'Stove Man' videos aim to light a fire

The online series takes viewers along to see how a large portion of the world must gather wood for cooking food. Simple cook stoves can cut carbon emissions and save trees and money.

Courtesy of The Paradigm Project
'Stove Man' follows Greg Spencer (right) and Austin Mann on a quest to distribute 5 million fuel-efficient cook stoves to people in need. They walk miles to find wood and live on less than $2 per day. Gumato (left) is one the Gabbra women Spencer meets in northern Kenya.

Identify a simple change. Then see if you can sell it 5 million times to make a big difference in people's lives.

That's the big idea behind The Stove Project, which aims to replace cooking on open fires across the developing world with simple, sturdy wood stoves. The benefits: a huge reduction in the amount of firewood burned, saving money for the families and time spent on collecting firewood; fewer trees cut down; a 40 percent to 60 percent reduction in smoke in the air; and a lower risk of burns and smoke inhalation than from tending an open fire.

To put faces and places in front of viewers, The Paradigm Project (originator of The Stove Project) has created "Stove Man," a web video series that highlights the travels of Greg Spencer and Austin Mann as they begin a quest to bring 5 million stoves to families in developing countries by 2020. In the first episode, just released, they visit northern Kenya to see firsthand how the Gabbra women collect firewood for cooking on open fires.

How big is the problem? An estimated 3 billion people worldwide cook their meals over open fires. A similar number live on $2 a day or less and spend a large portion of that income on firewood.

Launched in 2008, The Stove Project has delivered more than 13,000 wood stoves so far. "Today we’re on track to deliver over 40,000 and our biggest problem is figuring out how to keep up with demand," says Neil Bellefeuille, the cofounder and CEO of The Paradigm Project. "[W]e’ve been attacked by giant camel spiders, made into honorary tribal elders, dined on goat cooked over open fires, and walked dozens of miles carrying hundreds of pounds of wood to get a feel for what its like for our customers. All in the name of building a social business that delivers real results."

The group sells its "Rocket Stoves" for $15 to $30, less than the cost to make them. It makes up the difference by being paid for the resulting reduction in carbon emissions by businesses looking to offset their own carbon emissions. Each stove in use significantly reduces carbon emissions when compared with an open fire. The stoves burn wood more efficiently and provide a stable, durable surface for cooking.

The Paradigm Project is set up as a for-profit created for a social purpose, a so-called low-profit limited liability company (L3C). "Put simply, we have the heart and mission of a nonprofit, with the flexibility and access to capital of a for-profit business," Mr. Bellefeuille says.

The Stove Project is under way in Kenya and expects to expand into Guatemala this year and Haiti next year.

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