How One Kid Can Make A Difference For The Environment

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Source: Ashoka

What are you doing to stop climate change? After being absent from national discourse, the environment is now back on center stage, thanks to Sandy and the nor’easter that just made matters worse for those still struggling to cope with Sandy’s aftermath. One kid is working to do his part to make a difference in this community as well as the world at large.

At this week’s 2012 Continuity Forum, the Americas Business Council (*abc) brings together luminaries to discuss the future of social, environmental and economic innovation. Among those speaking at the event are international celebrities, such as Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the UN, Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer, and lesser-known entrepreneurs with a great idea to change the world. One of them is Jonny Cohen, a high school senior, celebrated green entrepreneur, Ashoka Youth Venture award winner, and creator of GreenShields.

Since Cohen was a child, he has been innovating and inventing. When he was 12 and took science classes at Northwestern University, he saw a school bus, and had an idea: what if the clunky, right-angled school bus was more aerodynamic? It could use less gas, resulting in less carbon emissions. He set about making a wind tunnel in his garage and placed small shields on toy school buses to test them. The result: GreenShields—a polycarbonate shield used to retrofit school buses that redirects the airflow over and around them, decreasing the drag, resulting in better gas mileage and lower CO2 emissions.

Cohen and his team went through various iterations to improve their GreenShields. Through the help of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT, and the Cook-Illinois Bus Company, which donated a bus for Cohen’s experiments, they now have a model that is inexpensive and easy to install, enabling widespread adoption.

How much of an impact can these shields have on climate change? According to the American School Bus Council, the average fuel consumption for diesel-powered buses is seven miles per gallon. The newest GreenShield model, the V4, increases gas mileage 10 to 20 percent, saves about $600 per bus per year, costs only $30, and takes minutes to install. They are petitioning the EPA and DOT to approve mass manufacture of the shields for school buses.

With the national school bus fleet at almost half a million strong and spending nearly $2.5 billion per year on fuel, a consumption reduction of 10 to 20 percent can make a big difference in carbon emissions. Not to mention the roughly $285 millions in annual savings on fuel.

Which begs a question—if a 12 year old and his friends can come up with an innovative solution that makes a small difference that makes an impact on climate change, what can the rest of us do?

For more new ideas and innovators in this space, follow the *abc Continuity Forum via the twitter tag #abcforum

This post was written by Devon Ysaguirre, a D.C. based writer with a past in humanitarian aid, and originally featured on Change in the Making, Ashoka's channel on