A device initially written off as “patio furniture” has become an environmentally friendly alternative to open-fire and fuel-burning cooking, a tangible solution to overseas hunger, and a source of female empowerment and safety.
InStove, a hybrid benefit company and non-profit social venture that builds efficient cookstoves and ships them to developing countries, is in the business of building stoves that cook large amounts of food on small amounts of sticks that can be sustainably gathered or harvested.
At operating temperature, the stove, which features a combustion chamber made of stainless steel surrounded by lightweight insulation, literally “burns up the smoke,” and is around 50% thermally efficient—about 15% more efficient than your average hybrid burning gas. .
They are among a handful of stove organizations working to meet a need that, thanks to the establishment of the UN Foundation’s Global Alliance For Clean Cookstoves, has gotten more visibility in recent years.
Every day, 3 billion people worldwide cook on biomass fires, creating enough pollution to go toe-to-toe with the tailpipes from cars around the globe, and 4.3 million die each year from preventable diseases resulting from exposure to indoor air pollution, .
The women of these regions disproportionately shoulder the burdens, as the are at high risk of life-altering burns, blindness, and even gender-based violence while cooking outdoors, or driven by deforestation to travel far from the safety of their communities to gather fuel wood.
Hilary Clinton even ventured to say that providing women with clean stoves could have as much of a life-saving impact as mosquito nets or medical vaccines.
Currently, two sets of standards exist to test the claims that these stoves are indeed “clean.”
One set, promulgated by the World Health Organization, measures “cleanliness” using one metric: emissions data.
The other set of standards, promulgated by an International Workshop agreement of the International Standards Organization, captures the dimensions of emission, thermal efficiency, safety, and fuel reduction.
The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves keeps a catalog comparing how stoves fare against these standards, and a few stoves stand out for their exceptional performance. InStove, with the highest scores in the world, is among them.
“Few biomass stoves— wood, charcoal, briquettes—can pass the rigorous WHO standards for Indoor Air Pollution. But we can,” said Adam Creighton, CEO of InStove Mfg. Ltd. “And according to the Global Alliance, we’ve got the best third-party test scores in the world In terms of safety ranking, we’re the highest among against the WHO and ISO/IWA standards.”
Over the past six years, InStove’s biomass cookstoves have fed thousands of children across Haiti, as well as in 27 other countries, and have managed to keep all of their cooks safe from smoke and burn-free. They are primarily used in hospitals, clinics, schools, refugee camps, and orphanages.
One example is El Shaddai Ministries, an organization that feeds, houses, and educates 200 orphans in southern Haiti. They used to cook on charcoal—an unsustainable resource made from felled trees in a country with a 97% deforestation rate. Their bill used to come to $400 per month. Now, thanks to InStove, instead of cooking on charcoal, they cook on sticks collected from their property, saving money as InStove’s design reduces the amount of fuel needed by up to 90 percent.
“Sticks can be sustainably harvested without killing whole trees, and the amount you need is small,” Creighton said. “Most importantly, though, these stoves are safe for the cooks, and fast—their lives are transformed by the clean air and time saved.”
Many people gift InStoves in someone’s name as a way to honor their memory; individuals and organizations also raise money to buy the stoves at cost, and donate them to projects in developing countries overseas.
Creighton envisions a future where, in the developed world, the stoves are used to sustainably prepare food in large quantities at festivals and major music events, like Burning Man, or Coachella, right here in the United States.
“Right now, mostly, these events use propane burners to cook for tens of thousands of people, which is problematic for every reason that fossil fuels are problematic,” he says. “Burning sticks efficiently is more sustainable than propane.”
In the meantime, the folks at InStove are satisfied with the impact they are making and the anecdotes they are collecting, like the story of Deborah Akot, a South Sudanese woman who gave InStove founder Fred Colgan her only possession, a Bible, as a way to thank him for delivering the stove in person to help her feed the children at her orphanage.
Since the first 50 stoves were shipped to Darfur in 2009, that number has grown to over 1,200, in 28 countries around the world. In Darfur alone, they are responsible for feeding 200,000 children.
“The goal should not be to introduce technologies to the developing world that are just, ‘better,’” he said. “We should be designing technologies that are so efficient that we’re willing to use them here.”Share this article: