Photos: Courtesy Cohen Family
“My passion is making things more efficient,” says Jonny Cohen. This desire to reduce waste found its expression about six years ago when Cohen took a class in aerodynamics at Northwestern University.
Not long afterward, he watched a school bus lumbering through his neighborhood when he was on his way home and thought, “There must be a way to make school buses more aerodynamic.” The same afternoon he came up with the concept for GreenShields, an aftermarket attachment for school buses that would decrease drag and increase fuel efficiency. He was 12 years old.
In the early days of GreenShields, Cohen won $1,000 in a national science contest and used the money to set up a mini wind tunnel in his parents’ garage. He says the biggest lift came in 2010 when he won a $25,000 Pepsi Refresh Grant. Cohen used the money to partner with the Segal Design Institute at Northwestern, where GreenShields went from paper to prototype.
“The most important part of [winning the grant] was getting interviewed on Good Morning America,” says Cohen. The segment was watched by the wife of John Benish, owner of the Cook-Illinois Bus Corporation. “She told him to give me a bus to work on. From there things really took off.”
For the wind tunnel tests, Cook-Illinois supplied Cohen with a 2002 84-passenger CE Series from IC Bus. “We worked with three different models of school buses and GreenShields,” he explains.
Now 18 and headed off to college, Cohen is still committed to getting GreenShields to market. The concept he came up with in the seventh grade is now ready to undergo regulatory testing by the state of Illinois.
As important as that goal is, he believes inspiring his peers carries equal weight. “I often speak to kids at schools or events like the Green Festival,” Cohen says. “And I tell them to not accept society for what it is, but to work to create change.”