The Ashden Awards

Over the years I’ve sat through a good many awards ceremonies but few, if any, have been as inspiring as last week’s Ashden Awards for sustainable energy. There was none of the hype or greenwash often associated with sustainable solutions; just ordinary people, or rather I should say extraordinary people, with good ideas and the get up and go to see them through.

Most notable among them was Suraj Wahab Ologburo who accepted the coveted gold award in the international category and who won the hearts of the audience with a humbling description of the founding of Toyola Energy in Ghana. Most families in Ghana’s cities cook on smoky stoves and spend a big slice of their income on charcoal. Five years ago he started up Toyola and has since sold around 154,000 efficient and affordable charcoal stoves to low-income families, 75 per cent of whom buy the stoves on credit and use savings on charcoal to pay cash back. Every year the stoves save about 26,000 tonnes of charcoal and around 150,000 tonnes of CO2.

Other international winners included two Indian companies; one turning crop waste into fuel pellets to replace fossil fuels, the other using rice husks to produce electric power on a village scale. A project in Pakistan improves health, saves trees and makes homes warmer by improving wood burning stoves, while an organization in Africa brings electricity to rural locations with simple, affordable and robust solar kits.

Such initiatives are changing peoples lives in a way that it is hard to appreciate in the UK. We don’t have to see our children do their school work by the light of stinking kerosene lamps. Nor do we have to walk many hours to charge a mobile phone.

This should not belittle the five UK winners. Their achievements are just as great, it is simply that the context is very different. The gold award went to Radian. This south east England housing association is “leading the way in retrofitting hard-to-treat homes and building eco homes that far exceed the current minimum standards for energy efficiency; consequently nearly 44,000 residents are enjoying the benefits of lower fuel bills and cosier homes”.

The other UK winners were the Centre for Alternative Technology, which inspires thousands to live and build sustainably; Midland Wood Fuel, which provides top quality wood fuel from sourcing to delivery; Severn Wye Energy Agency, which helps students take control over energy saving in schools; and Transition Together, Transition Town Totnes. This organisation has brought together 56 groups of neighbours so far – involving over 1,100 people – and helped them adopt habits to save carbon and cash.

What’s particularly important about the Ashden Awards is that they focus on what happens to an organisation after winning an award as well as before or during. Set up in 2001 to champion practical, local energy solutions that cut carbon, protect the environment, reduce poverty and improve people’s lives, these awards deserve greater recognition. They have, after all, already rewarded and supported more than 120 winners across the UK and the developing world.

Image credit: The Ashden Awards