According to the World Health Organization (WHO), close to three billion people worldwide – nearly half the global population – rely on open fires and traditional stoves to heat their homes and cook meals. These heating methods rely on biomass for fuel, which is notoriously inefficient, contributes to deforestation and climate change, and produces a large amount of smoke. This exposure to smoke has come with significant health consequences to those who tend to hearth and home, almost all of whom are women and girls.
WHO implicates smoke exposure from cookfires and stoves in close to two million premature deaths per year – surpassing deaths associated with tuberculosis and malaria – and cites these cooking methods as the fifth most serious risk factor for illness in the developing world.
In September 2010, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton brought attention to these hazards faced by women in the developing world when she revealed the launch of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, an initiative undertaken by the U.S. State Department (USDA) in collaboration with the United Nations Foundation. In announcing this public-private partnership that seeks not only to improve health, but also to empower women and combat climate change, Clinton called the initiative a “smart power” foreign policy issue. Clinton said, “By upgrading these dirty stoves, millions of lives could be saved and improved. Clean stoves could be as transformative as bed nets or vaccines.” The goal of the initiative is to promote the introduction and use of clean cookstoves and fuels in 100 million households by 2020, and already a wide range of international organizations have taken steps to achieve this objective.
EcoZoom‘s work implementing clean cookstoves, for example, has spanned the globe from Niger to Nicaragua. EcoZoom is affiliated with Mercy Corps Northwest, and is a for-profit certified Benefit Corporation that leverages its business model for sustainable social good. The success of EcoZoom is due in large part to its collaboration with local stakeholders. As Chief of Operations for EcoZoom, Phil Ferranto, explained in a recent interview, “In many cases, these individuals aren’t aware that improved cookstoves are an option. In this case, we work with either NGOs, carbon finance organizations, or local distributors to craft a message about the benefits of improved cookstoves to reach end consumers.”
EcoZoom stoves typically cost between US$20 to US$30. This price is much greater than what most families in the developing world spend on individual loads of biomass fuel, but the long-term savings associated with a stove may be immense. Ferranto says, “Where we like to focus as a social business is in the impoverished commercial markets, where people are spending upwards of US$1 to US$2 per day on charcoal or wood. Our products can cut that outlay by more than half, and up to 70 percent by those who are really good at using the stoves.”
While the focus of EcoZoom and related organizations has been on the developing world, many clean cookstove products are available domestically as well. As summer approaches and people begin to cook outdoors, the question might not be burgers or dogs, but campfire or clean cookstove.