Clean Cooking In a small village in rural Kenya, a woman bent over an open fire pit in the center of her hut cooking the evening meal. That morning, she had spent two hours collecting wood, animal dung, and scrap paper to use as fuel. Now, as she stirred the pot, the cook fire gave off a steady stream of sooty, acrid smoke, which filled the room despite a ventilation hole in the roof. The woman’s young son played dangerously close to the open flame, while her daughter, coughing from the smoke, tried to read by the weak light of the fire. In 2012, a similar scene was repeated in more than 600 million households every day across the developing world, with devastating effects on human health, the environment, and economic development. Indoor air pollution from open cookstoves is a killer. The World Health Organization has estimated that soot, particles, and smoke from cooking is the fifth worst risk factor for health in developing countries, causing two million premature deaths a year from lung and heart disease—more than malaria and tuberculosis combined. Open cookstoves also lead to disfiguring burns, asthma, eye damage, and pregnancy complications. The effects are greatest on women and young children, who spend the most time near the hearth. Women and girls also suffer from head and back injuries, animal attacks, and sexual violence while searching for and carrying heavy loads of fuel, often far from home. Time spent collecting fuel is time not spent attending school, working at a paid job, or running a small business. Primitive cooking methods also harm the environment. Cutting trees to produce wood or charcoal leads to deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and watershed degradation. Moreover, the combustion of biomass in cooking produces more than a quarter of the world’s black carbon, or soot. Scientists now believe that soot is second only to carbon dioxide in its overall contribution to global warming. Policymakers have been intrigued by the fact that while carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for decades, black carbon washes out within days or weeks. Reducing soot in the atmosphere would thus have a much more immediate effect on global warming than cutting carbon emissions. In 2010, the United Nations Foundation, in collaboration with several governments (including the United States), launched the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, with the ambitious goal of “100 by 20”—that 100 million households worldwide adopt clean and efficient cookstoves and fuels by 2020. The alliance recognized that reaching this goal would require more than money; it would require technical innovation in fuels and stove design, new mechanisms of financing, and on-the-ground campaigns to engage users from a wide range of cultures and cooking traditions. It would also require the support of businesses—large and small. One company that saw an opportunity in the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves was Dow Corning. In 2011, the Midland, Michigan–based maker of silicon-based materials donated $5 million over five years to support the alliance. The firm had first become interested in the issue when its volunteer Citizen Service Corps participated in a clean cookstove project in Bangalore, India. Dow Corning believed that not only its money, but also its expertise in manufacturing and material science could be of value to the initiative. At the same time, motivated by greater attention to the issue, social entrepreneurs across the globe began generating innovative ideas about how to design, manufacture, and finance more efficient and cleaner cookstoves—potentially a “win–win” for the environment and human health and well-being. For example, in the west African country of Ghana, Suraj Wahab founded a small business, Toyola Energy Ltd., to produce a cookstove he invented called the gyapa (“good fire”). His company constructed the stove from locally sourced materials—scrap metal from construction sites and fired clay liners. Because it was designed to burn charcoal, a fuel used by 30 percent of Ghanaian households, twice as efficiently as in an open fire, each stove over the course of its life would prevent the release of global-warming emissions equivalent to the amount generated by a Honda Civic driven for one year. Wahab had difficulty obtaining needed capital until he partnered with E Co, a clean energy nonprofit that invested $270,000. E Co helped Toyola calculate the carbon offset value of its cookstoves, which was then monetized and sold to the investment banking firm Goldman Sachs. By 2011, Toyola employed 150 people and had sold more than 150,000 cookstoves to eager Ghanaians, who welcomed the cost savings and health benefits they provided. More than a quarter of the company’s revenue came from the sale of carbon offsets, helping keep the price to consumers as low as $7. Similar stories of creative partnerships were occurring around the globe. In Bangladesh, Grameen Shakti—part of the Grameen family of microcredit organizations founded by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohammed Yunus—launched a program to spread improved cookstoves in rural areas. Grameen Shakti provided technical assistance and loans to entrepreneurs—many of them women—to set up small businesses to make, repair, and market cleaner-burning stoves. The nonprofit Trees, Water, & People, based in Fort Collins, Colorado, built and distributed almost 50,000 cookstoves in Guatemala. Their stove was an insulated metal box topped by a removable cooking surface adapted to cooking tortillas and a chimney pipe to vent smoke through a roof hole. Increased fuel efficiency saved families about ten dollars a month, in a society in which 80 percent of the population lived on two dollars a day or less. Other organizations, such as Solar Cookers International, experimented with ways to harness the power of the sun—a completely renewable, clean, and free source of energy— to boil water and cook food. Contributions like these moved the Alliance closer to its ambitious goal. “As we build a cookstoves market to the scale necessary to combat and defeat this silent killer,” said its executive director in 2011, “the strong support and unique expertise of our partners and champions will be invaluable.”
1. In what ways would the widespread adoption of clean cookstoves address the global environmental issues discussed in this chapter?
2. In what ways would the widespread adoption of clean cookstoves address the issues of economic development and poverty discussed in this chapter?
3. Which sectors (e.g., government, business, civil society) would need to be involved in a successful campaign to promote clean cookstoves in the developing world, and what would be the contributions of each?
4. What would be the benefit to multinational corporations, such as Dow Corning, of participating in this effort?