“We design and manufacture solar powered products which have a positive impact on people and the planet”
That’s the mission statement of social enterprise SunNight Solar. Up to 2 billion people worldwide don’t have access to affordable illumination for everyday living. For those of us who have access to light all of the time, it may be surprising to realize how much the lack of it impacts quality of life. People in developing countries without light cannot cook, read, study, or do other household work after dark, which can severely limit their ability to pull themselves out of poverty. These are some of the problems the green company is trying to solve.
- Affordability: Those with a very small income cannot afford to purchase disposable batteries or electricity (if available) on a regular basis. Yet the average family in the developing world spends between 20% and 30% of their disposable income on illumination for kerosene, candles, or conventional lighting. The financial savings for those who live on less than $2 per day with a solar powered flashlight are tremendous.
- Long lasting light: The SunNight solar flashlight lasts between 750 and 1,000 individual nights of use for six to eight hours each. That means those who own and use these flashlights can do so for years before they need to replace the batteries.
- Always ready: When properly positioned to collect solar energy, the SunNight solar flashlight is always ready. This is in contrast to conventional battery-powered flashlights that discharge their power 3% every month when shoved in a drawer.
Of course, there are obvious environmental benefits as well. By choosing rechargeables instead of disposable batteries, these flashlights result in much less toxic battery waste. More importantly, by using renewable energy, the SunNight solar flashlight doesn’t contribute to climate change.
Their new BoGo Light (buy one get one) program allows anyone living in the US to purchase a SunNight Solar flashlight for $39 to $49 (plus shipping and handling) to donate an identical flashlight to someone living in extreme poverty. These flashlights are distributed through nonprofit organizations. SunNight pays for the shipping of the lights to the developing country and provides $1 per light to the nonprofit for distribution expenses.
And SunNight doesn’t stop there. They are currently developing some new products that will expand their ability to tackle illumination problems for the poor. One of these innovations will be a fixed place solar powered room illumination system that will come with a two-watt solar panel, rechargeable battery pack, and four LED lights. The set will also include two solar lanterns, a solar mobile phone charger, and solar UV water treatment unit. They are also researching the possibility of applying their designs to a system that would negatively impact mosquitoes that carry malaria by killing or repelling them.
SunNight Solar and the BoGo program were founded by Mark Bent in 2006. Following a tour of duty as a marine, and then with the American Diplomatic Corps in countries like Nigeria, Kenya, Iraq, Bosnia, and Tunisia, Mark was well aware of the importance of lighting. More importantly, his time in some of the poorest countries in the world impressed upon him the negative impact the lack of lighting could have on development and the quality of life for those living in poverty around the world. His social enterprise was the answer to this problem.
Since establishing SunNight Solar, Mark has been given several awards. He has been named one of the top CEOs of “Green Firms” in 2007 by Grist. In addition, Mark’s SunNight Solar venture was named one of the best new emerging energy technology companies in 2006 by Rice University.
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