Green Bio Energy: From Waste to Cooking Fuel Through Community Empowerment

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Written by Erica Shelley

Measuring Performance

Briketi’s actual performance is empirically developed by company personnel. Just outside the Green Bio Energy office, Dieudonne, the housekeeper, sits by a charcoal stove with a pot of water boiling over it. Next to him there is a notebook where he has written down the time, keeping track of how long the briquettes have been burning.

“This one burns for one and a half hours; this one burns for two and half,” Dieudonne stated, holding up the smaller and larger versions of the Briketi product for comparison.

Although cheaper charcoal that burns longer seems like a win-win, Green Bio Energy has had to explore different ways to break into local markets. While the middle and upper classes have readily received the new product, progress has been gradual with low-income customers.

“The main segment of the market that we are targeting is the base of the pyramid. It’s completely different from other segments of the market. . . . People are not ready to spend money on new things. They can be curious about a new product, but they don’t have the budget for this curiosity. We are talking about the population that is earning maybe less than a dollar a day,” Gerard explained.

Joining and Expanding the Green Bio Energy Movement

Through advertising and the middle and upper classes, Briketi is slowly penetrating the base of the pyramid. In addition to the charcoal briquettes, Green Bio Energy also tests and produces coal-preserving stoves designed for various uses. The stoves are set at a higher price than the non-efficient alternatives on the market, but they reduce the cost of fuel and save customers money over a period of time.

While Green Bio Energy seeks to sell Briketi to local customers, it has also created opportunities for communities to become part of the process. There are three key ways people can develop sustainable business around the product: first, they can collect and dry their own organic waste and sell it to Green Bio Energy; second, they can sell Briketi as a retailer; thirdly, they can invest in Ugandan-made machines to produce the briquettes on their own. Every step of the way, Green Bio Energy provides training and support.

“Our training is not just about making briquettes. It’s also about understanding the market,” Gerard stated. “We’re training them in briquette making but also in general market knowledge, as well as business skills to help them manage sustainable businesses.”

Already, some of these new businesses have experienced success. After a year of using a carbonizer and the most basic press to produce briquettes, several communities have come back to Green Bio Energy to ask how they can upscale their production.

Fuelled by local success, Green Bio Energy believes that their model can be replicated in other East African countries.

“So far we are concentrating on Kampala. Our long-term goal is to spread the knowledge, technology and product across Uganda and then go beyond Uganda to other East African countries ,” Gerard said.

“We have started studying neighbouring countries and our model is absolutely replicable. The raw material is plentiful in most of those countries. The cooking habits — using foods like matooke, sweet potatoes — are common in all East African countries and the charcoal dust in the streets is readily available in Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan and Congo.”

Green Bio Energy has tackled multiple layers in the arena of household fuel consumption; they appear to have successfully matched environmental problems, waste management issues, and sustainable development goals. If this model achieves success in Uganda, it could potentially spread across the region.

“We’re helping people preserve their planet and create revenue,” Gerard stated.

People, planet, profit. Three birds. One stone.