When more and more climate change horror stories take up online space, it’s definitely a relief to come across stories of young people fighting it instead. On Friday, almost coinciding with Kenya’s Mashujaa Day, the UN’s Young Champions of the Earth program also took the time to recognize the country’s environmental pioneers, one of them being 29-year-old industrial designer Chebet Lesan. Her company, BrightGreen Renewable Energy, has been producing eco-friendly charcoal briquettes that don’t endanger people’s finances or health.
Regular charcoal is waging war on the planet as well as its people. In Kenya, charcoal is also expensive – a 35kg bag can cost around $25. It’s not ideal for something so often used as charcoal to be a leading cause of bankruptcy. The country’s alarming deforestation rate is to blame – forests only make up 2% of its biomes. Low-income families have been suffering too hard of a blow to go unnoticed.
“[Providing] green cooking energy to homes across Africa” means many things. The proprietary blend of waste maize, sugarcane and other types of post-harvest biomass that Lesan developed is smokeless and has high heat value, which gives cooking women’s lungs a break. These women are also integrated into Lesan’s company to raise awareness in their communities so that more and more people save money and use less product.
Chebet Lesan: Her Impact
The briquettes, sold under the name MOTO (meaning “fire” in Swahili), have been selling for around $0.50 per kilogram. The company produces roughly 10 tons a week, which translates to a lot of profit in the end. It’s a win-win situation; families living on $4 a day won’t have to sacrifice their health or entire income for a cooked meal.
The 29-year-old industrial designer’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed though. She is a recipient of the Queen’s Young Leaders Award and was a 2017 Scale-Up Fellow from the MIT D-Lab, which specializes in design for poverty-ridden communities. She was also a finalist at the 2019 Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards.
A lot of proposed solutions to environmental problems can be costly, which makes them hard to implement in areas where the economic situation is already lying in the balance. Plans to reforest Sub-Saharan Africa are taking place, but it’s essential to keep making progress. Solutions like Lesan’s MOTO briquettes are important.
With that said, companies should look to implement sustainability measures whenever possible. And like Chebet Lesan, entrepreneurs should make an effort to tackle sustainability challenges.