Did you know that a refrigerator in the United States today is roughly three times larger than a refrigerator in the 1940s, and yet uses only slightly more energy than the early models?

This transition is largely due to the introduction of standards – first by states and then by the federal government – to introduce standards outlining how energy-efficient refrigerators needed to be. As noted in a recent New York Times op-ed by academics Andrew Russell and Lee Vinsel, “our modern existence . . . depend[s] on technical standards, the silent and often forgotten foundations of technological societies.”

A decade ago, no such foundations existed for the clean cooking sector. In fact, there wasn’t even an agreed-upon way of testing stoves and fuels or a common vocabulary with which to start determining what counted as “clean cooking.” As a result, testing products for qualities like energy efficiency was the exception, not the norm; decisions were often made without a clear understanding of potential benefits, and everyone was operating in an environment of uncertainty. This proved a critical barrier to access to clean cooking. So, it’s no surprise that when the Alliance was founded, developing international standards and rigorous testing protocols was identified as a strategic opportunity to advance the sector.

In 2012, a technical committee was formed under the aegis of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). This committee—now consisting of about 200 members from 45 countries—spent six years developing a number of guidelines, including an international standard on laboratory testing for cookstoves. This was a significant milestone for the clean cooking sector and speaks to the dedication of those involved, many of whom are volunteers on the committee.

But developing standards is only the first step. As with refrigerators, the standards for cookstoves will need to be adapted, adopted, and implemented by governments and organizations to effect change. 

 

It will take time, but standards can also change cookstove technology for the better, including to increase energy efficiency, decrease emissions, and improve safety.

To help speed up this transition, the Alliance co-hosted a regional workshop in Kathmandu, Nepal, in December 2018 to introduce the international standard to representatives of 10 Asian countries. While each country’s clean cooking sector is at a different level of development, the value of adopting some or all of the international cookstove standard into national policies and programs was widely recognized. In some cases, this change will help achieve climate or health goals. In others, it will facilitate cookstove markets. And across the board, harmonizing standards internationally will support collaboration and progress. The Alliance and its primary partners in this work, the World Health Organization, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and ISO, will continue to support the effort of these 10 countries in adopting national standards. 

The Alliance will also support other countries in adopting the international standard. In July 2019, the Alliance and those same primary partners will host a second workshop in Kampala, Uganda for anglophone sub-Saharan African countries. The event will bring together policymakers, testing experts, non-governmental organizations, inter-governmental organizations, and industries to develop plans to move standards forward in each country.

Only once clean cooking products are as standardized and ordinary as refrigerators in the United States will it be possible to push for even greater technological innovation in this sector.