Carbon Financing Program Provides Clean Drinking Water in Kenya

Image used with permission from Vestergaard Frandsen. Many children in Western Province drink from open sources, water which may be contaminated. Point-of-use interventions like LifeStraw ensure that the water is clean at consumption.

You heard that right.

Some years back, Vestergaard Frandsen, a company operating under a Humanitarian Entrepreneurship business model, created a proprietary, portable water purification system targeted for use in Africa. LifeStraw effectively removes all bacteria and parasites responsible for causing common diarrhoeal diseases. And it does it without electricity or spare parts, so it’s easily portable to the remote places where it’s needed most. We’ve covered the clean water challenge before as well as the numerous social entrepreneurs who have developed products to address it.

What makes Vestergaard Frandsen’s model so interesting is the incorporation with carbon markets, which makes it cost effective to distribute the filters widely. Currently, almost 900,000 have been distributed to around 90% of homes in the Western Provence of Kenya, which previously lacked access to clean drinking water. This innovative financing model is based on carbon offsets. Alison Hill described the model to the crowd at SXSWeco yesterday. Here’s how it works:

In places with unsafe drinking water and no access to filters, the only way people have to secure the safety of their water is to boil it. Boiling water means burning tremendous amounts of wood or other combustibles to make a fire. For families living on 50 cents a day, purchasing clean-burning fuels is cost prohibitive, so people will burn anything they can get their hands on to make the cooking fire. All these cooking fires mean big carbon emissions. Other groups like Darfur Stoves have addressed this problem with emission-free solar cookstoves, but the LifeStraw eliminates the need for any heat element whatsoever.

Take all of those eliminated water-purification fires in aggregate, and you have an estimated 2 million averted tons of carbon. That’s tradable. Carbon market experts will wonder how they track it, and indeed, traceability is an important part of the puzzle. Are these LifeStraws being used? How much? Are they actually replacing fires? All of these questions must be answered in order to create a rigorous product buyers on the carbon market are willing to take a chance on.

Vestergaard Frandsen has tracability covered with independent auditing from a 3rd party organization– they go door-to-door every six months to check in with LifeStraw recipients and ensure the filters are being used properly. The distribution is also tracked with a mobile application that sends usage locations to Google Earth. Almost 900,000 filters were distributed this past April and May. Each of these filters provides at least 18,000 liters of U.S. EPA quality drinking water, enough to supply a family of five with cleaning drinking water for at least three years. Quite remarkable.

This video explains the process in full:

Jen Boynton

Jen Boynton is editor in chief of TriplePundit and editorial director at 3BL Media. With over 6 million annual readers, TriplePundit is the leading publication on sustainable business and the Triple Bottom Line. Prior to TriplePundit, Jen received an MBA in Sustainable Management from the Presidio Graduate School. In her work with TriplePundit she's helped clients from SAP to PwC to Fair Trade USA with their sustainability communications messaging. When she's not at work, she volunteers as a CASA -- court appointed special advocate for children in the foster care system. She enjoys losing fights with toddlers and eating toast scraps. She lives with her family in sunny San Diego.

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