Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The results are in! Johan and I are CoGreen Officers of the MCR for Trinity Hall this academic year. We are both quite pleased and keen to act on our platform straight away.

My first action as Officer involved signing off on our college's application for Fairtrade Status. The process of applying for Fairtrade Status began in 2007. Two years ago, a group of students and staff in Trinity Hall formed to complete the requirements necessary for application. The Fairtrade Steering Group held meetings once per term; last week's meeting was the fourth meeting.

Whilst these logistics are not exciting to chat about, they must remain central to the conversation of sustainable development. Sustainable change doesn't happen overnight. Taking a stand on an issue with ethical underpinnings is burdensome, though necessary. Business as usual is easier in the short-term, especially when the impacts of our actions are felt remotely, or never felt by us at all.

In the case of fairly traded food goods, the latter is quite often a limiting factor towards progress. Drinking tea, eating chocolates, and snacking on biscuits is a seemingly trivial example of innocent consumerism in Cambridge that can actually be part of a larger, global system of corruption and social injustice. The tea leaves, cocoa beans, and cereals that make our high tea dates possible are commonly grown outside of the UK, beyond the walls of our understanding, under conditions we may never fully understand. It is from this position, knowing without seeing or experiencing first hand what went into our drinks and sweets, that our group at Trinity Hall fought valiantly for change.

I hope the Fairtrade Foundation will ultimately accept our application. We already have plans to promote fairly traded consumerism in college this term, and more heavily next term during Fairtrade Fortnight.

My goal as a member of the Fairtrade Steering Group at Trinity Hall is to understand how Fairtrade Certification compliments and/or conflicts with sustainability. Might there be differences? Similarities? Compromise? Trade-offs? Labeling issues?

For anyone keen to discuss the relationship between fairtrade practices and sustainable agricultural practices, as well as other related topics, including consumerism, modifying supply chains, and regulating global networks of information and resources, I welcome you to join me for a fairtrade high tea date in the Trinity Hall MCR.

All my best,
Trinity Hall CoGreen Officer
AK, Allison Kindig

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Cambridge Change Challenge

Revitalizing Wide Lens Clear Focus was inspired by a recent project. Please fast forward with me from my last post in India (January 2015) to today (November 2015):

Vertical: Johan Henriksson, Postdoc at Karolinska Institute and European Bioinformatics Institute, PhD in Medical science, MSc in Mechanical Engineering/Mathematics, Qualification captured in photo: Highest distinction in Teaching Amateurs How to DanceHorizontal: Allison Kindig, MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development, BSE in Industrial Engineering with cert. in Global Health

Hello & Greetings from Cambridge, UK!

I am one month into my MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development at the University of Cambridge and have been given a challenge: to commit to doing one thing that challenges me to put principles into practice this term. The second component of the challenge is to blog about it. My desired Change Challenge is to serve as CoGreen Officer of the MCR Committee for my college called Trinity Hall. 

Hustings for this year's committee took place two nights ago. And what a night it was! While mingling with fellow MCR members at dinner, an incumbent officer suggested I run for a position.

You know, why not? – Allison to herself.

So I gobbled down my dessert and headed over the MCR where the husting was already in progress. From the time I was nudged to run for a position at dinner to the moment I took center stage with the other candidate, Johan, whom I partnered up with for the Green Officer role was all of about 20 minutes.

How did it go? The vote is still out. Elections take place later this week. If elected, Johan and I are motivated to make business-as-usual at Trinity Hall more sustainable. We have plans, visions, dreams, and the following Manifesto:

Dear members of Trinity Hall –
      The theme for our candidacy as CoGreen Officers is Us”. How can we all, through minor changes, achieve the most for our environment? We believe implementing the following action points would be a terrific start:
  • Inform MCR members on the latest green events, policy, and news
  • Have the college take stance on sustainability matters on their website
  • Host an intercollegiate “green challenge” (i.e. vegan bake off with proceeds going towards something fantastically green!)
  • Improve our rankings in the list of college “greenness”, and encourage others on the way
  • Motivating and making it simpler for members to live more sustainably (e.g. better access to recycling, especially harder items like batteries)
  • Green promise – encourage MCR members to commit to doing one thing this term to reduce their carbon footprint (or live more sustainably); these commitments can be posted in the MCR on a public promise board
  • Look into the college’s “food”print – Can we, for example, encourage more vegetarian eating by increasing the quality of vegan dishes or making it a more natural choice? We will also look into food sourcing and waste
    Looking forward to a productive, green year together with you all!

