Overview of BURN stoves
Burn Manufacturing designs, manufactures, and distributes a line of improved cookstoves in East Africa (with expansion plans to other parts of the continent). With a manufacturing facility in Kenya, BURN describes itself as “the only vertically integrated modern cookstove company in Sub-Saharan Africa”. It has sold over 950,000 stoves, which it distributes through a number of channels.
Giving Green recommends BURN stoves on the weight of strong Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) evidence in support of the causality of emissions reductions, as well as demonstrated co-benefits.
Causality: Cookstoves and emissions
As mentioned in our research report, cookstove projects have shown mixed results in the academic literature. Recently, a rigorous RCT was conducted on the impact of BURN stoves. Berkouwer and Dean (2020, referred to as BD) conducted a trial of BURN stoves, and found that charcoal fuel usage (as measured by weighing of ashes as well as self-reports) declined by around 39%. This is close to BURN’s claims of a 50% reduction in fuel usage. Additionally, a smaller experiment involving 154 stove users confirmed that these reductions in fuel use persisted 18 months later. We would have liked to see long-term usage data from their larger RCT sample to verify the persistence of fuel use reduction, but we view these results as encouraging. BURN has confirmed that the offsets sold on their website are generated from the same stove model studied in this RCT.
Overall, we view the evidence on the causality of BURN stoves on GHG emissions to be quite strong.
Project-level additionality seeks to answer the following question: would BURN exist and sell stoves in the absence of offsets? The answer is clearly yes - BURN has a thriving business where a majority of its revenues are from the sale of its stoves. Offsets are just a small part of its income, estimated at roughly 2-3% of total revenues. Representatives from BURN claim that offsets are an unreliable source of income, and therefore they cannot rely on income from offsets to fund their core business.
Certain specific initiatives are funded primarily with offsets, but these are generally from offsets sold in the compliance markets.
Overall, our assessment is that BURN offsets have a low level of project-level additionality. However, Giving Green can recommend projects that do not have project-level additionality as long as they have marginal additionality, as described below.
Marginal additionality is achieved when each offset purchased directly leads to additional emission reductions. For BURN, there is certainly potential for each additional offset sold to lead to more stoves being sold or used. According to representatives at BURN, offset revenue is used to invest in research and development, as well as to fund certain aspects of customer engagement, branding, and warranty services. Customer engagement is necessary for projects receiving carbon credits, since BURN needs to verify that stoves are being used for credits to be issued. BURN claims that without offsets, they would have to reduce their operations in various ways and would end up selling significantly fewer stoves.
However, money is fungible and BURN could theoretically do anything they want with it. They could take the money and book it as profits or raise salaries. They could also invest in marketing strategies that do not work. BURN, however, is a social enterprise with multiple impact investors on its board. They claim that their mission is to improve and distribute cookstoves, rather than make money. While we cannot verify their claim of using offset revenues to increase stove distribution, we find it consistent with BURN’s expansionary strategy so far, and believe that additional revenue earned will be put toward putting more stoves in the hands of families.
Overall, it is not possible to verify with certainty that an additional offset purchased leads directly to additional stoves being purchased, and therefore reduction of GHGs in the atmosphere. However, there is a logical causal path for this to happen, and we believe it is likely to hold. BURN is a social enterprise, and we believe that it is likely that with more revenue, they will increase stove distribution.
Fuel use reduction from clean cookstoves represents permanent decreases in emissions.
Beyond reducing GHG emissions, BD (2020) also found clear economic benefits for households using BURN stoves. BD estimate that purchasing a BURN stove results in fuel savings of $199/year, which is equivalent to one month of their study respondents’ income. This is a very strong effect, proving that BURN stoves can make a real difference in a family’s spending power.
Lowered fuel usage could also lead to improved health effects, as better indoor air quality could decrease respiratory diseases. BD find that BURN stove users self-report better respiratory health, with their index being .5 standard deviations better for the treatment group compared to control.
We believe that BURN stoves are strongly linked to reduced GHG emissions, and also improve the well-being of their owners. Like almost all offsets, we do not believe that there is a viable link between an offset purchase and removing a specific amount of CO2, but we do believe the purchasing an offset will help BURN distribute more stoves and will directionally lead to fewer emissions.
You can purchase offsets directly from BURN here. BURN states that they have a preference for people buying offsets, as compared to direct contributions, since revenue from the offset market is a core part of their business strategy, while donations are a minor add-on.
We thank Chris McKinney, Chief Commerce Officer of Burn Manufacturing, for a series of conversations that informed this document.
Berkouwer, Susanna and Joshua Dean. "Credit and attention in the adoption of profitable energy-efficient technologies in Kenya" Mimeo, 2020.