoughts?

Thanks to the sponsors for supporting this challenge. I believe private enterprises and industries should be the first to fulfill social responsibility initiatives, and this competition is a fine example of what can be achieved when they do.

To find out more about Ms. Colls and her activities, contact her via ITU by sending an email to climate@itu.int. Meet the rest of the winners and relive the ITU Green Application Challenge by accessing http://www.itu.int/ITU-T/climatechange/greenict/index.html. This interview was featured in the recent special edition of ITU News "Climate change, green technology, greener plannet". Click here to access an edited version of this interview.

For more information about the ITU’s activities on climate change visit www.itu.int/climate.