Getting Access to Clean Water for Free in Kenya

LifeStraw was criticized in the past because it was not considered the most economical way of getting people safe drinking water. How are you going about it differently this time?

The debate on cost-effectiveness in the past was on the LifeStraw that was handed out to individuals that were used to carry along and to drink water wherever you were. LifeStraw Family is an entirely different technology, different design. It serves a family of up to six people with safe drinking water for up to three years, so the cost effectiveness of LifeStraw Family as a household tool is entirely different. We absolutely expect this to be the lowest cost drinking water available.

How did you come up with this idea to distribute this through the carbon market?

Knowing that going to scale in public health is something that takes a lot of external funding, we were looking for a new innovative financing mechanism. One of the things we were really interested was this multibillion dollar carbon market that we were looking to tap into for public health. At NASA's launch council last year, I ran into some astronauts who had a similar idea and were working on it, so we sat down and compared notes to be able to jointly put the puzzle together, and have been working with them ever since.

So you're working with the NASA astronauts to do this?

Yes, we are. I met with NASA astronaut Ron Garan last year and learned about an important project that Manna Energy, a social enterprise he co-founded, is working on to provide clean water to a community in Rwanda, and earn carbon credits. Since this time, we have been working together on Vestergaard's Kenya project to accomplish similar goals but on a far larger scale. This new project is solely funded and run by Vestergaard.

What do you think of the future of carbon markets: are they sustainable?

My dream answer is, of course, yes. I think that the carbon market is certainly here to stay. I'm saying this while knowing that there are a few things that we need to think about: The architecture in the carbon market is such that countries need to be developed, and countries need to be able to pollute in order to clean up. You're rewarded for your ability to clean up, rather than for not polluting in the first place, and it is for this reason that less than 5 percent of carbon trade today includes Africa. They're not developed enough to pollute, which is what our program is addressing.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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