Traditionally, a business that has achieved financial sustainability is defined as one that is selling a product or service at a price that not only covers their expenses but also creates a profit. The International Capital Markets Association (2020), has stated that further to this:
...Sustainable finance is an umbrella term which also includes social, climate and green finance which all support a circular economy, whilst also considering long-term funding of those organisations.
For an impact investment Vehicle like those managed by Wellers Impact, one of the most compelling emerging opportunities is in looking at circular economy solutions, where so-called waste products rely on inexpensive ‘waste products’ which, through value-added technology, are sold to eager customers.
Innovative solutions which champion a circular economy notably include those that can convert a serious social or environmental problem into an opportunity for creative solutions - either in the problem’s own sector or even crossing sector boundaries to solve issues elsewhere. Many examples of this can be observed in investments in the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector of developing countries.
In particular, human sewage presents an unusual discussion for impact investment; in some parts of the world, particularly rural areas of developing countries, weak sanitation infrastructures and services can give rise to serious health risks associated with human sewage. However, this imminent problem has also given rise to creative solutions within and around the sector, which not only can help reduce the associated risks but can also lead to interesting investment opportunities.
Exposed and contaminated sewage is an extensive environmental and social issue, often in rural regions of developing countries where sanitation infrastructures are not fully functional or efficient and where sewage is regularly processed poorly or dumped in aquatic systems. This can have numerous detrimental effects on the environment, including altering the oxygen content, spreading interspecific diseases and a resulting loss of flora and fauna biodiversity.
Open defecation is still practiced in rural villages in developing countries, such as Kenya, where houses are not necessarily connected to an efficient sewage system. In 2014, it was observed that open defecation was practiced by around 10% of Kenya’s population. Although this statistic has decreased from previous years, the practiced alternative of using a pit latrine without slab is described as ‘unimproved’ sanitation and provides no significant developed benefits (Njuguna 2019).
Open defecation is correlated with poverty in these areas and although the national statistic for open defecation has decreased in recent years, the reliance of the poorest communities on open defecation has increased (Njuguma 2019). Practices like open defecation and using pit latrines further give rise to the spread of human diseases to other humans, but also to animals which can affect agricultural practices.
It is worth noting that there is not a lack of technical solutions for mitigating our impact on the world, rather many solutions lack proper governance, funding mechanisms and adopt unsustainable business plans with unsustainable inputs to produce unsustainable products (The Pew Charitable Trust 2020).
Sanivation, an investee of one of Wellers Impact Investment Vehicles, is converting human waste into charcoal-like briquettes at the firm’s treatment plants. The briquettes which become valuable branded products are used as fuel, replacing firewood alternatives in industrial boilers, creating a sustainable and renewable fuel source.
This technical and innovative solution tackles the sewage waste and sanitation problem Kenya and many other countries face, in which only 5% of human waste was properly treated nationally in 2017 (Agua Consult 2017). Furthermore, it aims to help reduce deforestation for fuel and reduces our impact on the world.
What makes Sanivation’s solution to the sanitation crisis special is that it is able to run continuously since it is completely financially sustainable; the funds needed to run the treatment plants is met through selling its fuel briquette product.
Sanivation have used the current reality of an ever expanding human population to create fuel from human sewage. It is only fitting that such a cyclic venture which prioritises ethical sustainability is equally sustainable in its business model and governance - two values Wellers Impact analyses and seeks to strengthen through its investment approach.
By taking responsibility for our own presence and our direct impacts on the environment, Sanivation, and talented teams and organisations like Sanivation, who have adopted ethical financially sustainable business models are helping us move closer to a sustainable future in support of a circular economy.
To see more of the innovative work Sanivation are doing in the WASH sector, head over to their website: https://sanivation.com/
To see our press release for Sanivation joining our Impact Investment Vehicle as an investee, head over to our website: https://www.wellersimpact.com/post/launch-of-water-unite-impact
Author: Charlotte Macdonald
Co-Author: Dr. Jeremy Gorelick
Editors: Neil Sandy, Dr. Peter Higgs
Agua Consult, 2017. Situation analysis of the urban sanitation sector in Kenya. [online] Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor, Urban Sanitation Research Initiative Kenya. Available at: <https://www.wsup.com/content/uploads/2017/09/Situation-analysis-of-the-urban-sanitation-sector-in-Kenya.pdf>.
International Capital Markets Association, 2020. Sustainable Finance. High Level Definitions. [online] ICMA. Available at: <https://www.icmagroup.org/assets/documents/Regulatory/Green-Bonds/Sustainable-Finance-High-Level-Definitions-May-2020-051020.pdf>.
Njuguna, J., 2019. Progress in sanitation among poor households in Kenya: evidence from demographic and health surveys. BMC Public Health, 19(1).
The Pew Charitable Trust, 2020. Breaking the Plastic Wave - A Comprehensive Assessment Of Pathways Towards Stopping Ocean Plastic Pollution. The Pew Charitable Trust.
Wellers Impact is a UK-based, FCA-Regulated Impact Investment Manager which works to unlock community-focused impact through SDG-focused impact investing. Through innovative investment models that utilise fair economics, Wellers Impact originates investment opportunities across three core business activities; real estate developments in partnership with local land-owning not-for-profits in East Africa, financial support for agriculture firms and supply chains globally through sustainable development finance and direct investment into private water, sanitation and plastics recycling firms globally. Investment involves risk. Suitable for Sophisticated, Professional and High Net Worth Investors only.