In March 2022, the first in-person Innovation for Sustainability module took place. Watch this short video to hear what our students got up to.


By Eileen Diskin, Entrepreneurial Specialist                                                                                                                                                           January 2022

By 2030, up to 20 million jobs could be created worldwide in sustainable employment.

The shift to a greener economy will not only generate new jobs but also change the scope of existing jobs. There is much work to be done to transition to a zero carbon and resilient economy according to a recent Skillnet Ireland report and growing green talent by developing both the sustainability and design skills of Ireland’s workforce is a big part of that.

At UCD Innovation Academy we believe that every part of society can contribute to this greener economy and that to tackle our world’s wicked problems we must work together like never before. In that spirit, 32 UCD undergraduate students came together for a fast paced, immersive five days this month in the inaugural Innovation for Sustainability class.

Innovation for Sustainability draws on UCD Innovation Academy’s unique education model: multi-disciplinary teams of students working on ‘real world’ challenges with the support of enterprise mentors. Students learned how to apply design thinking approaches to engage with complex, sustainability challenges and work in teams to co-create innovative, sustainable solutions.

The students in this module, who are majoring in Theoretical Physics, English with Creative Writing, Psychology, Medicine, and Music, Film, & Drama, to name a few, were assigned the challenge to rethink festive traditions in a more sustainable way. 

Christmas was a focus for many teams and the facts as shared by students in their final presentations are staggering. 100,000 tonnes of packaging waste were produced in Ireland last Christmas. In an Environmental Protection Agency food waste survey, 70 percent of people said they overbuy food at Christmas leading to spikes in food waste. An artificial Christmas tree needs to be used ten times to make it more environmentally friendly than a real one; on average they are only used for half of that. St. Patrick’s Day also featured, and the enormous clean up operations required on the 18th of March during pre-Covid times.

Give the Gift of Doing, a campaign to encourage parents to gift time together to loved ones.

Equipped with the tools of design thinking, a human centred approach to problem solving, and an immersion in the circular economy, students split into eight teams and quickly worked to identify specific problems to be solved in response to the initial challenge. Just four days later they pitched these ideas to an expert enterprise panel comprising global tax giant Deloitte, the Rediscovery Centre, Ireland’s National Centre for the Circular Economy, and The Green Roots Project, an initiative launched by alumni of the Innovation Academy’s ‘Design Thinking for Sustainability’ Graduate Diploma course.


The Holo Tree, a holographic Christmas tree.

One team pitched giving experiences instead of gifts, a clever way to move away from the focus on material gifts, over half of which are considered useless according to Another created a proposal for an app to help families educate themselves on their energy consumption levels at Christmas which between Christmas lights, home heating, and larger amounts of food all contribute to a sizable carbon footprint. Daily notifications alert users to how much energy they have used, whether it is high or not and how to take steps to bring their usage down. Another team pitched the idea of the Holo Tree, a hologram Christmas tree that offers a more sustainable option than both real and artificial trees. The St Patrick’s Day team proposed an app to complement the Green Schools Project Ireland.


Boxes R Us, transforming toy boxes into real toys.

Proposals included the five stages of design thinking: empathy with your users; definition: defining the problem; ideation: challenging assumptions and creating ideas; prototyping: creating solutions and finally, testing: trying out solutions. The enterprise panel shared feedback with students on concept, the presentation, the product’s viability and more allowing students valuable engagement with work place perspectives and experiences.

The inaugural Innovation for Sustainability class at UCD Innovation Academy joins a growing community of changemakers in UCD and Ireland, equipped with innovation and sustainability mindsets to address the most urgent challenge our planet faces.

“The Innovation Academy has been a really enjoyable experience and particularly the innovation for sustainability module commented Brooke, an undergraduate. If you are in any way interested in sustainability, this is the module for you. It gets you thinking in creative ways to try and come up with solutions to help foster sustainability. The module is really fun and the tasks we were given were enjoyable; it was amazing seeing all the unique ideas coming together by the end of the module.”

Find out more about UCD Innovation Academy’s undergraduate modules here and by contacting

Innovation for Sustainability is supported by Convene, a collaboration between UCD Innovation Academy and TU Dublin funded by the Human Capital Initiative Pillar III, a government funded program increasing capacity in higher education to meet priority skills needs for enterprise and to promote innovative methods of teaching and delivery.