Can Crowdsourcing Save the World?

Can crowdsourcing provide the answers to one of mankind's biggest challenges, namely how to sustain an ever-growing population in a world of ever-diminishing resources?

A Dutch start-up thinks so. Netherlands-based Nudge is an online community where people can share ideas for sustainable projects. If the community thinks the idea is good then Nudge (whose name is only partly inspired by the influential Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein book of the same name) will bring it to life.

"In five years time I hope that when people think about sustainability they directly relate it to Nudge," says Operations Director Tieneke Breemhaar.

"There isn't just one solution for a more sustainable world. We must all make sure we take little steps and we must do it together. That's what Nudge provides."

The "wisdom of the crowd" -- aka the notion that the collective opinion of multiple people is likely to produce better solutions to a problem than a lone expert -- may have been made easier by the Internet, but it is by no means a new idea. From trial by jury to democratic political systems, it's a concept that's deeply engrained in our way of life.

No wonder then that Nudge has caught the public's imagination. In the 18 months since it began over 26,000 'Nudgers' have signed up to the community.

"There was one lady who shared the idea that you don't have to cook your pasta for seven minutes as is indicated in the supermarket," explains Tieneke. "If you boil it for one to two minutes and then turn the heat off and close the lid it gets cooked in the same time. If she does that on her own, it's nice that she has made some savings, but if everyone did it then it would have a big impact.

"Nudge took this idea, got in discussion with Albert Heijn (a big supermarket chain in the Netherlands) to see if this could be published on all packaging as a cooking instruction. They were very enthusiastic about the idea. That is what we call a Nudge -- giving people the ability to do something."

Nudge also helped a company called The New Motion, who provide electricity networks for electric cars in Holland. They wanted to know where the best place to put the charging points was, so they asked the Nudge community.

"They were hoping to find 20 locations that would fulfill their needs but we came to the conclusion that they needed 150 locations," says Tieneke. "We gave the Nudgers the chance to act, they provided the information and now it's really being executed."

Nudge is aiming to take the idea all over Europe within the next five years.