By Kavitha Srinivasa
Envirofit India, part of the US-based social enterprise, Envirofit International, was established in 2008. The clean cook-stove manufacturer has used a business-to-business approach to smart clean cooking technologies. Their smart energy cookstoves, whose USP lies in its fuel and toxic smoke reduction, have impacted over 2.5 million households in rural India.
Envirofit India’s forthcoming SmartGas™ programme aims to make LPG affordable and accessible to millions of households. Mobile technology is the backbone of the new line. Harish Anchan, Managing Director, Envirofit India.
There is a lot of buzz around using mobile and Internet technology to enable rural livelihoods. Can you tell us something about your organization and how you are creating an impact using technology?
We leverage technology to improve the health and quality of life in households at the bottom of the economic pyramid.
For instance, the PCS-1 SPANDAN™, our flagship product which reduces fuel use by 60 percent, smoke and toxic emissions up to 80 percent, and cuts in half the time spent on cooking.
Similarly, the PCS-12 AGHANYA™ is a force-draft stove designed for commercial use. Aghanya works with pellets, wood, loose biomass, dung cakes, briquettes and wood chips, and the flame can be regulated to meet cooking needs.
The Empower™ Duo Ultralight in our lighting category is a self-contained personal light that can be used as a flashlight or lantern with the push of a button. It has an LED Lantern and Torch.
It’s about providing access to smarter living for those in energy poverty and we do look for partners to who are willing and able to reach out to communities that are economically deprived or energy deprived.
A case in point is our partnership with Infosys. "Over the next five years, Infosys will work with Envirofit to identify families in Maharashtra and Orissa. Envirofit will employ an innovative mobile app to track cookstove usage, encourage behavioural change, and provide a real-time snapshot of impact for Infosys. The project is a part of Infosys’ stated commitment to carbon neutrality by 2018."
Their aim is to reach out to rural communities where last mile connectivity is a challenge. The project, which began in Maharashtra, will also extend to Orissa. Both sites were selected based on client requirements.
37,200 stoves have already been delivered in Maharashtra; these will, over a period of five years, offset 150,000 tons of CO2. Envirofit used a special developed app for the first time, collecting data related to the beneficiary and rural households.
This includes information about family members, their income and age, and geo-tagging of their household. Collated data will reveal the impact and distribution of cook-stoves along with usage pattern. Usage patterns, in turn, help our independent auditors monitor for carbon credits; those credits are then passed on to Infosys.
How many rural Indian households have you transformed? What are the challenges that you faced and how did you overcome it?
In India, there are multiple challenges related to distribution, including location, dialect and culture, and cooking styles. For instance, Punjab uses tandoor style-stoves, while Karnataka requires a single pot cook-stove and Manipur needs a charcoal-based model. Chulhas and mud-based stoves lack durability.
Indoor Air Pollution is a constant hurdle to overcome. Traditional cook-stoves use biomass and their poor combustion rates emit black carbon that causes Indoor Air Pollution (IAP). We focus on health and fuel savings, spreading the message to rural and tribal women who are our beneficiaries. They began to speak for our product, more like well-informed people and not consumers. Updates invariably happen every few years, and that is when we review all recommendations and see which ones can be best implemented.
Since they understand its benefits and our cook-stoves are easy to use, they convince the men, who otherwise may not have understood the process of fuel collection required for cooking.
Having convinced the women our next step is to create promotional material in the form of visual kits and videos are on mobile phones. Besides that, each cook-stove carton contains instruction manuals. Information is available in various Indian vernaculars. In Africa, we sell our products in places equivalent to Big Bazaar, but in India, due to low awareness, such retail outlets are not on our agenda.
Instead, in India, we concentrate on B2B, including corporate social responsibility (CSR programs) that focus on social impact and/or those who also want to move toward carbon neutrality. We also work with microfinance institutions (MFIs) and Women’s Self-Help groups.
We have rolled out cookstove programmes in several tea plantations in Assam.
Already around 6 lakh households across India use our cook-stoves and this year we have targeted 110000 households.
