The founders of Envirofit International, Tim Bauer, Nathan Lorenz and Bryan Willson, were named 2013s Energy and Environment Innovators by The Economist magazine. The 10-year-old social enterprise, based in Fort Collins, Colorado, was recognised for the global impact of its approach that pioneered the clean cookstove marketplace.

Envirofit is the global leader in the design, development, and delivery of high performing clean energy cookstoves that that combat air pollution in developing nations. It has grown from its initial concept in the Colorado State University Engines and Energy Conversion Lab to a small pilot project in India with one stove, and from there on to become a worldwide company with multiple different models and 700,000 cookstoves sold across Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

According to the World Health Organisation, cooking over an open fire inside the home is the equivalent smoke exposure to inhaling two packs of cigarettes a day. Nearly half the world’s population, three billion people, cook over inefficient wood- or dung-burning open fires inside their homes, which contributes to four million deaths a year – more than HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.

“Indoor air pollution is a scourge that affects millions of people, but gets far less attention than other forms of pollution,” Tom Standage, digital editor at The Economist and chairman of the panel of 30 judges, said. “We are delighted to recognize the achievements of Envirofit’s founders in tackling this problem.”

Bauer and Lorenz were students of Willson and fellow CSU professor Paul Hudnut in 2003 when they founded Envirofit International as an independent social enterprise. Its mission was to develop well-engineered technology solutions to solve global energy and health challenges that could be made available in the developing world through sustainable market systems. Their first product, funded by the Bohemian Foundation in Fort Collins, was a retrofit technology to reduce the pollution from two-stroke cycle vehicle engines in the Philippines.

In 2007 Envirofit teamed up with CSU to form a long-term strategic partnership with Shell Foundation – an independent charity working across the clean cookstoves value chain since 2002 who brought entrepreneurial thinking, grant funding and extensive business support to help Envirofit build a viable and scalable clean cookstoves business.

To prove the market for scalable clean cookstove solutions, they initiated their first pilot program in India. Together, the team combined global knowledge of cooking cultures from field-based research with state-of-the-art science to design new products, using advanced computational tools, rigorous performance testing, and even developing new metal alloys.

“Envirofit was really the leader in combining modern science, product design expertise, sophisticated supply-chain management, and large-scale sales/distribution networks to ensure that cooking solutions have real global impact,” said co-founder Willson, professor of mechanical engineering.

Focusing on a target market of consumers who lacked awareness about the dangers of indoor air pollution, Envirofit entered the clean cooking sector faced with the challenge of improving the market for clean cookstoves.

“Arriving in India we saw the opportunity to transform a largely fragmented, artisanal, and non-commercial sector through the development of consumer-driven, high quality products with measurable results," said co-founder Tim Bauer. “Working closely with our customers, we were able to adapt the design of the stove to meet their needs.”

Using a market-based model, the team developed and commercialised high-performing biomass cookstoves that are efficient, durable, affordable, and appeal to consumers. In addition to the aesthetic qualities, Envirofit’s stoves are designed to offer economic, health and environmental benefits, reducing smoke and toxic emissions by up to 80% and reducing fuel use, fuel cost, and cooking time by up to 60%. The stoves reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by up to 60%, black carbon by up to 40%. They retail for between US$15 and US$30, and have a nominal life of five years.

In the seven years after the first pilot, Envirofit has expanded globally, selling 700,000 stoves by the end of 2013. Throughout their lifespan, these stoves have impacted more than 3.5 million people, created more than 1,000 jobs, and saved more than 11 million tonnes of CO2. At the household level the stoves have reduced fuel costs by more than US$96 million and saved consumers 6.3 million working weeks of firewood collection.

“Envirofit is growing rapidly and we plan to sell five million stoves by 2020,” said Ron Bills, CEO and chairman of the board of Envirofit, who has been leading the company since 2005. “To support this growth we are currently seeking capital investment for equity/debt for working capital, market expansion, and distribution development.”

Envirofit has established manufacturing operations in China, Eastern Africa, and soon in Western Africa and Latin America. Envirofit has an extensive distribution network in place with partners including Unilever, Tower Aluminum, and Lion Brand Cookware with opportunities for expansion to mainstream clean technologies across households and institutions in developing nations.

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