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HydroPack: A Social Innovation that Saves Lives

The following post is a part of TriplePundit's coverage of the 2011 Opportunity Green Conference in Los Angeles, California. To read all the posts in the series, click here.

One of the most humbling and inspiring presentations at Opportunity Green 2011 was given by Gaylon White, Director of Design Programs for Eastman Chemical Company. He told the story of the development of a new water treatment technology called the HydroPack. The HydroPack is a twelve-ounce plastic bag that can be thrown into any (that’s right, ANY) contaminated water source and within eight to twelve hours, it produces an electrolyte and nutrient enriched drink free of viruses, bacteria, and even heavy metals. Portland based Hydration Technology Innovations (HTI) uses Eastman’s cellulose triacetate to construct the membrane for the HydroPack which pulls and filters the dirty water by forward osmosis. In the video below, HTI's Keith Lampi talks about the HydroPack in more detail.


Sounds pretty simple, right? But the truth is, a lot of work has gone into the development of the HydroPack, particularly in designing the delivery system and instructions such that the product will be understood and accepted by all cultures.

The HydroPack’s most promising application is in the first phase of disaster relief. The majority of deaths that occur as a result of a flood or natural disaster are not from the disaster itself. Instead, they happen after the disaster when survivors who have no access to clean water are exposed to water-borne illnesses. Right now, humanitarian relief efforts rely on the inefficient process of hauling bottled water into disaster regions where transportation is often extremely difficult and the areas that need supplies the most are the hardest to reach. One helicopter carrying HydroPacks can provide the same amount of water as fifteen helicopters carrying bottled water. Had HydroPacks been used during the Haiti earthquake relief efforts a few years ago, $750,000 per day could have been saved in airlift costs or fifteen times more water could have been provided. That’s a huge impact.

In order for HydroPack to realize it’s true potential as a life saving device in disaster relief efforts, HTI and Eastman had to figure out how to design it so that it can be used correctly by anyone, anywhere without instruction. They partnered with Modern Edge to conduct in-depth user research interviews with families in Kenya to try to understand the needs of communities who are under water related stress and to determine how to make using the product easier and more intuitive. The goal is to be able to drop HydroPacks into disaster areas where people can look at one and immediately understand what it’s for and how to use it. Given the difficulty in achieving acceptance and uptake of Western technologies in other cultures, this was no small task. The video below provides a great explanation of how the HydroPack designers tackled this challenge. The next iteration of the HydroPack will incorporate the findings of this research and will be redesigned with a form factor that looks like the universally familiar form of a fruit or vegetable. Pretty clever, huh?


The skill, thoughtfulness, and dedication of Mr. White and his team came through loud and clear in his presentation. Theirs is an exceptional story about what it really takes to develop a product that it truly socially innovative. To find out more about their work and see other videos from Kenya click here.

[Image credit: Hydropak]

*** Kara Scharwath is a corporate social responsibility professional, marketing consultant and Sustainable Management MBA Candidate. She is currently working as a Graduate Associate in Corporate Citizenship at the Walt Disney Company while pursuing her degree at Presidio Graduate School.

Kara Scharwath

Kara is a corporate social responsibility professional and marketing consultant with expertise in consumer research and environmental science. Currently, Kara is working as a Graduate Associate on the <a href="http://corporate.disney.go.com/citizenship2010/">Corporate Citizenship</a> team at the Walt Disney Company. She is also a founding partner of <a href=http://besui.com/">BeSui Consulting</a>, a boutique marketing consulting firm specializing in consumer insights and marketing communications.

Kara graduated from Rutgers University with a B.S. in <a href="http://admissions.rutgers.edu/Academics/AcademicContent.aspx?CAMPUS=New… Policy, Institutions and Behaviors</a>. She is currently pursuing her M.B.A. in Sustainable Management from <a href'"http://www.presidioedu.org/">Presidio Graduate School</a> where she is exploring the impact investing space and working to identify new ways to increase access to capital for start-ups and social ventures. Follow her on Twitter <a href="http://twitter.com/karameredith">@karameredith</a&gt;.

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