Laura Burger reports from the International Environment House in Geneva where two short documentaries were screened, “When the Water Ends” and Carbon for Water, which focus on the subject of health, lack of clean water and climate change in Sub-Saharan Africa, Friday 28 October. Includes an interview with the CEO of Vestergaard Frandsen a venture that states to create life-saving products for the most vulnerable.
“We are the 99%”. This is called out at the major financial hubs around the world – from the Wall Street in New York to the Paradeplatz in Zurich, occupied by people who are concerned about and unsatisfied with our economic system, ruled by institutions that control most of the wealth of the world. But what are the alternatives? How can money, business and profit be re-defined to be more equally shared?
The strategy followed by Vestergaard Frandsen could be an option. Following what it calls as “profit for a purpose” the company donated water filters to 90% of the households in the Western Province of Kenya. Is this charity or an economically sound approach? It is not that clear at a first glance. The use of filter is expected to trigger a behavioural change in the population: instead of boiling the water using wood fuels, Kenyans now will only need to filter it. This change – if it happens – will produce a reduction in carbon emissions of 2million tons carbon per year. Thanks to this reduction, Vestergaard Frandsen will receive carbon credits from the Voluntary Gold Standard, a certification standard for voluntary emission reductions. These credits can then be sold on the carbon market. Vestergaard Frandsen’s whole investment was USD 25million. The return will be defined by the carbon market price.
The company will get its share of profit – else, why should it engage into such a campaign? But through this action, thousands of people have now access of water filters. In spite of the critics raised about the financing of the project, this achievement is not to be underestimated, considering the death toll caused by water-related diseases specially in developing countries.
Malicious gossips might pretend that the project is just a long-term marketing campaign. Indeed, if the project runs successfully, at the time of its end, the filters will be fully implanted in the Kenyan lifestyle. In case Vestergaard Frandsen suddenly charges for the filters, it will look at an even greater profit. To this question during the interview Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen, CEO of Vestergaard Frandsen is categorical: “hopefully, by the end of the project, the Kenyan government will be able to provide every house with safe water. Else, Vestergaard Frandsen will renew its commitment for another 10 years.” Safe drinking water is a basic human right. Are they in Kenya to charge for it? Certainly not.