ENVIROFIT INDIA PVT LTD
Can you tell us a little about Envirofit?
Envirofit is an industry-leading social enterprise that innovates aspirational products and services that increase energy access for families living in emerging markets across the globe. Over the past decade, Envirofit has designed and delivered clean cooking solutions for families as they transition up the energy ladder from wood to charcoal, to LPG (liquefied petroleum gas). Serving more than 8 million people in energy poverty, Envirofit’s innovations deliver social, economic and environmental impacts -reducing climate change, creating jobs, and enabling families to save money. Envirofit has been working in India since 2007 and has reached more than 600,000 families across the country.
What is the business model you follow? Who are your target consumers?
In India, Envirofit works with strategic partners across the public, private, and social sectors to reach more consumers. Envirofit partners with Corporates like Infosys to deliver stoves to rural communities while in return helping them offset their carbon footprint through the carbon emissions reductions of the stoves. We work with non-governmental organizations like The Art of Living, Oxfam, and World Vision as well as microfinance institutions who provide financing for clean cookstoves to their customers. Finally, we work with last-mile distributors and retailers who can deliver stoves across the country. Our Clean Chulas are mainly designed for rural families but also used by families who still cook with wood in peri-urban and urban areas.
What have been the challenges and success in this?
The clean cookstove industry has seen many challenges over the past 10 years. In the beginning the market was flooded with many low-cost poor-quality stoves that were labelled clean cookstoves but didn’t necessarily deliver results. The government has since tried to crack down on this by implementing standards and testing requirements though some products are still available on the market. Another challenge has been the demonetization in India which heavily effected the microfinance organizations. As most of our customers are rural families they were hit hard by the currency change which made recollecting loans difficult. The banks are beginning to rebound and some are coming back online to sell stoves again. The transition to mobile money will hopefully make this process easier in the future. Finally, we noticed a big difference in what distributors wanted vs what customers wanted. Many times, distributors are looking only at price and to achieve that price they are willing to compromise on specific design features that consumers desire and even require to adopt the new cooking technology.
How has the work of Envirofit evolved over the years? What are the highlights?
Envirofit’s products have evolved over the years to meet the demands of the consumer. Envirofit launched its first stove model, the B-1200, in 2007. It was designed using basic rocket-stove technology and featured a ceramic chamber with utilitarian handles and a cast iron pot support. While consumers liked the fact that the B-1200 could save them money on wood consumption, the value proposition wasn’t high enough to convince them to purchase one. The B-1200 was heavy; the ceramic material was often damaged in transport, and the product was designed for affordability but not aesthetics and needed to evolve in order to become a household appliance that people would aspire to purchase.
To convince customers of the value of clean cookstoves, we had to shift our technology development from a singular focus on building an efficient stove to a multifaceted focus on designing a high performance, aspirational home appliance. Through years of consumer research, focus groups, and product testing, we evolved our design to reflect the needs and desires of our customers. After hundreds of focus groups, Envirofit learned that customers sought more than a stove – they wanted a modern appliance they were proud to have in their kitchen. Customers also desired a product that kept their kitchen clean and didn’t need replacing or frequent rebuilding. Our customers also wanted a stove to be portable so they could vary their cooking location depending on the weather. When developing stoves for the Indian market, one of our key innovations was in materials development, as we extended the life of a clean cookstove from months to years. Families often cook outside, on dirt floors, or in hot, humid environments. Durability was important to creating a desirable product. This prompted us provided a warranty for our products, which was the first in the industry.
What are your plans for the future?
Envirofit is in the middle of transitioning from a product company to also delivering a service. In 2017 Envirofit launched a new SmartGas program that is revolutionizing access to affordable clean fuel through LPG smart meter technology that allows families to pay-as-they-cook using mobile money, making cooking faster, easier, and more convenient. While Envirofit is scaling this technology in Kenya we are seeking funding and opportunities to pilot this program in India.
Finally, what role do you expect CLEAN to play in the work you are undertaking?
Through CLEAN we aim to network with private, public and social sector partners in the clean energy space to grow our biomass stove distribution base. In addition, CLEAN can play an important role in helping the Biomass Clean Cookstove Industry voice its options to policy makers and make changes in government policies and regulations that will make biomass stoves more adoptable across India. Finally, we want to connect with investors and grant makers to bring SmartGas to India.