With rapid population growth and urbanization, cities will consume more energy in the coming decades. With it, there’s the potential for increased air and water pollution. To confront these challenges, the University of Chicago has launched a contest to gather the best ideas from community groups, business leaders, and other stakeholders.

The prize? One million dollars used to put their ideas to work, starting in Chicago.

UChicago researchers will work with key civic and business leaders to test the award-winning ideas in hopes of guiding successful policies that can then be implemented nationally, and even internationally. This Innovation Challenge is a central focus of the new Urban Energy & Environment Lab – one of five labs focused on designing and testing the most promising urban policies to confront our greatest challenges.

This evidence-based policy making approach has been proven to work. In India’s Gujarat, the Urban Energy & Environment Lab’s Director Michael Greenstone and his colleagues worked with local officials to improve the environmental auditing system. Their pilot reforms reduced pollution by 28 percent and in January were officially adopted by the Gujarat government.

“Testing the reforms and knowing that they worked beforehand made all the difference when it came to designing the policies, getting them approved, and knowing how to effectively implement them,” says Hardik Shah, Member Secretary of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board, who spearheaded the efforts to get the new environmental audit guidelines approved and built the systems to scale them up. “Our partnership proves the success of innovative, evidence-based approaches to policymaking and is a model for how researchers and policymakers can make a big difference by working together.”

The Urban Energy and Environment Lab is seeking letters of interest from non-profit, public and private sector organizations with promising ideas that can be rigorously evaluated, are scalable and are aimed at solving cities’ most urgent energy and environmental problems. Such ideas could include ways to improve access to reliable energy and energy efficiency; reduce air pollution; and/or reduce disruptive climate change or help urban areas better adapt to climate change. Short letters of interest (3 pages or less) are due May 1st.

Learn more about the Innovation Challenge and how to apply.

Learn more about the Urban Energy & Environment Lab.

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Areas of Focus: Environment
Producing and using energy damages people’s health and the environment. EPIC research is quantifying the social costs of energy choices and uncovering policies that help protect health while facilitating growth.