The Merrill J. Fernando Innovation Awards – ECOVATION – were first held in 2016, seeking to encourage practical or scientific innovation among young people, women and men in academia or in any which field, designing creative and impactful solutions to our most pressing ecological problems. The 2021 Ecovation Awards Ceremony was held on March 31, 2022 at the premises of Dilmah Tea Headquarters. The included an exhibition showcasing the competition’s top 10 eco-innovations with the aim of motivating innovators and inspiring patrons to think about sustainable and eco-friendly solutions to the problems we face today.
Representing the eminent jury, the event was honored by Professor Ilmi Hewajulige, Additional General Manager for R&D at ITI, Ms Pathma Abeykoon, Operational Focal Point Biodiversity Secretariat, Ministry of Environment, while Ms Shiranee Yasaratne, Advisor, Biodiversity Sri Lanka joined the festivities via Zoom. Other panel members included Prof. Ajith de Alwis, Dean of Graduate Studies, University of Moratuwa, Mr. Jeevan Gnanam, CEO of SAKS Global, and Ms. Savera Weerasinghe, Founder of Ananta Sustainables.
“Understanding that the traditional culture of “take-get-throw” has had devastating effects on people and the planet; eco-innovations ideally respond to these environmental and social problems, among others, and improve the means used to deal with them. The 2021 ECOVATION Awards sort out eco-innovative ideas and prototypes under the theme “Circular Economy for a Sustainable Future” and focus specifically on sustainable packaging, resource efficiency and waste management,” reads a press release. on the event.
“The winner of ECOVATION 2021 was the duo of innovators, Professor Rangika Halwatura and Himahansi Galkanda, affiliated with the University of Moratuwa, who created an eco-friendly wall putty from spent alum sludge. In addition to to be honored as winners of Ecovation 2021 with the Merrill J Fernando Innovation Awards 2021 trophy, the duo received a cash prize of Rs 750,000.”
In second place, Sudhara Jayakody, also affiliated with the University of Moratuwa, with his Eco Crumbler – “earthworm pet house” – a solution designed to help city dwellers cope with the accumulation of waste household food. Third place winner was Gamini Priyantha Alexander of Nature’s Paper (Pvt) Ltd, a formidable eco-entrepreneur, who has created eco-friendly packaging alternatives from waste paper and agricultural waste as well as invasive plants .
The second and third place winners received cash prizes of Rs. 500,000 and Rs. 250,000 respectively. The remaining top 10 also received cash prizes of Rs 50,000 each for their continued journey of green innovation.
“The Merrill J. Fernando Innovation Awards inspire eco-innovators to showcase their product and provide a space for knowledge sharing and growth. Going beyond the confines of a traditional competition, ECOVATION seeks to work closely with winning innovators to adapt and grow based on existing market needs. Additionally, the winning innovators will receive legal support to protect the intellectual property rights of the respective eco-innovators, according to the release.
He explained that this edition of the awards saw 64 aspiring eco-innovators submit their eco-friendly ideas and prototypes. These eco-innovations were then rated on their innovative nature, but above all on their adaptability, scalability and practicality. After a thorough selection by the judges, the top 16 eco-innovators had the opportunity to interact closely with the jury to improve their concepts and prototypes.
As the panel included pioneers from various disciplines and fields; these eco-innovators received invaluable feedback, constructive criticism and insightful suggestions on how to improve their eco-innovations, in the areas of material sourcing, production, design, marketing, budgeting, financing and scaling up. The contestants were then given a two-month period to apply the relevant suggestions and further strengthen their innovations, after which they made their final presentations to the same panel, according to the release.
“Ecovation will become part of Dilmah’s Genesis Project in 2022, an initiative to promote the importance of building back better with nature-based solutions (NbS), for the well-being of people, the reduction of inequalities and the strengthening climate resilience through sustainable agricultural entrepreneurship. Like ECOVATION, which is a platform for innovators to connect and interact with companies and government institutions, the Genesis project will serve as a platform for various actors and institutes to network and lobby for a variety of purposes that benefit people and the planet,” he concluded.