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How carbon offsetting ensures clean water and healthy forests in Guatemala

cschraeder | 03 December 2020

Our carbon finance project partner, Ecofiltro, opened its doors for a live virtual site visit broadcast during Climate Week NYC 2020. We recorded highlights from the tour, hosted by Ecofiltro’s founder and CEO Philip Wilson, named Social Entrepreneur of the Year in 2012 by the Schwab Foundation of Switzerland.

In rural Guatemala, 55% of families do not have access to safe drinking water. The alternatives, boiling water or buying it bottled, are time consuming, expensive, and take a toll on the planet. Demand for fuelwood, which is used to boil and purify water, has contributed to the rampant loss of more than half of the country’s forests in the last 50 years. Chlorination, another alternative, has been unable to gain cultural acceptance because of the taste.

Ecofiltro, a certified B Corp, developed a new approach to solving this public health and environmental challenge. The company produces and distributes affordable water filters to ensure rural families and schoolchildren have access to drinkable water.

Climate finance provides a vital boost to this social enterprise through the revenue from the sale of carbon credits. As Ecofiltro alleviates pressure for harvesting fuelwood, it protects trees and avoids carbon emissions. This adds up to 200,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions reductions per year.

Ecofiltro has sold more than 375,000 water filters to rural households since 2010 and is on track to sustainably bring clean water to more than one million households in Guatemala by 2025.

From clay to kiln: How Ecofiltro is made

The Ecofiltro is made from two key ingredients. Yet those ingredients are carefully sourced. As Philip explains: “[We have] two raw materials, which are sawdust from certified mills about four hours away from the factory, and we source the clay about five hours away. It has to be a certain kind of clay that’s used to produce an Ecofiltro.”

The two ingredients are mixed together and fired in a kiln to activate the carbon. “So, the sawdust in the kiln, which I’ll show later, becomes carbon and eliminates any bad odor, bad smell, allows the filter to produce clean, fresh, natural tasting water”.

The factory produces more than 1,000 clay pots per day.

A source of opportunity

The factory employs 103 people and the company creates employment for a network of artisans that produce receptacles out of ceramic. “One of the things I’m very proud of is all the indirect employment,” Philip says.

Part of the business model is to sell artisanal ceramic receptacles to urban customers at a profit, which is applied to keep prices low for filters distributed to rural communities.

Protecting a place of many trees

The name "Guatemala" comes from a Nahuatl word that means "place of many trees.” Despite rapid deforestation, about a third of the country remains forested. These forests contain more than 280 million metric tonnes of carbon in living forest biomass.

“You know, before a family has an Ecofiltro in the home, they’re burning four logs a day of firewood for boiling water. With the Ecofiltro, they don’t have to burn those four logs.”

How carbon finance drives solutions at scale

This project is registered under the Gold Standard, and it’s impacting nine Sustainable Development Goals.

“So, the carbon offsets are created because, between the Ecofiltro and the ecostove, we’re saving about 2,000 trees a day,” Philip explains. “Just imagine a small forest every day being protected because all these thousands and hundreds of thousands of families are using the Ecofiltro and the ecostove.”

The financing generated by these offsets has enabled the factory to continue to grow and reach 375,000 rural homes in Guatemala, while keeping forest intact.

“I was educated on this new source of financing and I want to encourage all social entrepreneurs […] that we’re very appreciative of all the companies that are buying these carbon offsets and making this financing available because there is no way that we would be able to scale and reach these hundreds of thousands of families without carbon finance.”

Learn more about this project here.

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