What do cooler communities mean for a world facing a pandemic?

15 Sep 2020

As we reflect on the progress made by teams within the first year of the Million Cool Roofs Challenge, we are pleased to announce the extension of the Prize to December 2021 in response to COVID-19.

About one year ago, we gathered 10 teams from around the world to launch the Million Cool Roofs Challenge. The Challenge was created to speed up the transition towards passively cooled buildings, which are designed or adapted to keep occupants safer, healthier, and more productive.

The 10 teams – one each from Bangladesh, Cote d’Ivoire, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Niger, the Philippines, Rwanda, Senegal, and South Africa – first met at a beautiful retreat on the Hudson River in New York. Despite the fact that they were competing for a US$1,000,000 prize for demonstrating that they had been the most successful team in deploying or catalyzing the deployment of 1 million square meters of high quality, reflective cool roofs, there was a great sense of comradery and support. Most importantly, this meeting created a new global community for passive cooling champions that would last beyond the Challenge itself.

At the retreat, the teams discuss what challenges they would have to overcome when building the markets and creating the champions necessary for the widespread adoption of a concept that would, in many places, be entirely new. Several likely challenges were anticipated, from raising awareness and proving the benefits of cool roofs, to building supply chains, navigating import bureaucracies, and finding or building a local workforce. There was also the seemingly simple challenge of actually convincing someone to change their roof color.

What we didn’t discuss or anticipate was that the world would be turned upside down by the arrival of COVID-19, which would make the existing challenges that much harder to overcome and introduce a world of new challenges that we would all have to address as and when they surfaced. Each and every team has been dramatically impacted: cool roof coatings weren’t being shipped; coatings that were ready to be applied to roofs were  going to waste in warehouses; quarantines halted almost all construction work for months; and Governments that were just starting to be intrigued and excited by the results of early demonstrations, were suddenly thrust into survival and recovery mode. The Million Cool Roofs Challenge had become the Million Challenges Challenge.

Despite all the challenges of the past year, the teams have persisted and have started to show real progress. In some cases, the inability to coat roofs has led to greater engagement with municipal and national governments. Many teams will be restarting their efforts with explicit support from policymakers that didn’t exist prior to the pandemic. Other teams have used the additional time to further analyze demonstration projects that launched before the lockdowns and have been able to build an even stronger case for passive cooling. These projects have shown the tangible health benefits for students learning in classrooms that are cooled passively by cool roofs, and that cool roofs can lower temperatures on factory floors by up to 10℃.

In recognition of the challenges posed by the pandemic, and the great potential of the projects, we will be extending the timeline for teams to achieve scale from December 2020 to August 2021 with announcement of the winner expected in December 2021.   

Most importantly, there is a growing realization that the teams’ work to passively cool homes, schools, factories, and other buildings will be essential to recovering from the pandemic. This is particularly relevant in a world that is dealing with an increasing number of extreme heat events while quarantines block access to the cool public spaces and cooling centers that would typically protect vulnerable communities from the heat. Beyond bolstering the health of communities in recovery, this work can also create new job opportunities and improve the productivity that economies need to grow at all levels.

As we look to the future and ’relaunch’ the Million Cool Roofs Challenge, it has become clear that the experiences and lessons we can learn from the Challenge’s implementation teams will be invaluable to a speedy and equitable recovery.