Webby for Good is a collaborative program formed by The Webby Awards and WP Engine to showcase Webby-recognized projects built to change the world.
What’s the elevator pitch for your project?
Imagine a remote island where people rely on each other to get by. The island is densely populated and has limited resources — a situation we’ll likely encounter in our own future. What lessons can the islanders teach us about living happily and sustainably? The core idea is to show the islanders as teachers. Explaining how their limitations have created the opportunity to cooperate is a learning we can all benefit from. To share these stories, we transformed the island into a school: The School of Sustainability. You can walk or fly around it, explore and learn. Meet the teachers who'll share their personal life lessons and see how they take care of their economy, ecology, and society.
What was the impetus for this project? What real-world challenge were you trying to solve?
For many Colombians, sustainability is not at the top of their minds. To stimulate sustainable living, we wanted to show a positive and inspiring example of what that can mean. The School of Sustainability focuses on Santa Cruz del Islote, a small island with a grassroots circular economy. That ecosystem was not created because the islanders wholeheartedly believe in sustainability, it evolved out of pure necessity. By showing that even the least fortunate can live sustainably — and happily so — we hope to pave the way for the rest of Colombia to follow.
Before visiting the island we’d only read about it and seen pictures. It reminded us of a favela and we presumed that life was hard there. Once we arrived, we were met with a warm welcome and everybody wanted to help us. The islanders explained that they often feel ignored by the "mainlanders" and politicians, so they felt a huge desire to get their story out. Because we shared that mutual goal, everything fell into place instantly. So yes, the whole project made so much more sense when we were face to face, building this story together.
Once you settled on your idea, what was your first step in moving it forward?
We wanted to tell the Santa Cruz del Islote’s story truthfully and from the heart. In order to do that, we first engaged with the island’s leaders and explained how we’d like to tell their story. Once aligned, we started mapping the island because there were no previously existing maps. With the maps at hand, we planned our 360° shoot. We gathered a team of visual storytellers and digital artists and captured the island and its inhabitants in full.
Was there a moment during the project where you ran into a hurdle; or faced a problem you didn’t know how to solve? Take us to this moment, what happened and what did you do next?
Santa Cruz del Islote has been facing problems that the rest of the world will have to deal with in 50 years time. One of which is flooding due to rising sea levels. We experienced that firsthand during two of our shooting days. Doing a Street View experience when the "streets" are flooded seems to defeat the purpose. However, as flooding is part of the island's struggle, we decided to run with it. We even gathered additional interviews and content about floods and their consequences.
Did the real-world impact meet your expectations? Can you share an example?
It surpassed our expectations in three profound ways. The audience explored the island en masse and the stories got amazing engagement. It might be hard to measure if people really commit to more conscious choices but at least the story was heard by a large audience. Secondly, there was a surge in tourism, the island’s main source of income. The project also paid for a desalination water plan and generator which improved the standard of living considerably. Lastly, the impact on our own people. There was such a spirit of brotherhood between all involved parties. Sharing the responsibility to broadcast Santa Cruz del Islote’s story has impacted us for the better.
What technologies/media did you use to develop this project (AI, Social Media, WordPress, etc.)?
The School of Sustainability is based on Street View, so we used 360° photography. In order to have silky smooth transitions between the 360° spheres, we needed 3D data of the entire island — and of course, we had to gather that ourselves. We snapped about 20,000 photos and 400 drone shots and ran them through photogrammetry software to create a 3D model. Using WebGL we projected the high-res photospheres on the (simplified) 3D model to achieve a quality higher than typical Street View.
Was the tech/medium you chose crucial to conveying your message? If so, why?
I wouldn’t call it crucial, but our concept revolved around navigating and exploring an island. Street View is definitely the best tech-choice for that. Nevertheless, without the addition of sound, photography, info, and interviews the project would lose its soul.
How did this project defy your expectations?
Just the sheer size of it. The island might be small, but it makes up for it in population. Capturing every angle of the crowded island on camera seemed very daunting at the time. We ended up planning so meticulously that even the flooding couldn’t steer us off course anymore.
How will you use technology in future work to create inspiring, cutting-edge projects that also make a difference in people’s lives?
How we’ve always been doing it: pushing the limits of what’s physically and virtually possible. We believe immersive storytelling invokes empathy, whether it’s exploring an populous island or an AR jungle. Telling stories from a first-person perspective in visually stimulating, freely explorable environments fosters curiosity. Following your own storyline rather than that of a narrator really increases an experience’s impact.