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How briquettes landed me before the Queen

Chebet Lesan’s passion for protecting the environment has taken her places. Her company makes recycled charcoal especially for people in informal settlements

Barry Silah @obel_barry

Chebet Lesan, 28, is passionate about fusing conservation and enterprise.  She runs BrightGreen Renewable Energy,  a Kenyan company manufacturing clean, safe and affordable charcoal briquettes.

Chebet, a multiple award-winning environmentalist, grew up with a strong interest in protecting the environment.

A University of Nairobi graduate in Product Design, her studies coincided with what she saw as an opportunity to transform waste into a good resource.

“In campus, I saw lots of waste littered all over. This is when I started getting more environmentally aware and decided to do something about it,” says the middle child in a family of eight.

At the same time, she got to work for a design firm, which emitted waste from its printing machines. “My idea was to do something that would create impact,” she says. This opened her eyes to pursue a business idea with a social impact model.

The company, based in Karen, produces and sells charcoal briquettes from recycled waste, including agricultural waste fibres, carbonised sawdust from lumber industries, all collected from within its project area.

Through funding from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT D-lab) in Boston, Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (Kirdi), Energy 4 Impact and University of Nairobi, the quality of their briquettes continues to be tested for bulk density, fixed carbon, volatile matter, product durability, moisture absorption, briquette moisture content and ash content.

“We continuously improve our flagship product by always testing new raw materials. For us, it is all about creating clean energy through application of highly innovative, yet appropriate and affordable production systems by working with local groups in order to create low-cost charcoal briquettes,”says Chebet.

The firm has five employees. Interestingly, her father is a co-director of the company. “The fact that my father is around makes me feel at peace because of his counsel and understanding of the networks.

We work well together and being a critical stakeholder, the company will certainly see better days,” adds Chebet, who recently got the award for Woman Entrepreneur of the Year, following a selection by a UN panel due to the sustainability model of her briquettes.

In Kenya, charcoal is a key bio energy resource, providing domestic energy for over 82 per cent of urban households and 34 per cent of rural households.

Kenya’s total annual charcoal consumption is estimated at between 1.6  and 2.4 million tonnes.  Nairobi City is one of Kenya’s highest consumers of charcoal, with low-income households consuming an estimated 700 tonnes of charcoal daily.

“At the moment we are focused on the informal settlements and some industries because there is greater need there. With the current charcoal ban, we see ourselves as a saviour for the hundreds of cheap fuel users.

We basically offer credible products and based on feedback, I believe we are making good progress,” adds Chebet, who  is currently pursuing a Lead Change Course at Cambridge University, United Kingdom.

At their moderate plant, they have four different machines, which are capable of producing at least 35-40 sacks of briquettes daily.

Their waste products are collected and delivered by different groups as BrightGreen seeks to empower the lower cadres of society. They are also seeking in future to go upcountry where there is bigger need plus scaling up and diversify production.

“At the end of the day, we want to help conserve our environment through availing safe fuel alternatives and we are eyeing the regional market as well,” offers Chebet.

For BrightGreen, the biggest impact is that they save the customer time, health and up to 40 per cent in costs. “So apart from dignifying lives, we will ensure that our briquettes make a substantial difference,” adds the globetrotting social entrepreneur who was given Sh8 million as a grant for her project.

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