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Clean cookstoves: fighting climate change, saving lives

Posted by Chad O'Connor  March 22, 2014 06:00 AM

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Nearly 3 billion people around the world cook on open fires or use traditional cooking methods that damage the environment and cause 4 million deaths annually through illness and injury. One solution to this problem is the distribution of clean cookstoves to replace traditional cooking methods.

Several local organizations are driving the roll out of clean cooking solutions that will help protect the environment, improve health, save lives, create better livelihoods, and empower women.

One such organization, The Gold Standard Foundation, established in 2003 by the World Wildlife Fund, has pioneered the way climate change is addressed by allowing corporations and governments to buy credits that represent verified environmental, economic, and social impacts. Each credit issued by The Gold Standard represents one ton of carbon dioxide that has been reduced from the atmosphere, as well as health, livelihood, and community benefits.

Many climate and development projects are expensive to implement and the revenue earned from the sale of Gold Standard credits ensures that programs to disseminate clean cookstoves are financially viable, according to Lisa Rosen, General Counsel and Director, US Markets at The Gold Standard Foundation.

Billions of dollars have been put into low carbon development projects, and over 75% of the carbon credits issued from clean cookstove projects worldwide have been certified through The Gold Standard, which is based in Geneva, Switzerland and has an office in Cambridge.

In addition to improving the environment, clean cookstoves contribute to better health through improvements in indoor air quality. They reduce smoke inhalation in dwellings, which may lead to specific health conditions such as childhood pneumonia, lung cancer, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and low birth weight in children.

Communities in general also get value from clean cookstoves through improved livelihoods and job creation. Women in particular can benefit.

Photo courtesy Proyecto Mirador

According to Rosen, in developing countries women often play a central role in cooking, making them critical to the adoption and use of clean cookstoves. In some cases, that gives them the opportunity to get involved in the supply chain, from manufacturing to sales, and they may become entrepreneurs themselves.

Additionally, there's a safety benefit for women and girls, particularly in refugee camps or conflict zones. Women are often largely responsible for fuel collection for cooking and may need to walk many miles to find wood, exposing them to risks like assault. Reducing the amount of fuel needed may help minimize the safety risk.

Clean cookstoves improve the lives of those living in poverty according to Heiner Baumann, Director of Global Programs at the locally-based Barr Foundation, which focuses, in its global work, on improving the lives of children and families in poverty in developing countries while also improving the ecosystem.

Photo courtesy Proyecto Mirador

"For poor families in urban and peri-urban areas in the places we work, up to a 1/3 of a household income is spent on fuel for cooking food. Clean cookstoves require only half of the charcoal or wood required for cooking a meal, reducing fuel costs by about 50 percent. For families living in rural areas, a clean cookstove means that the women and children will have to spend less time looking for firewood. In both cases the families are much better off. There's also a tremendous benefit to the environment through reduced deforestation," said Heiner.

Erik Wurster, who calls Boston home, is the CEO of UpEnergy, which finances, builds, and supports distribution channels for clean cookstove projects. "If one's goal is to improve public health, the environment, and poverty among the world’s poorest people, it’s hard to overlook improved cookstoves as the most cost effective and efficient way to address each of these issues simultaneously," he said.

"About half of humanity cooks with dangerous, polluting, and expensive technology, yet cleaner burning cookstoves exist and can be exceedingly affordable even to the poorest households if one leverages innovative financial mechanisms," said Wurster.

Recently, The Gold Standard teamed up with the UN Foundation's Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves and Nexus Carbon for Development to create the first-of-its-kind Clean Cooking Loan Fund in order to facilitate the development of clean cookstove projects in developing countries.

"Over the last few years the capital markets have been vilified, but they can also be used to catalyze positive behavior change. The Gold Standard has demonstrated that markets can successfully deliver high impact projects to the communities that need them the most," Rosen said.

Ellen Keiley is President of EMK Consulting Group, a provider of business development and brand building consulting services. She is also President of the National Association of Women MBAs Boston Professional Chapter Board of Directors, serves on the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Women’s Advisory Board, serves as a Vice Chair of the United Way and City Year’s Women’s Leadership Initiatives, appears weekly on RadioBDC’s Global Business Hub segment, and is a freelance writer. She can be contacted at ellenmkeiley@gmail.com; connect on Twitter @ellenmkeiley
This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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