Sunday, May 27, 2012

UpEnergy: cool for-profit social enterprise

The rise of for-profit social enterprises has been quite exciting. Although I'm firmly on the nonprofit side with Benetech (because we focus on big issues where the market is failing), it's definitely easier to get funded sustainably if you have an exciting and invest-able business plan.

Evan Haigler is a social entrepreneur I've known for years. He's made a big difference in the area of clean cook stoves and carbon credits, spinning his nonprofit group ImpactCarbon out of UC Berkeley years ago. Lately Evan's been talking about how to expand their impact even more. He's joined forces with other social entrepreneurs in the field to found UpEnergy, a new for-profit social enterprise that wants to scale the impact of their successful pilot projects. The founding team includes leaders from each of the first three Gold Standard clean cookstove projects (and these projects delivered more than half a million stoves). They are already active in Africa and Latin America, in countries like Uganda, Rwanda, Liberia, El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

The economics are compelling. A clean stove that costs $42 delivered throws off $20 a year in carbon credits! That means that UpEnergy can sell the stoves at a discount to consumers and create income for distributors, encouraging more adoption. The carbon income stream makes this a good target for impact investing: a chance to make good financial returns while ensuring great social outcomes like reduced fuel use, less CO2 and better health outcomes.

Looking forward to hearing more about their first round of financing to get this launched. I love to see projects like this going to scale, that's true innovation!

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