Cleaning water and air for profit
This picture taken on May 30, 2011 shows a woman using a 'Lifestraw' filtration device that she has just received at her home at Mumias in Kenya's western Province. Developed by a company based in Switzerland headed by CEO, Dane Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen, its aim is to ensure that 60% of households in the target area that currently rely on firewood to purify water for domestic use through boiling it can now do so without having to cut down trees or burn firewood thereby releasing carbon into the atmosphere. (Getty Images)
July 1st, 2011
12:00 PM ET

Cleaning water and air for profit

Editor's Note: Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen is CEO of the Swiss-based Vestergaard Frandsen company. This post is part of the Global Innovation Showcase created by the New America Foundation and the Global Public Square.

By Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen – Special to CNN

Forty-three year old Charity Wananda gets her drinking water from an open stream in Kenya’s Western Province. The water looks clear, but this mother of five knows it’s filthy and can cause great harm to her family.  After all, every person and animal in her community uses that same stream as a toilet.

Charity’s dilemma is all too common.  According to 2010 World Health Organization data, almost 1 billion people in the world lack access to safe drinking water. Diarrheal disease is the second leading cause of death in children under five years old, and is responsible for killing 1.5 million children every year. Children who are malnourished or have impaired immunity are most at risk of life-threatening diarrhea.

Every year, pneumonia kills an estimated 1.6 million children under the age of five years, accounting for 18% of all deaths of children under five years old worldwide. Environmental factors, including indoor air pollution caused by cooking and heating with biomass fuels such as wood, increase a child's susceptibility to pneumonia.

This is the motivation behind a new campaign in which nearly one million advanced water filters were given to Charity's community. The filters — called LifeStraw Family filters — remove over 99.99 percent of bacteria and viruses. But this wasn’t a charitable program from a well-meaning relief and development organization. It was an innovative for-profit program that uses the power of carbon markets to improve lives.

My company fully funded the distribution program and we will be reimbursed with carbon financing. Carbon financing is a unique funding model gives companies in developed countries potential revenue in the form of carbon credits for sponsoring programs that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries.

Carbon credits can then be sold to carbon credit buyers that want to reduce their carbon footprint or improve their environmental stewardship. The revenue generated is largely be reinvested into the project to make it sustainable for at least ten years.

Each LifeStraw Family water filter delivers at least 18,000 liters of U.S. EPA-quality drinking water - enough to supply a family of five with safe drinking water for at least three years. Kenyans who receive them will no longer have to treat water by boiling it using wood fuel, which generates greenhouse gasses. This behavioral change is expected to produce more than two million tons of carbon emission reductions annually.

As the supplier of the filters, Vestergaard Frandsen will earn the carbon credits.

This carbon-for-water program is one of the largest water treatment projects ever undertaken without government or public sector funding. It will also be the first that directly links carbon credits with safe drinking water.

The program holds the potential for long-term sustainability of a point-of-use water purifiers program.

While Africa is considered among the most at-risk areas for climate change, less than 5 percent of carbon projects are based there. The program makes a very important correction to the imbalance that exists in the global carbon market. This is important because environmental experts believe that it’s preferable to encourage a country to build environmental protection into long-term development plans, rather than force them to clean up after industrialization has occurred and negatively affected the health and the environment.

The program can combat disease and ensure environmental sustainability by reducing the use of wood and other fuels for cooking fires and removing tons of carbon from the atmosphere. For mothers in Western Province like Charity Wananda, this unique program means her kids can stay healthy and stay in school.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen.

soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. fernace

    Unless there's a catch this sounds like a great program & a good idea. Making water safe & cleaning up the environment at the same time, is an idea who's time has come!

    July 2, 2011 at 2:15 am | Reply
  2. jiffi

    This is something I've been looking for – CLEAN DRINKING WATER FOR ALL -
    How can we all participate????

    July 2, 2011 at 7:38 am | Reply
    • eds

      jiffi, you volunteer or fundraising for charities like Their donate page is

      July 7, 2011 at 7:48 pm | Reply
  3. European Inventor Award

    Great programme that proves how innovation can affect developing countries! We’ve had quite a few inspiring discussions about the subject, too. It’s all on our Facebook page, at

    July 8, 2011 at 5:18 am | Reply
  4. Water Treatment Plants

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    April 24, 2012 at 7:38 am | Reply

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