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Kiwi environmental entrepreneurs win global grant

Keeping our beaches clean just got easier for New Zealand non-profit organisation Sustainable Coastlines, when Microsoft President Brad Smith announced it was the recipient of an AI for Earth grant at a special beachside ceremony today.

Smith is in New Zealand to meet Government Ministers and address audiences from across the public and private sectors on privacy and security in the digital era. 

He took time out during the visit to meet Sustainable Coastlines co-founder Camden Howitt and development lead Dr Sandy Britain, along with project partners from the Ministry for the Environment.

At Wellington’s Lyall Bay, Smith was able to see the organisation’s litter-busting technology in action as he helped collect litter from the beach, log and categorise it in Sustainable Coastlines’ unique database. 

A national litter database is being established so schools, iwi (tribes), community groups and businesses can view the data and trends in their areas and work to change local behaviour, seeing which measures are the most effective in reducing rubbish long-term. 

The platform uses the United Nations Environment Programme methodology combined with Microsoft Power BI and Azure technology to chart litter along the coast.

“This kind of initiative is exactly what our planet needs – something simple but effective that can easily be adopted at the grass-roots level to make a difference, empowering every community to keep their environment clean and make the world a better place for future generations,” Smith said.

“Organisations like Sustainable Coastlines are the reason we launched the AI for Earth programme. We face a collective need for urgent action to address global climate issues. 

“These grants give individuals and groups the tools to scale up environmental action around the world.”

“I’m delighted to announce the success of Sustainable Coastlines’ grant application today. We look forward to seeing their initiative reducing waste on coastlines in many more countries soon.”

With the AI for Earth grant, Sustainable Coastlines will receive Azure credit, technical advice and support, training and networking opportunities.

Smith’s announcement was a surprise for Howitt and Britain, who had only been expecting to demonstrate their innovation.

Since the programme’s launch in June 2017, Microsoft has awarded more than 230 AI for Earth grants to recipients in around 60 countries.