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Green Screen co-founder Gina Ciancone with the latest prototype, at the UN in New York

By Gina Ciancone, MUP ’19

New Delhi is not only one of the world’s fastest-growing megacities but also one of the world’s hottest and most polluted urban areas. The intense pollution and heat are interconnected problems, substantially attributed to the 27 million tonnes of agricultural waste annually burned outside of New Delhi, the smoke from which hangs over the city and traps in heat, producing the urban heat island effect on a massive scale.

Green Screen is a zero-electricity passive air cooling panel installed in urban slums, made entirely of agricultural waste. Earlier this year, it won The Mittal Institute’s Seed for Change competition, in which grant prizes will be awarded to interdisciplinary student projects that positively impact societal, economic, and environmental issues in India and Pakistan. Our team developed the idea in The Mittal Institute Director Professor Tarun Khanna’s class on Contemporary Developing Countries: Entrepreneurial Solutions to Intractable Problems.

A hundredth of the cost of a conventional air conditioner, it is an affordable, beautiful product that not only cools people, but also addresses part of why it’s so hot in the first place. Green Screen passively cools homes and reduces indoor temperature in two ways. One is through air compression from the funnel shapes in the panel itself. The second is through the evaporative cooling; it produces vapor that draws heat from its surroundings and cools the area. Since many of the homes in informal communities are made from corrugated metal with voids acting as windows, Green Screen can be attached with a hinge system and can be kept open or closed. This technology has the potential to radically change the environment of urban slums – the areas in cities that expose their most vulnerable to extreme heat and dangerous levels of pollution.

Green Screen will launch in New Delhi in 2019. We are working with Chintan – an environmental advocacy NGO based in New Delhi – and will be meeting them in just a few weeks to conduct a site survey, consumer focus groups and meet key stakeholders. My colleague and I will also be interviewing farmers in the state of Haryana to better understand the behavioral economics of the newly-illegal practice of waste burning. In ten days, I will be going to the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston Texas to conduct a technical evaluation of Green Screen from aerospace and sustainability engineers. And this past month, Green Screen was selected from over 250 applicants to be part of the Harvard Innovation Lab Venture Incubation Program.

As part of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2018, I was invited to present Green Screen at a closed expert roundtable panel focused on Urban Public Space, with co-founder Ramya Pinnamanenni in New York City. Participants included delegates from the United Nations, UN Habitat, UNICEF, Global Compact Cities Programme, ActionAid, and invited members of the public. Presenting Green Screen to a broad and expert-level audience was an incredible opportunity to showcase the product in a global setting.

One of the session’s key takeaways: while policy interventions are needed in emerging markets, design also has substantial and positive agency in development. As Patricia Holly Purcell from the United Nations Global Compact Cities Programme identified, the potential impact of Green Screen can be broadly applied to other vulnerable contexts. Green Screen could be adapted to other countries facing similar agricultural security crises, increasing temperatures, and growing informal settlements, such as sub-Saharan African nations and countries in Central America.

Ultimately, solutions to urban challenges will develop through creative problem-solving. Green Screen uses elements from a designer’s toolkit to integrate experimentation, technological possibility, and business success to arrive at an innovative solution. Showcasing the Green Screen prototype and pitching the venture to global leaders expanded the international community’s interest in entrepreneurial tactics that address urban problems. Similar to the multidisciplinary team composing Green Screen, having the private sector cooperate with local bureaucracies and international governing institutions will enhance adoption, implementation, and enhance the overall success of designed solutions.