Having an open fire in your kitchen is like burning 400 cigarettes an hour
Kirk Smith, University of California at Berkeley
It is a common sight to find women tossing chapattis or cooking watery dal on a chulha, if you happen to travel through the narrow lanes of a slum or the broken pathways of a village. A whooping majority, about 80% of the rural population continue to use firewood, crop residue or cowdung as their primary source of fuel. According to WHO estimates, the worst hit area across the globe is South East Asia that accounted for 3.3 million deaths related to indoor pollution. Along with the environmental degradation and health hazards; indoor air pollution is a cost to the economy owing to the expenses incurred on treating respiratory infections and the productivity of the workforce being hampered.
Envirofit International is a social enterprise that was established in 2003 to develop well-engineered technology solutions to improve human conditions on a global scale, with primary emphasis on applications in the developing world. To address the problem of indoor pollution, in 2007, Envirofit turned its attention to clean cooking stoves, partnering with Shell Foundation’s Breathing Space Program to develop a scalable, clean cooking stove solution. This partnership aims to achieve significant, verifiable and long-term reductions in global indoor air pollution by combining an economically sustainable enterprise approach, with market-driven research, product development, and expertise working in emerging markets.
Developing their first commercial clean cooking stove model, Envirofit began its pilot program in India in 2008. So far, Envirofit has set up 4 lakh cooking stoves in over 14 states in India. The cooking stoves sold within a price range of $15-$30 last for 5-7 years with a warranty of 2 years. These cooking stoves not only reduce harmful emissions up to 80% but also reduce the cooking time and fuel costs up to 50%.
The operating model consists if Envirofit setting up cooking stoves by partnering with one or more of the following entities:
- Microfinance institutions
- Self-help groups
- Government agencies and departments
- Social organizations
The Corporate Partnership
Envirofit has partnered with companies like Ambuja Cements, Tata Coffee, BGCL, Jindal, UltraTech, GLS and has successfully aligned its own objectives with the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) vision of companies to create robust models of social change.
One of the most successful corporate partnerships has been the one with Ambuja Cements. Under the ambit of its CSR agenda, Ambuja Cement conceptualized a joint program with Envirofit in order to achieve a reduction of 1.47 tonnes of carbon dioxide and 286 gm of black carbon per cook stove annually. The initiative also aimed to directly impact deforestation and reduce usage of 800 kg of wood per family every year. As part of this program, 10000 units of cooking stoves have been distributed in one year across 60 villages of Rajasthan and Gujarat.
While Ambuja Cements identified the beneficiaries within the communities around their factory area, Envirofit came in as the manufacturer and distributor of the cook stoves. The costs of chullahs were shared by the beneficiaries and the company.
Chulhas using wood or dung have evolved to become a part of the Indian social structure and hence the beneficiaries had to be made aware of the existence of a concept such as ‘smokeless cook stoves’. The employees of Ambuja Cements were trained by Envirofit on how to introduce the concept and spread the word among the communities. The employees then volunteered to conduct awareness campaigns, learning sessions and interactive discussions with community leaders. These community leaders imparted the same learning to their village members.
At the end of each quarter, Envirofit visited the community to ensure that the stoves were used properly. In case of inefficient and exploitative use of the stove, the community members were briefed or trained accordingly.
To the company
Buy-in from community
Employee volunteers from Ambuja devoted a few hours every week to train community leaders to conduct awareness campaigns in the villages. The company monetarily compensated the community leaders for this as well. Through these extra efforts, Ambuja was able to secure and strengthen its relations with the community members. This in turn helped them in sourcing a productive labour force for their company.
Also, the co-pay model ensured that households were made accountable and responsible for the stoves, as opposed to treating them as free give-aways.
To the social enterprise
The partnership proved to be a unique and innovative market penetration strategy for Envirofit. This partnership secured a large customer base for Envirofit that had the potential to survive even beyond the partnership. The social enterprise was able to establish a market in unexplored virgin regions of the country with the help of the company.
Any type of corporate partnership bags with itself the advantage of being associated with large respectable brands. Tying up with Ambuja Cements helped the social enterprise gather validation and credibility from one of the largest companies in India and thus build a strong identity in the space.
The case study amply demonstrates two requirements for a successful partnership:
Aligning of interest – Ambuja’s CSR objectives found a strong and willing match in Envirofit’s product and market penetration objectives, thus ensuring that both the partners have strong incentives to make the partnership work and see this as a win-win deal between two organizations rather than a donor-recipient relationship.
Continual commitment – this is required from both partners – company and the social enterprise; a commitment that goes beyond one-off donation or sale and beyond a donor-recipient relationship. Both Ambuja Cements and Envirofit went beyond a one-off involvement and were willing to inspire, engage and monitor the progress among communities.
Non financial contribution – such as meaningful and sustained employee volunteering that is closely integrated with the implementation model can add a lot of value to the partnership and generate benfits for the company in terms of a more motivated and involved worforce.
This case study presents a perfect example of how two organizations can partner and grow mutually by exercising the opportunities of the platform that CSR offers. Ambuja, on one hand, with its CSR agenda of better healthcare and environmental outcomes for communities and Envirofit with its mission of replacing the culture of using chulhas with a culture of smokeless cooking stoves with a three-point goal of alleviating environmental, health and economical problems found resonance in each others. The partnership effectively leveraged the competencies of all both the partners to create sustainable and long term social impact.