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Charity Set For Global Impact Following Tech For Good Award

Sustainable Coastlines has won the Tech for Good Award at the 2020 Sustainable Business Awards held on 19 November, in a continuation of triumphs this year for its innovative and trail-blazing programme, Litter Intelligence.

The Sustainable Business Awards are New Zealand’s longest-standing sustainability awards, now in their 18th year. The awards recognise and celebrate success in sustainability. The Tech for Good Award is presented to a technological initiative designed for social or environmental change.

“We are incredibly proud of our team’s work growing the Litter Intelligence programme”, says Sustainable Coastlines co-founder Camden Howitt. “From humble beginnings we are now monitoring over 180 beaches around Aotearoa, and counting. This award continues to build on the scientific credibility of our work and motivate us to keep pushing for bigger and better solutions for litter. Kia ora to the Sustainable Business Network for this Tech for Good Award recognition; it is a major testament to the importance of this mahi. The SDGs are a brilliant blueprint to work towards and we’re honoured to be contributing through our now ‘award-winning’ Litter Intelligence programme”.

Of the win, the Sustainable Business Awards judges commented, “Sustainable Coastlines has developed NZ’s first scientifically-rigorous national litter database to determine how much litter is on NZ beaches. It engages citizen scientists and works with government. More than just analysing data, the initiative is focused on behaviour change. The technology is strong, the impact is clear and there is great clarity of focus. This is a home-grown success story with the potential to go global.”

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Litter Intelligence programme manager, Shawn Elise Tierney, highlighted the invaluable contribution of community efforts, saying, “We’re humbled to accept this award on behalf of all the citizen scientists around Aotearoa who are contributing to Litter Intelligence. We wouldn’t be here without the many volunteers who mobilise their communities to turn rubbish into helpful data to inspire behaviour change. The tech has been a great tool for uniting individual efforts nationwide.”

Launched in 2018, Litter Intelligence is New Zealand’s first national beach litter database. It is a long-term initiative to help solve the plastic-pollution problem and uses innovative, open-source technology to collect data, provide powerful insights and inspire action. Litter Intelligence is helping to build a better understanding of the problem, and has already been used for individual actions, community-led solutions, policy decision-making and environmental reporting.

Sustainable Coastlines engages with communities around the country and thoroughly trains citizen scientists to collect data on litter while simultaneously inspiring solutions through its nationwide school education programmes and interactive website.

The data collection methodology is based on United Nations guidelines and was co-designed alongside the Ministry for the Environment, Stats NZ and the Department of Conservation. The detailed training, combined with user-friendly technology, allows environmental data to be submitted by communities at the highest standard, so it can be used by government agencies for national and international reporting, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Heeding the urgent call to action is the Litter Intelligence programme whose ironclad data is already making quite the contribution to the SDGs as mentioned in Sustainability Sciences’ article Mapping citizen science contributions to the UN sustainable development goals, earlier this year. It acknowledges citizen science as an exciting new reliable source for acquiring scientific data and states that citizen science has the potential to contribute to a whopping 76 indicators (33%) of the 244 total SDG indicators — currently, citizen scientists contribute to only five indicators.

“We’re incredibly proud of the team effort that is Litter Intelligence”, says Howitt. “Out of the five indicators citizen scientists currently contribute to, SDG 14.1.1 (floating plastic debris density) is one of these, due in no small part to our Litter Intelligence team and the ongoing efforts of our citizen scientists in New Zealand”.

Showcasing additional Litter Intelligence findings, Howitt presented in mid October at the ‘Contribution of Citizen Science Data to Monitoring the SDGs’ virtual session as part of the Knowledge for Change: A decade of Citizen Science (2020-2030) in support of the SDGs Conference, held in Berlin. Howitt also contributed as a speaker in the session ‘Integrating Citizen Science into the Official SDG Monitoring Mechanism’ at the United Nations World Data Forum on 20 October 2020.

The Tech for Good Award is the culmination of the year’s successes for Litter Intelligence, a programme that is well positioned to scale up and take on new challenges in the new year.

For the list of winners and commendations for the 2020 Sustainable Business Awards go to: sustainable.org.nz/awards.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Litter Intelligence programme or becoming a citizen scientist, please visit https://litterintelligence.org/ . If you want to support Sustainable Coastlines, please consider becoming a member or making a donation to ensure the charity organisation can continue the critical work of protecting the coastlines and waterways of Aotearoa.

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