About TED » TED Talks Partners » Shell Urbanization Project

Shell is a global group of energy and petrochemical companies aimed at generating profitable growth by driving forward their investment program, delivering sustainable growth and providing competitive returns to shareholders, while helping to meet global energy demand in a responsible way.




At TEDActive 2012, Shell sponsored the TEDActive Urbanization Project, harnessing the energy, optimism and talent of the TEDActive community to create innovative answers to big questions. Working with the TED team, Shell focused the energy of thinkers and doers on answering this question: How do we better manage energy consumption in the city of the future?

The process

We jumpstarted the brainstorm online, creating a TEDActive Urbanization Facebook Group as a conversation platform and promoting the discussion with this incredible video. On-site at Palm Springs, the excitement around the Projects was infectious. The week began with an immersive pre-conference Experience and an idea-sharing Builder's Breakfast, opening the question up to the community at a Picnic Lunch on Tuesday. As ideas coalesced around the Project Wall, the community went out to mingle and celebrate on Wednesday night at three breathtakingly scenic Project House Parties. On Thursday, after final meetings, the entire community raised a glass to the ideas that emerged as the lead facilitators delivered short, inspiring talks during the Project Toasts.


The blogs, thoughts and the story of the Urbanization Project were all recorded on a dedicated page on TED.com. Every Project was manned by a facilitator to encourage conversation, a storyteller to capture and represent ideas and an amplifier to take those ideas to the wider community.

The conversation online

  • 3 weeks
  • 178 members
  • 398 posts, comments and likes

Over two weeks leading up to the TEDActive conference, people joined the Facebook group to share their ideas and spark discussion. People shared posts and photos about interesting programs in their communities, related articles, videos and more.

Here are a few of the posts we loved (go to the Facebook Group to read them all!):

One way to better manage energy is to help people understand how much energy they are using in real time and to make sure the units are quantities that people understand. For example, a meter in the shower can show you how many 8 oz glasses of water you are using as you shower. -- Miriam Stone

Green retrofit in buildings, waste and water recycling technologies and services seem to be the focus in Singapore as they further aim for eco-friendliness. It is clear that we need government involvement and mandates to help drive this. -- Santosh Gopalan

We, as a civilization, have a mandate to protect the earth that we live on. Unfortunately, many advances in our society have done more harm than good to the planet that we call home. To rectify this, it takes both individual commitments and a global strategy. -- Daniel Chang

The conversation on-site

The Urbanization Project began their journey on site with a visit to a wind farm in Palm Springs, where the group was shocked to discover that the huge expanse of 3800 turbines were not enough to power Palm Springs.

As attendees begain to realize the massive efforts behind producing energy, the first question they sought to answer was, "What stops you from saving energy?" They identified four categories of barriers to saving energy: convenience and habit; lack of education and awareness; prohibitive costs; and inefficient solutions. Overcoming these barriers can be difficult and a key finding was that those who do take great pride in their energy efficient solutions.


At the TEDActive audience talks on Thursday morning, the group was inspired by Lawrence Kemball-Cook who spoke about his PaveGen technology -- tiles that harness the power of pedestrians' footsteps and convert them to energy that might power city lights. Near the Project space was a carboard replica of a city, built by artist Kiel Johnson. The Urbanization Project decided to combine these innovations and light up the cardboard city using the PaveGen technology and LED lights bought at a neighboring hardware store, bringing awareness to energy-saving solutions possible in urban areas.


Insights and ideas

These are some of the most popular ideas and insights we discovered during this process. We hope that you find these as stimulating and exciting as the TEDActive community did:

  • Promotions for new energy solutions should tap into the immense emotional pride that is typical in consumers who are enthusiastic about saving energy.
  • There are huge hopes for reinventing batteries for energy use. Donald Sadoway's talk on the the liquid metal battery was very inspiring to the group.
  • Build energy-efficient homes to reduce barriers of effort. If low-income housing was constructed to reduce energy use, then this demographic that suffers from less educational opportunity and prohibtive costs would have a greater opportunity to conserve energy.


  • Make energy consumption visible. Most of us are not aware of our energy use and would change our habits drastically if given an easy way to measure and understand our use on both personal and city-wide levels (like public art installations).
  • Offer economic incentives to save energy. If people are given some economic incentive (even if very small) to begin an energy-saving behavior, this might jumpstart a change in habit and the typically observed sense of pride may be enough for them to sustain that habit.

Watching the TEDActive community grow and think continues to be a thrilling journey, as over 600 attendees flock from all corners of the Earth to be a part of this community and these conversations. The TEDActive Projects continue to be a celebration of ideas, imagination, innovation and inspiration.