Jun 18, 2021 | Gillian McKee

Shining a light on life and sustainability

It’s very easy living in the developed world, to never think about having to go without the little things we take for granted, like artificial light. Imagine for a minute, not being able to illuminate your home after dark, being unable to read or cook or work safely once daylight ends and having to resort to more primitive and dangerous methods to be able to just see your surroundings. Think back to the last time you suffered a power cut and had to light a few candles. How long did it last? How inconvenient was it? How much did you complain until the power was up and running again?

Take yourself a step further and imagine working in a critical profession, healthcare for example, and just think about the impact of having no light to work by once darkness falls. You wouldn’t be able to see the labels on medicines, the reading on a thermometer or the rash on the person you’re treating, and that’s only taking account of non-urgent cases where no surgical intervention is required.

It’s easy to be flippant about such a thing when most of us have never gone more than a day in our lives without easy access to light. But for more than 500 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, once daylight ends, their only option if they want light is kerosene lamps, candles and homemade torches. Hard to believe that so much of the world still doesn’t have electricity or that someone hasn’t saw fit to harness the power of the African sun and build extensive solar infrastructure to provide critical power and light.

What’s all this got to do with SustainIQ I hear you ask? Well, a rather heart-wrenching account of some of those affected by this injustice stuck in the mind of one of our co-founders some time ago and he saw fit to do something about it. Making contact with the charity Solar Aid, he heard how their project of providing solar lights to people in sub-Saharan Africa has changed and saved lives. There were inspiring stories of young people thriving in their education, entrepreneurs setting up successful businesses and healthcare workers being able to properly care for their patients after dark. It was all enough to convince him that SustainIQ’s first charity partnership should be with Solar Aid.

For every new customer signed up by SustainIQ, a donation will be made to Solar Aid that will support solar light reaching more than 300 people, saving families almost £10k per year and providing over 64,000 additional hours of education to children in sub-Saharan Africa. An added bonus is the carbon savings – over 2m tonnes of CO2 emissions is diverted each year by using these solar lights in developing countries.

Given that SustainIQ helps companies measure and monitor their own sustainability efforts and align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) our co-founders Liam and Maria felt it was important to find a way to do this themselves. The partnership with Solar Aid is just a start, linking very clearly with SDG 7 – Clean Energy – but also with SDGs 8 and 10 – Decent work and economic growth and reduced inequalities.

We know it’s not a perfect solution. There are the material costs of making and then disposing of the solar lights and we’ve raised this with Solar Aid who assure us they’re looking into circular economy approaches and solutions to the problem. We understand that everything in sustainability is a balancing act – while one action causes a positive impact on people, it has an unintended negative impact on the environment, but surely it has to be about learning and adapting and doing something rather than nothing.

When we brought Solar Aid to our recent strategy day to tell the rest of the team about their work, once we’d all stopped crying at the heart-breaking stories of those Solar Aid couldn’t help in time, we realised that there’s another neat alignment in what the two organisations do. (Bear with me – it’s tenuous, but nevertheless true) Solar Aid talks about ‘bringing people out of the darkness’ – opening up opportunities by helping people to see what they couldn’t before. Likewise, SustainIQ’s data-driven solution helps customers shine a light on the sustainability intelligence that lies hidden within their company, allowing them to see more clearly and make better decisions that impact on their future. Surely a sign that this is the right charity partnership for us?

We’ve recently signed up two new clients and will be back-dating our Solar Aid partnership to make contributions on behalf of both. More news on that soon. In the meantime, take a look at Solar Aid and see what your own small contribution could mean to someone who doesn’t have what you and I take for granted – light, at the flick of a switch, whenever we need it.

SolarAid: Established in 2006, SolarAid is a UK based, international charity that combats poverty and climate change. Through its social enterprise, SunnyMoney, they are working with entrepreneurs, schools and clinics to distribute solar lights to people living without electricity in Zambia in Malawi. http://solar-aid.org @SolarAid

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