With 7 years remaining of the Decade of Action to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), more innovative solutions are required to restore the planet in line with the targets set out by the global goals. One key environmental tipping point requiring urgent action is cleaning up the air that we breathe to a healthy standard.
Data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that 9 out of 10 people breathe air containing high levels of pollutants. This amounts to an estimated 7 million deaths annually due to exposure to the fine particulates found in polluted air. These numbers disproportionately effect low and middle-income countries, mainly in Asia and Africa. While air quality can be influenced by natural causes including geographic, meteorological and seasonal factors, key contributors of air pollution come from the energy, agricultural and transport sectors as well as coal-fired power plants, waste burning and deforestation.
To tackle key environmental issues such as polluted air, The Earthshot Prize was launched by Prince William and David Attenborough, seeking to identify and help scale up the solutions created by eco-innovators that will help repair and regenerate the planet by 2030. The Earthshot Prize, Roadmap to Regeneration, sets out the priorities for the five Earthshots, including the ‘Clean Our Air’ category. Each year, one winner is chosen per each category with two other shortlisted finalists.
The ‘Clean Our Air’ Earthshot states “By 2030 we choose to ensure that everyone in the world breathes clean, healthy air – at World Health Organization standard or better.” The shortlisted initiatives for this category are innovators whose projects align with the category’s main objectives including phasing out transport systems that emit toxic fumes, removing pollution from the air using both technology and nature, and eliminating the burning of fossils fuels by implementing renewable energy in both big cities and rural villages.
The prize in this category was given to the project who creates job opportunities in the green transport and clean energy sector; remove pollution from the air more than they contribute; or find alternative ways to heat homes and travel without polluting the air we breathe.
The three innovations from the “Clean Our Air” category provide insights into key global problems outlined by some of the SDGs including Good Health and Well-Being, Affordable and Clean Energy, and Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure. They also provide a roadmap to Itriom clients as to initiatives they may seek to support or create to contribute to solving these issues leaving behind a positive impact and lasting legacy.
The winner of the ‘Clean Our Air’ category, Mukuru Clean Stoves, is tackling the negative environmental and social impacts of traditional cooking stoves that are used by around 700 million people across Africa solely. A lack of access to clean fuels for these cooking stoves mean people rely on open fires or the burning of kerosene or coal which emit harmful chemicals for both the environment and the user.
The burning of dirty fuels from household combustions emits black carbon emissions, a major component of the fine particulate matter in air pollution. Black carbon has a high warming capacity making it a key contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide. When these emissions mix with other chemicals in the air, it also creates a climate pollutant that impacts agricultural yields and weather patterns.
In addition to the environmental impacts, the negative social impacts of traditional cooking stoves are also clear. The burning of solid, uncleans fuels like generates smoke increasing indoor or household air pollution (HAP). HAP and the release of dangerous pollutants including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and fine particulate matter is linked to a range of diseases including strokes, heart diseases and cancer, amongst others. The World Health Organisation estimated that 3.8 million deaths in 2020 were linked to household air pollution, with the health of women and children responsible for heating and feeding their households most heavily impacted by the usage unclean fuels in their homes.
To address the issue, Mukuru Clean Stoves produces and distributes clean, sustainable cook stoves that burn processed biomass made from charcoal, wood and sugarcane instead of solid fuels. Producing 90% less pollution than open fires and 70% less than traditional stoves, the cook stoves are manufactured using locally source recycled materials allowing it to be priced at an affordable cost for low-income households. Not only do the stove only cost $10 but efficient energy usage results in the ongoing fuel cost being halved. With the money received from winning the category, the social enterprise is seeking to make their cook stoves even more sustainable by burning ethanol and increase their reach to ten million people throughout Africa in ten years.
Progress in electrifying transport systems in developing nations has been slow compared to markets such as China, Europe and the United States; this is despite a World Bank report highlighting the economic benefit of adopting electric vehicles in some countries across Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Oceana, Europe and South America. In addition to the lower costs of maintaining electric vehicles, e-mobility is crucial in both cutting carbon emissions to combat climate change and reducing air pollution. A study in the MENA region during the COVID-19 pandemic reinforced the importance of electrifying vehicles, as reduced fossil-fueled vehicle usage resulted in improved air quality in cities like Cairo, Riyadh, Jeddah, and Baghdad, amongst others; the improvement in air quality could be key in reducing the deaths and illnesses associated with polluted air.
The World Bank report on adopting electric vehicles does highlight the solutions for electrifying transport systems will differ from market to market. For example, in Africa two and three-wheeled drives and buses should be the focus first before four-wheeled drives.The is the opportunity that was identified by Roam Motors; recognising the Boda Boda, a motorcycle taxi, is one of the more popular but also one of the highest emitting vehicles on the market, the company decided to build electric vehicles made in Africa, designed for the African market. Designing namely motorcycles and buses locally in Africa with a company of 40% female employees, Roam builds reliable yet affordable vehicles for the market through cost efficient technology and simplified deployment in the hopes of maximising impact. Estimating that a driver can cut costs by 75% due to electricity being cheaper than fuel, Roam hopes to make their products available to more emerging markets to further help both people and planet.
The International Energy Agency calculated that buildings are responsible for 39% of global energy-related carbon emissions, with 11% of that figure coming from materials and construction. This is due to construction sites requiring large amounts of power, mainly from fossil-fuel powered, mobile sources. These sources not only contribute to carbon emissions but release other harmful pollutants to the air including nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and other harmful fumes.
In response, recognising the need for urbanisation and decarbonisation, Hong Kong based Ampd Energy has focused their efforts driving the energy transition in the construction sector beginning with their product, the Ampd Enertainer. The all-electric battery energy storage system eliminates the need for direct fossil fuels on a construction site. A lithium-ion powered battery similar to those found in electric cars, the Enertainer reduces chemical and noise pollution with every switch from a diesel generation to the battery resulting in the equivalent of 300 cars worth of air pollution being removed contributing to a healthier planet.
Alizah Beg is a Sustainability Consultant in Itriom’s London Office.
Itriom is the global impact platform helping leading families shape a better world. Itriom’s platform enables families to refresh and redesign their values, aligns them with the right UN Sustainable Development Goals, combining them in an agreed purpose and a Family Impact Charter. Itriom’s platform supports the development of impact initiatives and whilst providing discrete and secure spaces for peer-to-peer messaging and collaboration. Itriom’s core practices in Leadership, Geostrategy, and Sustainability benefit clients by developing strategies to engage and support the Next Generation in building a lasting legacy of which families can be proud.
© 2023 Itriom Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Itriom’s content, including by framing or similar means, is prohibited without the prior written consent of Itriom Limited. This material is provided for informational purposes only.
Alizah is an ESG Consultant and researcher. She supports Itriom developing sustainability related products and services, helping our clients identify potential opportunities for creating positive environmental, social and sustainable impact.
Georgie is an ESG Analyst and researcher. She researches trends, develops insights and reports, and writes insight articles on sustainability and ESG related topics to ensure Itriom’s clients are up to date on the latest policy, progress and initiatives to inform the platform and help our clients maximise their positive impact.
Practice Leader – Leadership & Resilience
Renowned family office thought leader, Tim works with UHNW families to ensure they are fully equipped to deliver their legacies inter-generationally and effectively.
Practice Leader – Sustainability
Dr. Herb creates methodologies and frameworks for managing, measuring and assessing sustainability performance. His work identifies where maximum impact can be made.
Practice Leader – Geostrategy
Simon harnesses research, liaison and networks globally to identify opportunities for Itriom, building the knowledge needed to deliver intergeneration legacies for UHNW families.
Practice Leader – Strategy