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Helping our Oceans at Vanhacks

By Inga Jonsdottir , Lara Hughes on

Last month over 154 folks in 36 teams set out to help five local organizations in Vancouver Startup Week’s annual hackathon, Vanhacks.

Mealshare, Baby Go Round, Weekend Fuelbag, Working Gear, and Oceanwise are organizations that are making a significant contribution to the community, but each faced a challenge that reduced their impact potential or growth.

Raising up to the challenge was us, an all-female crew; Inga Jonsdottir (Mobile Dev), Machiko Murakami (Web Dev), Terri Herbert (UX/strategy) and Lara Hughes (UX/UI).

We took on a challenge by Ocean Wise, whose vision is a world with healthy and flourishing oceans. Although existing apps counted your plastic use, Ocean Wise wanted a digital product that would gamify reducing your plastic footprint. Intentionally selecting an open-ended brief, we wanted to push ourselves in every aspect, from strategy, design to development.

The Project

Instead of encouraging people to reduce all their plastic consumption, we focused on a nudging small change. Coffee is a habit, but using reusable cups doesn’t have to be. Research shows that Canadians throw out more than 1.6 billion disposable coffee cups [1], and costs Vancouver taxpayers $2.5 million every year [2]. Habits need practice, feedback, and motivation.

We challenged this problem by tapping into existing behaviour by digitizing the familiar coffee shop loyalty programs. We created a mobile app that focused on reducing single-use coffee cup usage, targeting independent coffee shops and their customers. The app provided a personalized digital program that provided feedback and motivation to end-users to help reduce single-cup usage.


Lara out in the field conducting some quick user research.

To verify the product’s viability, we conducted a quick user research of both businesses and customers. This entailed Lara (UX/UI designer) running to three local independent coffee shops to gather data, while the team sent out online surveys. Research showed that all cafes were part of green initiatives but relied on customers to further reduce their footprint. All showed interest in an app that increased business and reduced environmental impact.

The online survey of 36 participants gathered information on customer habits, the likelihood of uptake and the desire to change. It demonstrated that customer would 80% be more likely to take a reusable cup if they were strongly associated with rewards.


We created the mobile app in React Native, a framework that allows you to build native apps using JavaScript and React. No backend was setup, relying on the phone’s local storage for storing data. The app showed you a list view of all participating coffee shops. When you go for a coffee, you open the app, select what you are serving your coffee in (i.e., using a reusable cup, single-use cup, or skipping the lid). For using a reusable cup or skipping the lid, you receive “enviro points.” The more enviro points you get, the higher level you achieve in the app, represented by ocean animals, starting with the Seahorse. The customer receives an additional discount for using a reusable cup.

The app then asks you to scan a QR code that the coffee shop has, to identify and verify which shop you’re in. Once scanned, the app displays your loyalty card where they can see how many cups you’ve gotten at this shop and how many more you go need before you get your 10th cup for free. Finally, the app shows you an impact screen that shows you the impact you’ve had on the environment.

Although almost code complete, due to limited time, we had two screens left and tested in iOS only, with minimal work left to do on Android.


Select screen designs.

Lights, camera, presentation

It all came down to the presentation, as the mentors emphasized that you must demo the product and prove your idea as well. With only seven mins on the clock, we treated the presentation like a business pitch going through a full MVP product cycle – UX research, market and competitive research, impact potential, business sustainability, funding tiers and roadmap for future growth.


Final presentation.


Estimated impact and stretch goal, based on the average number of coffee people drink a year.

As the theme of the hackathon was ‘social good’ we importantly estimated the potential impact in reducing single-use coffee cups into landfill over time.

The result

After two days of work, two rounds of presentation, pizza, coffee and a lot of hard work, we passed the finish line in third place! We were over the moon and excited!

Would we do it again?

Yes, we would! We can’t say we would have been up for another one the next day because of lack of sleep, but in the future, yes. We had fun rapidly iterating, collaborating and staying simple and focused on the MVP. Having known each other beforehand enabled us to embrace radical candour to support and challenge each other directly.

We thank Apply Digital for supporting us and for all the mentors who provided encouragement, direction and advice.


Terri, Machiko and Lara working hard during the hackathon (picture by Inga).


[1] Wilkins, C. (2017, November 4). Canada’s dirty secret.
Retrieved from
[2] (2018, May 1). Single-User Item Reduction Strategy.
Retrieved from


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