POC21: Sustainable solutions within everyone’s reach


Initiated by the collectives OuiShare and OpenState, this innovation camp brought the makers of 12 projects, plus mentors and other volunteers together over a five-week period to co-build inexpensive, open-source ecological solutions. The result? Unexpected advances and products that will be available to the general public as early as next year.


In the tree-lined alley leading up to the Château de Millemont, in the Yvelines Department, tents containing wooden beds and living-room furniture made on-site set the scene for an original residence. On the 600-hectare (1,500-acre) site listed on the national historical register, the participants of POC21 – 157 inventors, organizers and volunteers from the four corners of the globe – also installed a “factory” in the stables, dry toilets across from the manor house, 3D printers in the drawing room, a kitchen in the orange grove, and an exhibition yurt in the park.

[…] the aim was to prove that, in a short period of time and working on the basis of co-creation, it is possible to build a “prototype of a zero-carbon, zero-waste society »

An unusual transformation to foster the success of an initiative whose name speaks volumes: POC21, for Proof of Concept. Launched by OuiShare, a French association dedicated to the collaborative economy and currently expanding internationally, and OpenState, a German collective of sustainable designers and creators, the aim was to prove that, in a short period of time and working on the basis of co-creation, it is possible to build a “prototype of a zero-carbon, zero-waste society.”

A concrete, community-based adventure

Twelve weeks of preparation and five weeks of collaboration later, the 30 makers selected for their 12 promising projects proudly presented their solutions, enchanted by this shared immersive experience. “When I think that it took me several years to develop the concept, and then I look at what I was able to do in just a few weeks, it’s very impressive!” enthuses Jason Selvarajan, a Finn of Indian origin whose Showerloop promises to save 33,000 liters (8,700 gallons) of water and 650 KW, per person, per year.

For the organizers and participants alike, the camp proved to be a real innovation accelerator. “It’s because of how we worked. Although the prototypes were not always perfect and will continue to evolve, it would never have been possible to execute them this fast without the skill sharing and community living offered by POC21,” maintains Justyna Swat, co-founder of this ecological hackathon.

Because in addition to inventors from the United States, Spain and Belgium, mentors – expert engineers and designers – came each week to help the teams make their ideas a reality.

We wanted […] to show that alternatives can come from the grassroots level […] and that open source lets you share, replicate and improve on solutions.

Two months before COP21 – where heads of State and other decision-makers from around the world will meet to ramp up the fight against climate change – POC21 also wanted to provide concrete solutions to the general public, for whom these series of international discussions remain largely abstract. “We wanted to share a different, or at least a complementary, message,” explains Benjamin Tincq, co-founder of OuiShare. “To show that alternatives can also come from the grassroots level, that a new manufacturing method is possible, and that open source lets you share, replicate and improve on solutions, according to local needs.”

Giving people tools for sustainable action

From the shower to the kitchen, by way of electrical power and small-scale farming, the project prototypes created during POC21 all aim to reduce the carbon footprints of our daily activities and improve the lives of the planet’s inhabitants.

For example, a few steps away from the exhibition yurt, Josha presents Sunzilla, a new type of power generator that runs on solar energy. Designed for use at events such as festivals, it could also be “used in remote villages or after natural disasters,” explains Vivien, another of the project’s makers.

In the field of energy control, the English team from Open Energy Monitor proposed WiFi boxes that use smartphone, tablet or computer application to measure your home’s energy consumption, temperature and humidity in real time.

“We perfected three modules designed to rethink our kitchens. The first unit, for example, can be used to store food without using any energy. Fridges are not suited for fruit and vegetables; they just need to be protected from flies and other insects,” Audrey Bigot of Kitchen B expounds. Another module combines aquaponics with biowaste composting.

Coming soon to the world

Although the prototypes co-manufactured in the space of five weeks could still use some tweaking, most of them will be ready for use in homes, on farms and by do-it-yourselfers, as early as 2016.

With the slogan, “Reconnect with your Food,” their solution offers a simple solution for growing your own produce at home.

This is, for example, the case of the invention devised by the ownFood team. With the slogan, “Reconnect with your Food,” their solution offers a simple solution for growing your own produce at home: a highly productive garden that combines aquaponics, permaculture and automation, all protected by a greenhouse. “The exhibition model is 24.2 m (80 ft) long. It is large enough to feed a family of four or supply a small condo,” adds Cassandra Francis. “The prototype cost roughly €1,000, but the aim is to use mass production to reduce that cost to around €500, meaning that, at today’s prices for fruits and vegetables, it would pay for itself in just three years.” Already partnered with greenhouse maker ACD, the ownFood team is now looking for families to volunteer to test and improve its solution, so that it can start to be sold in specialized stores sometime next year.

Another invention that should give hope to small farmers, in particular: the Bicitractor, developed by the FarmingSoul collective. The pedal-driven version costs less than €50 and, for larger farming concerns, the team is currently testing the addition of a power-assist system, with the aim of keeping it under €1,500, or five to 10 times less than the market price. “Our goal now is to finalize the power-assist version and offer training on assembling it yourself. The model is already being trialed by a truck farmer in the Luberon region. An initial test training session will be held in February, in the Essonne region of France, before we release it to the general public in the fall of 2016,” explains collective member Jean-Pierre Comte.

Photo © : POC 21