Photo Credit: Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA)
Apr 20
April 20, 2015

Four Ways CGI Commitment-Makers are Rethinking Carbon Reduction


In 2013, carbon dioxide emissions comprised 82 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere from human activities. The rising concern for our environment and the sustainability of the planet has led to more focused efforts on reversing the effects of climate change. Reducing carbon emissions has become a primary mission for many organizations, including the following four CGI commitment-makers who have developed unconventional methods of recycling energy.

From harnessing human waste energy to exchanging diesel-powered pumps for salt water pumps, these CGI commitments incentivize people to adopt more environmentally conscious lifestyle changes that positively impact their budgets and the planet.


Transforming Waste into Energy in Kenya

Like many people who do not have an alternative waste management system, Kenyans burn their garbage to dispose of their waste. In order to dispose of the waste around their homes and in the streets, the trash is collected and set aflame, contributing to the 18 percent of carbon emissions released into the atmosphere that are attributed to the burning of garbage worldwide. 

biomass conversion reactors transform waste into charcoal briquettes. Photo Credit: Takachar

As a global health consultant working in Nairobi, Kevin Kung noticed the massive amounts of waste, but he also observed that Kenyans use charcoal as their primary source of fuel. Kung realized the potential that existed to transform the garbage problem into renewable charcoal, which would provide people with cheaper, cleaner daily fuel and a better waste mangement system.

In 2013, Kung made a CGI University Commitment to Action to create Takachar, a social enterprise that transforms waste that would otherwise decompose or be burned into charcoal briquettes through a process called thermochemical densification. These briquettes are formed in biomass conversion reactors which use a mixture of heat and compression to produce a fuel source that is affordable, transportable, and accessible to both rural and urban populations. This fuel alternative is available at 80 percent of the price they currently pay without having to change their daily cooking practices.

Although the project started in Kibera, an urban slum outside Nairobi, the Takachar team has since tested and implemented over 150 biomass conversion reactors in five countries in Sub-saharan Africa and India. In Kenya alone, there are 150 reactors, most of which are self-funded by the local communities. 

“Through our network of entrepreneurs who process local community waste, we also expect a network of rural for-profit enterprises to be established that create new value locally. Not only are we processing the biomass waste locally, we are also creating many more rural means of livelihood,” says Kung.


Swapping Diesel for Salt Water to Power Pumps in gujarat, India

In the deserts of Little Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, India, nearly 40,000 workers make their living by farming salt. For eight months, the farmers spend the entire rainy season pumping up the salt water from beneath the sand and processing the brine. The profit they make from the salt at the end of the season is their primary source of income for the entire year.

a woman carries salt rocks in gujarat, india. Photo Credit: Self-employed women's assocIation (sewa)

Unfortunately, the monetary benefit of salt farming scarcely matches the hardships of a lifestyle living on hot sand fields and transporting food and water from miles away. Seventy to 75 percent of the income the farmers make goes back into the cost of diesel needed to fuel the pumps they use to extract the salt from below ground.

By replacing the farmers’ diesel pumps with salt water generators and solar pumps, the Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) CGI Commitment to Action enables the salt farmers of Little Rann of Kutch to maximize their profit while also reducing the carbon emissions produced by the diesel pumps. In 2013, SEWA ran a pilot which provided salt water pumps and solar pumps to 200 salt farmers which resulted in 150 liters of diesel saved over a month and approximately $1,000 per season.

Due to the success of the pilot, SEWA will expand the program to 5,000 salt farmers next season. By finding the right combination of salt water pumps and solar pumps, SEWA hopes to make a positive impact on both the socioeconomic circumstances of the Little Rann salt farmers and the future of the environment.


Reversing Climate Change One White Roof at a Time in New York City

In cities of over one million people, the average temperature can reach a difference of 22 degrees Fahrenheit from the surrounding areas. Places that experience this kind of drastic temperature change are known as urban heat islands and the effects can be detrimental to both public health and the environment. As global temperatures continue to rise, urban residents need a way to offset the increased energy consumption that results from roof and pavement exposure to the hot summer sun.

roofs being painted white in new york city. Photo credit: white tops

As a resident of New York City and a 2010 CGI University commitment-maker, Priscilla Lee decided to found White Tops, an organization which combats carbon emissions released by the air conditioning that is needed to cool black-roofed Manhattan buildings. White Tops offers a relatively simple and low-cost solution to decrease energy consumption, helping building owners to simultaneously save money and make a positive impact on the environment.

Painting a roof white only takes 2 to 3 days of good weather and a few helping hands. It is a great alternative to more expensive roof cooling technologies such as solar panels or evapotraspiration roofs, and it still effectively conserves energy. When Lee and her team tested the actual effects of painting several roofs at The New School in New York City white, they found that there was a 50 degree decrease in roof surface temperature.

Lee was partly inspired by Steven Chu from the U.S. Department of Energy who reported that if we paint 80 percent of the country’s roofs white, it would be the equivalent of removing one billion cars off the road for 11 years. Thanks to the White Tops team, New York City is working toward that statistic one white roof top at a time.    


Safer, Cleaner Toilets Leads to Cheaper Energy in bihar, India

In the Supaul district of Bihar, India, approximately 1.8 million of the 2.2 million people living in the region defecate in the open air every day. Not only is this dehumanizing and sometimes dangerous, it is also a major health concern. According to the World Health Organization, untreated, disease-spreading feces are the cause of nearly 450,000 Indian deaths each year. The lack of proper sanitation facilities often contributes to the high dropout rate of female students, and the safety concerns prevent them from leaving their homes to relieve themselves late at night.

After quitting his engineering job in Chicago, Anoop Jain moved to Bihar and quickly noticed the lack of proper sanitation facilities. “Bearing witness to millions of people enduring the tragic reality of defecating in the open left a tremendous mark on me,” says Jain. 

More importantly, Jain recognized the opportunity to not only provide safe and healthy sanitation facilities, but to also produce something that rural India is often lacking: inexpensive energy. In 2013 he made a CGI University Commitment to Action to expand his organization called Humanure Power, which aims to provide people with accessible toilet facilities while also harnessing human waste to create energy. The community toilets built by Humanure Power collect waste and direct it into a biodigester. The biodigester then uses the methane gas to power a generator, which produces electricity. The generator is used to meet the unique utility needs of each community.


In July 2014, Humanure Power opened its first facility equipped with 20 toilets. Currently, nearly 11,000 people have used the facility. Following the success of the first Humanure Power project in Supaul, Humanure aims to create safer, healthier conditions for people and support an environmentally conscious and inexpensive source of energy for Indians across the country.