Why Was BioLite at the UN?

May 29, 2019
Filed Under: news roadtoimpact

Most folks know BioLite for our outdoor gear – which is why this tweet raised so many eyebrows earlier this month:

Meet Matt.

Matt heads up our fundraising and humanitarian work here at BioLite – he's going to tell us a little bit more about that tweet and what BioLite was doing at the UN.

BioLite: Okay Matt - BioLite at the UN? How did that happen?

Matt: Well, it’s actually pretty cool - the UN officially recognized BioLite as a leading sustainability change agent for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. That’s a fancy way of saying we were one of ten innovators selected (out of 350 submissions) to showcase our work in front of major global decision-makers.

Whoa! That sounds big. Let's back up for a second - what are the Sustainable Development Goals?

Definitely. For brevity, I’m going to refer to these as the SDGs.

Back in 2015, the United Nations Member States got together and, essentially, created a pact to work together to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. They outlined 17 areas to focus on and there was a global call to action for governments, businesses, nonprofits, and innovators to commit to achieving these goals by 2030.

And don't let the artwork below fool you, these goals don't live in separate boxes; in fact, one of the things that's so exciting and inspiring about the SDGs is how interconnected they are.

The UN realized that to create meaningful and lasting solutions, you have to approach these challenges holistically, investing in strategies that can address sustainable development from multiple angles. That to improve health, you need to reduce inequality and tackle climate change, too. Or to spur economic growth, you need to support quality education and gender equality. And while many organizations might be focused on one primary goal, the SDGs help map how their work can unlock potential to address other goals, too.

Looks like Goal #7 (Affordable & Clean Energy) is a slam dunk for BioLite...was that what the UN event was about?

Actually... no! Last week’s event theme was Empowering People And Ensuring Inclusiveness and Equality. The week was spent exploring solutions that directly addressed Goal 4 – Quality education, 8 – Economic growth, 10 – Reduce inequalities, 13 – Climate action, 16 – Peace and justice.

So if energy wasn't the focus of the event...what was BioLite doing there?

Fair question. BioLite is actually a perfect example of one goal affecting several other goals. Yes, we're focused on Goal 7, Affordable and Clean Energy, but when we unlock that energy access for households, we see a chain reaction of benefits that directly address the theme of this UN event. Let me get specific here:

  • #13: Climate Action. Each HomeStove we get into the market offsets 3.5 tons of CO2 and Black Carbon a year. To date, HomeStoves in the field have offset 206,285 tons of CO2 and Black Carbon and have proven that cleaning up cooking fires is one of the quickest ways to impact climate change.
  • #4: Quality Education. The Acumen Fund’s recent Energy Report found that children living in homes with solar lighting (like the SolarHome 620) studied for an hour longer each night. That’s 5 hours more a week and at least 20 more hours of studying each month.
  • #3: Good Health & Well-Being. According to the World Health Organization, inhaling smoke from open fire cooking is responsible for 4 million deaths a year and is linked to serious conditions like heart disease and COPD. Our HomeStove reduces smoke by 90% so families no longer have to worry about smoke filling the home while cooking meals.
  • #5: Gender Equality. 71% of HomeStove customers previously cooked over an open fire, spending 3 hours a week collecting fuel. The HomeStove is so efficient it requires 50% less fuel meaning women spend less time collecting fuel and more time to focus elsewhere, such as running a business and generating income.

So yeah, here at BioLite, our mission is to bring Energy Everywhere: and when we do that successfully, you can see just how much can happen as a result.

(Editor’s Note: For more on this topic, read through our article on the Invisible Ubiquity of Energy.)

The UN award names BioLite as change agent - how did we earn that?

I think we earned that recognition because the strength of our ideas match the strength of our implementation: a solution is only good if people actually use it.

We not only develop life changing products that help people move up the energy ladder but we create distribution and financial pathways to access those products. This second piece of the puzzle is critical as the households that need our products the most are not served by traditional retail models.

Lastly, you'll notice that SDG 7 includes the world "affordable," and that's subtly indicates that end-users are paying for their energy --- meaning we're not going to solve this with charity alone. And that's actually really exciting to us because by using a market-based approach, we're able to create scalable, sustainable solutions that empower our customers to power themselves in the long run with these renewable energy solutions.


For all the outdoor customers reading this - you play a part in that by enabling us to sustain this business model. So thank you.

Does this recognition mean anything?

Oh for sure! For starters, this recognition meant I got to attend the Forum on Science, Technology, and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals. And I got to present twice in rooms full of government officials, business leaders, financial institutions, NGOs, and researchers who were all gathered to learn how they can help scale the work of organizations like BioLite. And in a year where we just crossed reaching over half a million people with our products, opportunities for scaling further and faster is at the core of our mission.

(Editors note: for more on that half million mark, check out our 2018 Impact Report).

Shoutout corner: who else did you meet at the UN that you found inspiring?

The whole week was overwhelming and inspiring - just so much strong work going on towards meeting these goals. A few standout ones were Tushevs Aeriels, a non-profit that uses drones to map, monitor, and protect Indigenous territories in the Amazon (focused on goals 11, 13, 15) or Coliba Recycling, a Ghanaian company that’s taking an innovative approach to managing and reducing plastic waste across West Africa (goals 8, 9, 11, 13). It's really motivating to meet organizations that, on the surface, look very different from BioLite, but when you dig deeper, you can see how we're all ultimately working towards the same outcomes.

Coliba Recycling Factory
Pictured to the left: The Tushevs Aeriels team in the field. Pictured to the right: A Coliba Recycling factory worker at their factory in Ghana.

If the BioLite community wants to keep tabs on what happens next, where should they go?

Good news - we'll come to you!

We’ve been super heads down on all this work and it’s time to share with some more frequency: I, along with the entire Emerging Markets Team, am really excited to collaborate on a new Monthly Impact Newsletter that gives the broader BioLite community more visibility into what’s going on behind-the-scenes and how our model of Parallel Innovation is playing out in real-time.


If you’re interested to learn more about the Sustainable Development Goals, visit the UN’s site.

For more info on BioLite’s work on the SDGs and our overall mission, subscribe below to our brand new Road To Impact Newsletter (delivered once a month) for updates on how BioLite is bringing energy everywhere.