Cleaner cooking saves lives

Around half the planet cooks its food on open fires, using wood and charcoal as fuel.

Unfortunately, this simple act of cooking kills over 4 million people every year. Toxic smoke causes heart and lung disease and cancer. Children under five make up half of the deaths by breathing in soot and catching pneumonia.


Investment in cleaner fuels and cooking stoves has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives, while creating opportunities for investors to do well by doing good. Two-thirds of all consumers who are reliant on traditional biomass for cooking have yet to adopt clean cooking technology.

Christopher Greenwald, director of SI research and corporate engagement at UBS, the world's largest wealth manager, recognizes that the trend for sustainable investment opportunities is growing in popularity.

"Both institutional and retail investors increasingly desire that their investment strategies have a positive social and environmental impact," he said. "We have to identify companies that will outperform in the long-term, and how companies make a link between new and emerging sustainability issues and their individual business cases is crucial."

The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private partnership, is leading the way. Between 2010 and 2016, Alliance partners distributed more than 80 million clean or efficient stoves and fuels. It aims to reach 100 million homes by 2020.

Ghanaian musician Rocky Dawuni, an ambassador for non-profit public relations organization Global Alliance, said he has seen first-hand how people in his own country are affected.

"People have been using open fires for centuries. It's an old tradition, but nobody ever knew that while you are inhaling all this smoke, it was actually a contributing factor to a lot of respiratory diseases," he said.

Dawuni is a passionate advocate of developing the global market for clean stoves and fuels to transform the way the world cooks.

"Global Alliance has tried to focus on not just one type of cookstove, but to create a model of a thriving global market. Imagine 3 billion people around the world interested in your product. Global Alliance is trying to make sure that people become aware of the potential of investment in this zone and at the same time to save lives by doing it."

BioLite, a Brooklyn-based start-up, saw the market potential early on. Its innovative technology design produced a cookstove that not only reduced carbon and smoke emissions but generated its own electricity. For consumers without access to an electrical grid, a cookstove that can charge by a cell phone is especially valuable.

BioLite's business model connects two separate markets. It targets consumers in developed markets with a recreational camping stove for around $130. It then invests that profit to develop the same core technology for affordable cookstoves for developing markets.

Reshaping these markets has one ultimate benefit — helping to meet the United Nation's 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One of the targets for the UN's global goal #3 is to substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals, air pollution, water and soil by 2030.

Women and children are disproportionately affected by air pollution in the home. Using cleaner, smokeless fuels reduces the burden of disease enabling them to spend more time at school and work respectively.

Additionally, cutting the time that women spend collecting fuel and cooking potentially allows them to break into the labor market.

Stephen Freedman, executive director of sustainable finance, said for sustainability-minded investors there are "actionable investment ideas well-suited to pursuing SDGs like #3 Good Health and Wellbeing that are becoming increasingly mainstream and easy to incorporate in portfolios."

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