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2014 International Ashden Awards finalists

Making the briquettes.

Sustainable Green Fuel Enterprise (SGFE), Cambodia

This pioneering Cambodian business is turning leftover coconut shells and other waste into clean-burning briquettes for use as cooking fuel in Phnom Penh’s homes and restaurants. Most Cambodians cook on wood charcoal, which contributes to the country’s rampant deforestation and air pollution. Led by Carlo Figá Talamanca, Sustainable Green Fuel Enterprise can scarcely keep up with demand. Users like Lin Haiy, who runs a family restaurant explains why the briquettes are so popular. “The old charcoal used to burn your clothes and it was smoky and dirty. This is much better: it burns longer”.

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The green houses are fed by the solar-powered water pumps.

Rajasthan Horticulture Development Society, India

Farmers in the desert state of Rajasthan are seeing their sons return from cities to work on their farms thanks to a new solar-powered agricultural boom. Acute power and water shortages meant that farmers were only able to grow crops during the monsoon. But Rajasthan has a free and infinitely available resource: the sun. The Rajasthan Horticulture Development Society has provided more than 10,000 farmers with new solar-powered water pumps. Combined with drip irrigation and other technologies to cut water use, this is enabling year-round cultivation of high-value crops and the kind of high-tech horticulture the state has never seen before. With farmers’ incomes more than doubling, the programme has given them the 'gift of life'.

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Micro-grids provide enough power for up to 32 families at just 25 rupees a week.

Mera Gao Power, India

Uttar Pradesh-based Mera Gao Power is demonstrating the business case for meeting the needs of the some of the poorest people in India with the pioneering use of unsubsidised commercial micro grids. Vast stretches of rural India lie beyond the reach of the over-stretched national electricity grid, with most families so poor that even the cheapest solar lanterns are difficult to afford. But Mera Gao Power has found a middle way: creating solar-powered 'micro grids' that are lighting up the state, one village at a time. Each system is easy to install and provides seven hours of light and mobile phone-charging for up to 32 houses. For the 20,000 families benefitting so far, that means more time to study, work and socialise in the evening. And with weekly payments of just 25 pence, the electricity is even cheaper than kerosene.

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Infosys has cut its energy bills by a staggering $80 million since 2008.

Infosys, India

India's fast-growing economy is making ever greater demands on its electric grid. Global IT giant Infosys is leading the way to more sustainable growth, decreasing electricity consumption per staff member by 44% across its Indian business campuses. Success lies in seizing every opportunity to reduce energy consumption in its existing buildings - from reducing the size of chiller plants for air conditioning, to painting roofs white so they reflect the heat. Cutting-edge design of new buildings also helps keep offices cooler and maximises natural light. With a phenomenal $80 million cut off its energy bills, Infosys has made an unassailable business case for large companies to invest in energy efficiency - not just in India but across the globe.

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Off.Grid agents install the equipment and provide excellent customer service.

Off.Grid:Electric, Tanzania

East Africa is emerging as a hotbed of creative solutions to meeting the energy needs of the poor. Mobile money - where customers pay with their mobile phones - is increasingly used as a method of payment. Off.Grid:Electric is a leader in the field for using mobile money to sell solar power as a daily service at an affordable price. But service doesn’t just mean the power itself. It also means exceptional customer service, including an all-day customer care telephone line and ongoing support from a local agent. With more than 15,000 homes taking up the service so far, as fast as systems are manufactured they are off to customers – thanks to a sophisticated app-based customer registration and product tracking system.

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A SimGas customer cooks with biogas.

SimGas, Tanzania

East Africa's forests are slowly being destroyed, with trees cut down to make charcoal for cooking, and cattle grazing further damaging land and trees. Governments have encouraged people to look after their cattle in stalls. That’s great for the land, but it brings its own headaches, particularly the chore of managing manure. But brothers Sanne and Mirik Castro saw the problem as an opportunity. Putting the manure into a biogas plant would help people manage manure and produce clean gas for cooking instead of charcoal. And if they could factory-produce biogas plants from plastic, they could be made and installed much more quickly than conventional plants and reach many more thousands of people. SimGas has just installed the largest plastic injection-moulding machine in East Africa, creating the potential to roll out biogas across East Africa.

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A simple double ceiling solution to keeping classrooms cooler.

Kéré Architecture, Burkina Faso

Temperatures in Burkina Faso's hot season often climb to 40 degrees centigrade in the shade. Architect Francis Kéré knows this too well – he comes from a village in Burkina Faso. Through hard work he made it to architecture school in Germany. When he heard that the primary school in his home village had fallen into disrepair, he was inspired to help build something better for the children there. So he designed and built a school that, with a ventilated roof and other clever design features, gives a much cooler environment for children to study in. Not only that, the school was built by local people, and largely with local materials. Kéré Architecture has since designed and built over 20 innovative naturally cooled public buildings in Africa.

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Demonstrating how easy the cookstoves are to use.

Greenway Grameen, India

Neha Juneja is CEO of a rapidly growing clean cookstoves business which she co-founded with Ankit Matthur just two years after completing her MBA in 2008. Greenway Grameen’s mission is to provide an affordable, desirable cookstove to improve quality of life for Indian women. Collecting and cooking with wood and dung is not only time-consuming; it creates dirty, smoky kitchens. Greenway Grameen's simple stoves dramatically reduce kitchen smoke, cook more quickly, and stay cleaner for longer. And they’ve been designed with women’s needs and aspirations in mind. Aside from taking care to produce a stove women were comfortable using, extensive market testing revealed that they sell far better when marketed as an essential part of a modern kitchen: more than 120,000 stoves have been sold so far.

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A much nicer cooking environment without the smoke.

Sakhi Unique Rural Enterprise (SURE), India

A powerful network of women entrepreneurs in central Maharashtra, India, is selling clean energy products like solar lanterns and cleaner cookstoves to other women, improving quality of life of both sellers and buyers. Since 2009, the non-profit social enterprise Sakhi Unique Rural Enterprise (SURE) has been selecting, training and supporting women micro entrepreneurs to be 'energy entrepreneurs'. For the 600 ‘Sakhis’, selling clean energy products doesn't just boost their income directly, it also carries a social cachet, helping boost their confidence. For the women using their new products, aside from reducing the drudgery of collecting fuel, cooking and cleaning pots, access to clean light for women and children opens up new possibilities for work and education.

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Taking the pain out of watering crops.

Proximity Designs, Myanmar

Proximity Designs is introducing treadle pumps, solar irrigation and other sustainable agriculture techologies to Myanmar for the first time. Lifting water from wells and carrying it across fields is back-breaking, time-consuming work for rural farmers. Combined with water-saving drip irrigation technology, foot-operated treadle pumps that draw up water from wells can dramatically increase yields and incomes. With solar-powered pumps now also being developed, farmers are now seeing their lives transformed after decades of lacking access to technology. As well as more than doubling their harvests – and their income – the pumps are helping ease the daily drudgery of farming. With around 90,000 households benefiting so far, Proximity Designs continues to adapt its products to meet the needs of this rapidly changing country.

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