Social media will also be tapped to achieve the desired target. We have a presence on four channels, of which three are specific to India, one is international. We are reviewing other options based on target audiences.
Which is your bestselling model and why? Please share details on the technology involved, the R&D and what went into its making, some anecdotes?
PCS-1 SPANDAN™ is our flagship clean cookstove; like all our products, we adapt based on consumer feedback. This cook-stove lowers fuel cost and helps cook food quickly without the use of a blow-pipe. A new chamber design with additional primary air supply design has been provided to reduce smoke. This model is a hit with consumers as it has lowered the dependence on firewood and more importantly, reduced dramatically, the amount of smoke they inhale from traditional chulhas.
Today this is our bestselling model in India; annually we sell around 90,000-95,000. Of course, like any product, this one too is updated based on user feedback.
It has been designed with a double-pot attachment to make it functional. We’ve also altered the fabrication, replacing alloy with steel to make it lightweight.
Have you tied up with various state governments? Do you offer products at a subsidized price, please give details?
We have entered into a partnership with the state governments of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Meghalaya and Jammu & Kashmir. Our cook-stoves are sold on an installment basis, wherein the installment period is between six months and one year.
What is the SmartGas™ Program all about? Why did you choose mobile technology, when is it going to be implemented in India?
The SmartGas™ Program is already a success in Kenya and we plan a pilot project in India around October 2017. This initiative has been designed to make liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) affordable, quite like charcoal.
It’s a known fact that LPG can be difficult to source in places that are energy deprived.
As India is a price sensitive market, we chose a pay-as-you-cook system that works through the intervention of mobile technology. Through Envirofit’s SIM/GPS enabled SmartGas™ Valve, families will be able to use their phones to pre-pay for gas as needed using mobile money. Mobile payment will activate the valve to supply the purchased amount of gas. This will allow customers to pay-as-you-cook with clean LPG. Overall, the money spent on LPG will be comparable to charcoal.
What is your ultimate vision for India?
I dream of an India whose villages are smokeless!
Are there more innovations lined up in your stables? Would you be able to provide a glimpse of behind-the-scenes developments?
Our commercial cookstove, the PCS-12, is suitable for mid-day meals, hospitals, and orphanages. Though we continue to target rural and tribal households, we plan to create a domestic line, wherein it is intended to tweak processes through new technology. These products will have automated features like control panel and fan control. The colour of the flame will also be different. Our existing cookstoves have an orange flame, whereas, in the upcoming domestic offering, the cookstoves will emit a blue flame like normal gas or electric stoves. Price points will be higher than the existing ones, though we have not settled on that as yet.
Envirofit has grown from a business with one product to a global company serving over 5 million people with over a dozen user-designed products. Its regional headquarters in East Africa, West Africa, Asia, and Latin America offer local production and distribution of clean cook-stoves.
The journey has been dotted with challenges, some of them being price points, changing mindsets and creating awareness of clean technologies. Clearly, here is a company that has succeeded in addressing the needs of the BOP (bottom of the pyramid) market.
Supporting CSR Initiatives
ENVIROFIT INDIA is actively engaged in supporting the CSR initiatives of various organizations. This engagement involves the collection of beneficiary data through hundreds of NGO volunteers and mandates that data generated is stored and maintained in a proper and secure manner. A mechanism also needs to be in place to authenticate and validate the identified beneficiary during the product distribution. It is also essential that the organizations are provided with continuous access to the beneficiary data as and when it is captured and uploaded. The solution is an android based mobile application and a graphical user interface (GUI) application designed and developed to support the multi-phases viz. beneficiary data collection and product distribution. This helps Envirofit India and the CSR client for search beneficiary data by volunteer user id, beneficiary mobile id, village and district.
Key Features of the android based mobile application
Works in both “Online” and “Offline” mode
OTP (one-time password) based beneficiary validation
Configurable beneficiary survey
24 X7 data access through GUI application
Technology and Architecture
Platform - Microsoft Azure Cloud Services
Database – SQL server 2010
Web Application Server –Apache Tomcat
Programming Language –JAVA