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3D Print, Tech Solutions, and “Aha” Moments: a Circular Economy Solveathon in Action

Solve and HP, a Solve Member, co-hosted a Solveathon workshop on HP's Palo Alto campus to source solutions to the Circular Economy Challenge. Learn about the experience and resulting circular economy insights in this Q&A.

Tell us about the Circular Economy Challenge.

Alex Amouyel: Each year, Solve launches four specific Global Challenges across our pillars—economic prosperity, health, learning, and sustainability—to find promising social innovators. This year’s sustainability Challenge is Circular Economy, which asks: how can people create and consume goods that are renewable, repairable, reusable, and recyclable?

This year, we received more than 300 solutions to the Circular Economy Challenge, out of 1,400 solutions total for all four Challenges. How did we find these innovators? With support from the Solve community, we promoted the Challenges to source innovators around the world. Given HP’s excellent sustainability work, they were a natural fit to support the Circular Economy Challenge.

How did you first learn about this Challenge?

Camille Caron: When I first started in my new role heading up Sustainability for HP’s 3D Print team, my awesome (and tireless) colleague, Michele Malejki, who leads Social Impact, said: “hey, there’s this cool initiative, called MIT Solve. Each year, they run challenges, and this year’s Circular Economy Challenge aligns well with what you are working on. Are you interested in partnering to host a Solveathon?”

To which, I said yes, of course.

So, how does a Solveathon work?

AA: A Solveathon is a facilitated design-thinking workshop to create and refine solutions to complex challenges, whether from scratch or existing startups. We gather subject-matter experts, innovators, and others with an interest and background in the challenge at hand.

With guidance from a small team of facilitators, we give participants the space to form and reshape ideas, to evaluate and reevaluate designs, to prototype and collaborate, and to make new connections. 

Alex Amouyel gives remarks during the HP Solveathon. Photo: HP

Why were you interested in hosting a Solveathon?

CC: HP promotes public policies, cross-industry initiatives, and sustainable product standards that support progress in this area, and we must bring great minds together to find real circular economy solutions. We acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers, and to be honest, we were doing this years before it was trending.

Events like the Solveathon help us see beyond our own experiences by bringing together a diverse set of individuals from the Bay Area across many domains—3D print, fashion, technology, and more—to explore solutions. I love the cross-pollination of ideas, those “aha” moments when you connect the dots. It’s a way for us to give back to the sustainability community too.

Was there a particularly exciting moment?

AA: Solveathon workshops occur around the world, but having this one on the historic HP campus in Palo Alto, CA was really quite exciting. I wanted to sit down in David Packard’s original mid-century-style office, and I’m not sure anyone would have stopped me, but I did not quite dare!

The day started with opening remarks from Sonita Lontoh, HP’s Global Head and VP of Marketing (and an MIT alum!). HP also offered all attendees a tour of HP Labs, where we saw the latest cutting-edge 3D printers and watched HP R&D “in action.” I asked tons of questions, and our “tour guide,” Keith Moore, VP of R&D and a 30+ year HP employee, was exceedingly patient in answering them.

My biggest “aha” moment was that 3D printing is truly key to a circular economy. 3D printing means you can design components and products on demand using recycled and recyclable materials, thereby massively limiting inventory and transportation. You can design products using the least amount of materials, and you can extend product use by reprinting one small component rather than throwing an older product away.

Brainstorming solutions to create a more circular economy. Photo: HP

CC: I’m not sure it was the most exciting, but my big “aha” moment was during the workshop when I realized we all had technology solutions sketched out on our flip-boards but needed data to answer key questions about business models. It’s my premise if we can find the “easy button” (convenience) and pair it with value (revenue generation), we might leapfrog and not just iterate.

Judy Glazer, Head of Sustainable Impact at HP, pointed out that we all focused on the recycling aspect, which is the outer ring of solutions, and we need to get closer to the center, where real carbon emissions savings will be found.

Image: HP Sustainable Impact Report 2018

How did you feel when you left the workshop?

CC: Energized and tired, in a good way! We had the right people in the room, both participants and the Solve team who did a great job facilitating and keeping us on track. We still might have more questions than answers and need to keep our eyes on the long-term goals, take advantage of the wisdom of our partners.

Anything else?

CC: One last note: I want to give a big shout out to all our attendees who dedicated half a day of their time, and to our HP executives who joined: Sonita for her keynote; Keith for the tours of HP Labs; Judy for her participation throughout the day and her closing remarks; Christoph Schell, HP’s President of 3D Printing and Digital Manufacturing, and Philipp Jung, HP’s Chief Strategy Officer, for their judging efforts. We are so fortunate to have leaders who take sustainability seriously and provide their precious time.

Interested in hosting a Solveathon for your organization? Learn more here.

Image: Courtesy of Pixabay


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