My name is Lakshman Teja Lattipally and I developed a Sustainable Food Ambassador Network for Swiss high schools at Climathon Zürich 2020.
I’ve become more and more invested in sustainability over the past five years. Still, while I had heard the name “Climathon”, I never really had an opportunity - or let’s say - I was never able to participate as I was not in the right place at the right time.
I’m currently completing my master’s degree in Strategy and International Management at the University of St. Gallen (HSG) in Switzerland. Before that, I worked to get my start-up off the ground in India. We fundraised for non-profit companies through a subscription model.
In this way, my focus on sustainability was always there and it is what brought my team and I together. I know that many teams taking part in Climathon meet there for the very first time and decide to join forces.
It was different for us. My fellow team members and I went to the Amazon rainforest together as part of a university course in 2019. We visited with the local people and non-profit organizations working within the region to understand the issues facing the inhabitants.
While there, we brainstormed ideas and possible solutions that could be brought forth by local partners or even foreign institutions. It was a very formative experience, and we really bonded, staying in touch even after we returned home.
It was Aline [Herzog] who posted in our group chat and suggested that we take part in Climathon, since we were all passionate about sustainability. It was taking place in Zürich where we all lived and studied, so a bunch of us immediately decided: “Sure! Let’s do this!”
There were five different challenge topics we could work on. We decided to focus on food rather than transportation or clean energy. Some of us are vegan, and I’m also writing my thesis on the food industry in Switzerland, so it was a topic that really resonated with our group
“One-third of Zürich city’s greenhouse gas emissions are linked to food consumption. Sustainable food education was a great place to start in the quest to tackle climate change locally – and globally.”
Adjusting to the digital hackathon experience was challenging. When you’re talking to someone in person, you can always look at their reactions and body language to understand how your brainstorming session is going, whereas online, it is much more difficult to quickly gauge if the teamwork is going well.
On the other hand, being in a digital space allowed us to really take our time without that sense of urgency that comes from the pressure of having others around you - especially organisers and staff members.
By 4 AM, we somehow ended up discussing whether we should ever submit our project. After all, we were mainly in it for the experience and the chance to meet like-minded people.
Eventually, we agreed that since we had made it this far, there was no point in giving up. Had we not been so close thanks to our previous shared experiences, we might have decided to just call it a night.
Looking back, I’m obviously glad we persevered as we went on to win both the audience and jury awards for the 2020 edition of Climathon Zürich. We honestly never expected things to go so well as we felt that our idea, while practical and potentially impactful, wasn’t particularly novel.
Buoyed by this increased belief in our project, we decided to apply to the Global Climathon Awards. We ended up beating out the competition of more than 100 city winners to reach the global Top 5 for the most impactful project.
Following the event, we met with the Environment Department of Zürich to discuss the possible implementation of our project. They decided to back us both financially, and through non-monetary means. We’re currently in the process of setting up a pilot project within schools in Zürich.
Only after the pilot will we understand the potential and the complexities of the Sustainable Food Ambassador network. We can then evaluate to see if we need to get more people involved or whether an organization can take over completely.
It’s essential to design a structure that can be self-sustainable in the long run, finding the best way to make the project scalable and effective. At the end of the day, it’s bigger than all of us. That’s how it should always be when it comes to sustainability and projects with the potential of making a difference.
Much like Climathon, we served as catalysts to make this project possible and get it off the ground. Now’s the time to launch it and make it a reality out in the real world and within the educational system.