On a mission to save the world's forests, a grown-up Canadian tree-hugger hurls himself into solving the problem
Note to Dear Reader: I do not have a financial relationship with Burn Industries. I am a fan, and as a fan, I like to share seriously good stories in the world. Please read on.
Peter Scott walks fast. Very fast. We don't have much time, and I have to speed up to keep up. As he walks, he pulls his longish, slightly-greying hair back into a pony tail. I tell him that the gesture reminds me of Russell Crowe's Lucky Jack Aubrey in Master and Commander, The Far Side of the World.
It's a compliment in more ways than one. Here, we rush through his enormous, swiftly-expanding warehouse in a Nairobi suburb which produces a wide variety of super-efficient stoves. His fiery passion to save what makes the world green is matched by his leadership skills, which has led to this fast-expanding facility, an enviable team of talented and dedicated people and products which might just truly deliver on an oft-heard promise:
Let's change the world.
Yeah. We've all heard that before. And not a lot of folks have delivered. This is different.
My time with Scott was also limited, and I was hurrying to keep up. That's not easy, as time is already against not only Scott but his mission. Every second of every day, millions of acres of forests are cut down. Today we are also losing millions more to poor forest management practices, gender-reveal parties, poorly-educated casual campers, and much more. The twin terrors of a burgeoning world population and climate change are mowing down what makes the world's air breathable, and turning those forests into stubble or farmland.
Or, as in Scott's world, those trees are turned into charcoal for cooking fires. Here are the ugly numbers.
It's not just the deforestation. Back in 2013 I was exploring outside Arusha, Tanzania. Invited into the local bomas, the traditional homes of Maasai people, I walked into the tight confines of a small hut that is where the women and kids live and cook. There are no windows. Not only could I not stand up, the smoke nearly did me in. Smoke inhalation can be deadly, and can seriously damage the lungs. A cooking pot like the Jikokoa, which is placed outside, not only prevents such health issues but also preserves trees. AND they also save the families pennies and dollars that can go towards food, education and bettering their circumstances.
In other words, except that enough simply cannot be made fast enough to meet burgeoning demand, this is a win/win/win for Africans and poor people the world over. Scott threw stats over his shoulder as we dodged boxes and people. Population growth in sub-Saharan Africa is burgeoning:
Globally, almost 1 in 4 people will be Sub-Saharan African in 2050, whereas the ratio was 1 in 13 in 1960.
Getting ahead of this seems impossible. But Burn is on fire to get it done, or else not only will Africa's forests be gone but everything that lives in them.
As we speed-walked through his solar-powered facility, Scott pointed out where he's expanding to meet the demand. Double the capacity, he explained, and even that is nowhere near enough. There are plans to build new plants and hire lots of essential talent to get more of these fuel-efficient stoves into the hands of those who are currently still stripping the earth of her forests for want of better options.
Back in 1990, Scott was witnessing first-hand how deforestation was stripping Zaire of its forests, and as a result, its wildlife and the world of her lungs. Scott had already spent time as a self-described "tree hugger" in Oregon. His history with efficient cook stoves dates back to the early years of the Rocket Stove, which was based in Cottage Grove. The Jikokoa stove (and the expanding line), Burn's most popular product, grew out of the early Rocket Stove design.
Back in America, Scott kicked off his brand new company on Vashon Island, WA in 2010. The power of that vision, along with the promise of a product which would truly change and save the world's forests caught fire, if you will. The startup company was a magnet for a blue-ribbon team of engineers, designers and dreamers who have piloted this startup to what is now a significant operation. In 2014, Burn opened in Kenya.
Initially, there was plenty of doubt. However, over time and having pushed past both doubters and financial challenges, Scott and his dream team's dream turned out to be true: Read what an independent study from Berkely validated here about the impact of their stoves.
Peter Scott loves Kenya, and he loves its people. Some sixty percent of his 400 employees are women, which is huge for this country. His managerial team reflects his personal commitment to full engagement of the best talent no matter the culture or source. You can see the faces of the forests of the world's future here. He's going to need a lot more of that talent going forward, as plans are to expand.
From their website:
BURN aims to expand to Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, DRC, Nigeria, and Ghana, launch five new products and increase production capacity in Kenya from 45,000 to 120,000 units per month.
Here's a fast way to understand Burn's products:
For the geeks among us, and you're out there, you might wonder how an African family affords a $40 stove. Burn works with a variety of plans to make the stoves affordable, including purchasing carbon credits. You can also donate the full $40 to get a stove for a family. To see how to make one family's Christmas wish come true, please see this link to use Paypal right now to make a difference.
Or, even better, see this page for other ways to provide support.
A few weeks ago I was listening to an NPR story featuring two Millennial scientists addressing the emails, texts and phone messages from their peers and Gen Zer's utterly up in arms about climate change. Those two exceedingly well-educated young women got in our faces:
They said: Get out of your office and off social media and find something to throw your heart into. Get engaged.
You can doomscroll, wail and complain. Or you can jump aboard the efforts which are focused on delivering answers. Burn can't do it alone. Nobody can. The more visionary, creative talent they can bring aboard, the faster they can deliver answers to the very folks who need them.
I can't speak for you, but that's the kind of effort worth getting behind. That's why I write about people and companies worth backing.
Burn is hiring. They need talent. Damned good talent, in fact, all over the world. The way I see it you can complain, or you can get busy changing the world. Burn is busy with the latter.
Whether you buy a stove for a family, send in your resume and explore working for what is working in the world, I hope you'll put your money where your mouth is and do something that really can change the world right here, right now, today.
Time is against us. There are very good people doing the right things for the right reasons. Let's consider supporting them and getting involved.
For my Christmas gift money, that's a good investment.
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