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Greenway Grameen

A women warms a cooking pot over a Greenway Grameen clean biomass cookstove in the middle of her home in India

Clean cooking catches fire in India

  • Case Study
  • Energy
  • India
  • 2015
improved cookstoves sold
tons of CO2 mitigated

Cooking over wood fires costs people time, money, and their health. Greenway Grameen is reducing those costs through improved cookstoves, efficient manufacturing, and innovative partnerships.

The problem

In 2015, 3.1 billion people cooked using biomass fuels, and over a quarter of them (839 million) were in India – more than any other country. Use of solid fuels for cooking leads to indoor air pollution, with disastrous health effects, especially for women and girls. Smoke from solid fuel combustion produces a large number of health-damaging air pollutants, and those pollutants are 1000 times more likely to reach human lungs if released indoors. Almost 3.2 million people died of indoor air pollution in 2020, most of them women and girls. Moreover, solid cooking fuels contribute significantly to carbon emissions and deforestation, two drivers of climate change.

The solution

Greenway Grameen manufactures and distributes high-quality, wood-burning cookstoves throughout India. Greenway’s stoves create more efficient combustion than existing stoves, using one-third as much firewood and producing 70% less smoke. The company provides well-designed, well-engineered products that are affordable for households in poverty, and does so at a scale that matches the problem. Greenway has achieved this through a rigorous focus on product design and engineering, combined with partnerships for distribution with microfinance institutions.

The origin

Neha Juneja and Ankit Mathur co-founded Greenway after consulting in the renewable energy and climate action space for over 2 years. The original idea was to focus on design and distribution of products for rural households. The first problem they chose to address was of household air pollution by developing more efficient biomass cookstoves. With Greenway Smart Stove, their goal was to save households money and improve the quality of life for people living in poverty.

The impact

Due to more efficient combustion, Greenway’s stoves use 65% less fuel than traditional stoves. The impact of this is multi-faceted: owners of the stove burn less firewood, which means less deforestation.

At the same time, better combustion means better cooking: surveys performed by Grameen Koota found that users saved half an hour per day on cooking times. And 54% of Grameen’s users reported that their health had improved, as Greenway cookstoves emit 42% less carbon monoxide than traditional stoves. This is a big deal: poor households often share kitchen and living spaces, and indoor air pollution kills millions of people annually.

Since Acumen’s investment, Greenway has sold almost three million cookstoves, meaning fifteen million people have experienced the benefits of cleaner cooking. This translates into hundreds of millions of hours saved and critical environmental gains: the company’s stoves have mitigated more than 15 million tons of greenhouse gasses since 2016. But Greenway’s impact also extends beyond their stoves. They employ more than 500 people in manufacturing and distribution. Their stoves are all made in India, and since 2015, all manufacturing occurs in Greenway’s own factory.

“Life is better than before as the cookstove has enhanced [our lives] in a way that it consumes less wood, gives smoke-free cooking, and there is no danger of falling sick due to smoke carbon. The food can be cooked easily too…The cookstove is good, quality is good, and I cannot go for any other option better than this.”

-Customer of Greenway Grameen

The investment

Acumen invested equity in Greenway in 2015, becoming their first-and-only institutional investor. The company had grown quickly in its early years, opening its own factory and selling several hundred thousand cookstoves by the time Acumen invested, making it a leading player in a nascent industry. Our capital was used to develop additional products and expand into other states, even internationally.

Over the next several years, Acumen supported Greenway through the next phase of their growth. We took a seat on the board and provided strategic accompaniment, as well as technical assistance grants for new product development. In addition, we funded Lean Data surveys to understand the perspective of Greenway’s customers, and the impact that clean cookstoves were having on their homes.

By 2020, Greenway had matured into a stable, profitable company and a national leader in efficient biomass cookstoves. Greenway’s founders decided to not pursue additional equity capital, and to buy back the original investors’ stakes in the company over the next several years, at a reasonable multiple of our investment. Acumen and other investors agreed, and are in the process of exiting ownership of Greenway.

The story

Although it is now a profitable and growing company, the journey for Greenway was not a straightforward one. In 2018, the company nearly had to close down. A combination of demonetization, a new 12% tax on cookstove manufacturing, and ​​high spending on marketing drove the company to the point of liquidation.

Yet by the end of 2019, Greenway had doubled revenues and turned its first profit. Their rebound came down to four main factors:

Marketing

Greenway had been focused on building a retail brand and selling its cookstoves through established stores. But the margins for this approach were too small to support a company with just one main product line. So Greenway slashed its marketing spending (from 11% of revenue in 2018 to 5% in 2019) and shifted to selling stoves through distribution partnerships with microfinance institutions. These partners do the difficult job of bringing together customers who are living in poverty, and then enable those members to buy stoves on credit. By leveraging these networks, Greenway can reach more people at lesser cost than through retail.

Listening

Customers wanted larger stoves than Greenway was selling. Its initial flagship “Smart” stove was designed for an average family of six. But users surprisingly preferred its larger “Jumbo” stove. As Ankit Mathur (co-founder and CEO) put it, “people want the cookstove that will work for everything, even the day that the entire family shows up”. The Jumbo stove went from 37% of sales in 2018 to 91% in 2019.

Efficiency

As the company focused more on its Jumbo stove, it grew increasingly efficient in manufacturing. Each stove undergoes 40 distinct industrial cuts and press strokes, each optimized through discussions and targeted investments in appropriate equipment. This optimization has resulted in remarkably low conversation costs for Greenway compared to other cookstove manufacturers, enabling them to create more affordable and profitable products.

Grit

In the leanest months, Greenway’s founders protected their workers and took on personal risk to keep the business operational. The company’s policy was not to pay executives until all frontline staff were paid. In the cash crunch, some executives went four to six months without a salary. One of the founders even took out a mortgage on their house to keep the company afloat.

These pivots and this resilience proved effective: Greenway has grown its sales and profits every year since 2019, and recently secured a $6 million loan from the Asian Development Bank to distribute cookstoves and pre-finance carbon credits that will be sold through SDG 13 Ventures, a Greenway affiliate.