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TCS UK Sustainathon: Showcasing Student Innovation to Help Tackle Climate Change

Set against the backdrop of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), as international world leaders arrived in Glasgow, university students from across the UK played their part in helping to address the issue of sustainability by taking part in the first ever TCS UK Sustainathon.

Climate change is a global emergency, and we are at a vital moment in helping to reduce the scale and impact of it on future generations. Since the Paris Agreement of 2015, the UK has made the pledge towards producing net zero emissions by 2050 in order to fight back against climate change. This reduction of Greenhouse Gases must be achieved globally by 2050 in order to maintain a livable climate. To avoid the most catastrophic events from happening, we need urgent action at all levels.  

TCS’ goal is to achieve net zero emissions by 2030 and follows the TATA group's philosophy of building a more sustainable business. Building on this commitment, TCS has been running Sustainathon events globally for many years. Throughout Sustainathon events, TCS works in partnership with customers and partners to help get young people engaged in sustainability. TCS is committed to supporting sustainability to create a better and more sustainable future for all. We believe that everyone, including students, has a role to play, and that technology and innovation can make an impact on the world we live in.  

In response to the growing urgency of addressing climate change, in October 2021 TCS UK&I launched its first ever Sustainthon in the geography. The TCS UK Sustainathon was aligned with COP26 in Glasgow, where leaders from almost every country in the world came together to discuss and agree on how to prevent the worsening climate crisis. Focusing on change through innovation and technology, the UK Sustainathon empowered University students to tackle sustainability issues and partake in climate conversations like those being had at COP26. 

The pilot edition of the UK Sustainathon addressed real life sustainability issues facing some of the UK’s top companies. Our Sustainathon challenge partners, Aviva, EDF, Improvement Service Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group set challenges, covering topics as diverse as the environmental cost of sending emails to what financial companies could do to help students live more sustainably.  Over a two-week period, students in groups of six helped innovatively tackle the challenge statements set by the Sustainathon challenge partners. The solutions offered companies a fresh perspective on how to address the issues they are facing, and how businesses and consumers can change their behavior in order to create a bigger impact.   

An impressive 177 students, from different backgrounds, disciplines and universities registered for the TCS UK Sustainathon. During the two-week sprint, student teams had the invaluable opportunity to gain a better understanding of sustainability and digital technology by meeting and learning from industry experts.  

The top eight teams were invited to present their ideas at the finale event to a panel of guest judges.  Although the decision was tough, the judges did decide on a winning team. And that was Biophilic from University College London, who tackled Improvement Service Scotland’s challenge around empowering individuals to change to more sustainable behaviors using digital technology by expanding the scope of the National Entitlement Card.  

Local communities were given center stage in Biophilic’s solution as Hora Behnejad explains, ‘We developed an idea for an app that will work alongside the National Entitlement Card and will also make the card point-based, like a loyalty card. The aim of our idea was to combine technology and sustainability to increase community awareness and engagement as well as encourage people from all demographics to make more sustainable choices’ 

Biophilic recognised the universality of their chosen challenge, as Eden Habtou highlighted. ‘We loved the idea of helping communities not only from a sustainable point of view but having a positive effect on communities. Our idea is also suitable for universal application, it is not just specific to Scotland.’ 

Improvement Service Scotland who proposed the winning challenge statement are leading by example and shaping their own response to the climate crisis, as Head of Digital Public Service Martin Brown expressed. ‘Our net zero statement is guiding our approach to climate change in support of Scotland’s commitment to a just transition to net zero by 2045. As the ‘go to’ organisation for Local Government improvement in Scotland, we must lead by example, developing our own response while shaping local authority action across Scotland. ‘  

As a business, Improvement Service Scotland were eager to partner with an initiative like the Sustainathon as Martin Brown also stated, ‘Participating in the Sustainathon helps encourage emerging talent in our universities, while exposing us to creative ideas for helping solve Scotland’s environmental sustainability challenges.  Our digital solutions are fueling digital service delivery across Scottish local government, helping minimise physical touch points, reduce paper and print usage and encourage greener travel patterns.’ 

The TCS Sustainathon is a way of exploring solutions to these problems and leveraging student innovators to tackle ideas. All parties who were involved felt encouraged and hopeful for the future seeing such cross-functional and cross-cultural teams. It is important for businesses and individuals to work together if we want to tackle climate change.