Monday, January 12, 2015

TriLights of the Week

Having already spent time in rural areas in India, Cameroon, and China, I am very open-minded, positive, flexible, and adaptable when placed into new and foreign settings. My biggest “culture shock” right now is not adjusting to Indian culture, but modifying my American way of living in India. Put simply, it’s hard to be an avid triathlete while traveling abroad, but I do my best…

So here they are, my ESPN triathlon highlights of the week:

#3: SWIM – Visualized my open-water swimming technique while boating in Udaipur

Whether I'm in Iowa or India, being on water makes me
feel incredibly happy and peacefully at home.
#2: BIKE – Test-rode two of the coolest bikes in Gogunda, one of which had no brakes. I was not aware that the second bike "brakes nahi" (had no brakes) until I went to use them. Forever grateful for Rakesh, the kid who chased me down the hill and grabbed hold of me and my back tire. He effectively put a much-needed break on one of the most thrilling bike rides of my life.

This bike had breaks.
The same cannot be said about the second bike I rode...
...which is why Rakesh and I became instant buds.
SO thankful this kid is super fast on his feet! He saved my life.
#1: RUN – Initiated an impromptu road race with the kids in Gogunda. It felt so great to sprint! Who needs Gatorade when you have masala chai??
Victory dancing in the dark. Cheers to finishing a great race
and an unforgettable day.
"Incredible, India?"
"Yes, simply incredible."

Honing a New Hypothesis, and Bonus Features Revealed

At the end of the first week, our research team wrestled with some surprising and confounding information. We realized our hypothesis needed to be revised. While our group has not formally sat down to come to a consensus and fine-tune the wording of a new hypothesis, it should more broadly and systemically include multiple probable causes and possible solutions to the issue of deforestation and household air pollution in rural Rajasthan, India (I.e. not just household chulhas are the problem, and solar cookers can solve the issue).

Problem: Deforestation and subsequently, the expansion of the Thar Desert (located in northwestern India along the border between Pakistan and India) is a growing threat to the remaining semi-arid forests southeast of the Aravali Mountains. The destructive encroachment is visibly noticeable, as captured in this photograph. Notice the difference in forest coverage between the foreground (remaining semi-arid forests) and the background (deforested Aravali foothills). This land was all once a jungle.

Problem: Household Air Pollution (HAP) is the third leading cause of death in India. The kitchen walls of a home in Iswal (a village 15 km outside of the city of Udaipur) are stained from years of exposure to the toxic smoke produced from the traditional, wood-burning chulha used twice daily by this family for cooking.
My hypotheses, then and now:

Ø  Hypothesis (old): If harvesting trees for wood to cook food is causing deforestation in the forests skirting the Aravali Mountain Range, then solar cookers and high efficient cookstoves could be deployed to avoid desertification of the land and devastation of lifestyles in rural Rajasthan, India.

Ø  Hypothesis (new): If deforestation in the areas surrounding Udaipur is a consequence of population growth, then a clear understanding of the involved system’s structure and behavior is necessary to devise, deploy, and sustain the simplest, multi-faceted techno-geopolitical-socio-economic solution possible/plausible.
Gaining one mother's perspective on development and
deforestation from her housetop in Gogunda.
Based on what I've learned so far, a simple multi-faceted solution could break down like this:
·        Techno: modify traditional chulhas (our team is currently working on a simple, low-tech solution to increase airflow and ventilation, separate from the design of a HEC or solar cooker)

·        Geopolitical: partition common lands into privatized and protected lands (eliminate Tragedy of Commons phenomena in a way that distributes ownership and thus responsibility of forests in a more effective way, while also allowing devastated forests to regenerate naturally in strictly-enforced “off-limit” reserves that could provide investment revenue from eco-tourism); foster overlapping circles of local, state, and national governance  

·        Socio-economic: establish a standard for household air quality in rural communities that is (and can be) actively monitored, achieved, and enforced; involve all stakeholders in decision-making, physical infrastructure building, and governance processes so changes are valued-added and representative of the needs of the people most directly affected; educate communities about the economic value of sustainable cooking, farming, and water collection, and the costs/risks associated with unsustainable practices in these areas

Of course, this breakdown is one perspective. I will need to share it with stakeholders so it can be scrutinized, tested, debated, discussed, refined, modified, etc. Fortunately, our research plan has grown to include additional mini-studies since we've been in India. These "bonus features" are helping me hone my hypothesis and solution:

1)      Engineer an “Improved Chulha” (IC)—Come up with a way to improve preexisting chulhas (as opposed to deploying a different cookstove…HEC, solar, and/or otherwise) so traditional stoves are less-toxic and more energy efficient. I look forward to prototyping a few of our concept sketches in the coming two weeks while I’m still in India.

2)      Engage with Forestry Leaders—meet with leaders at the local and state level who are involved in forestry governance, stewardship, management
Meeting with the Assistant Chief of the State Dept. of Forestry Management in Udaipur.
Meeting with the Tribal Secretary of Forestry Management in Karech.
3)      Create an “Energy Gradient Map”—find out what type of stoves and biomass fuels are used in the communities between our three test sites; collect data every 10-20 km along the route from Udaipur (our city setting) through Gogunda (our town setting) to Karech (our village setting) that effectively maps out changes in energy usage and demographics

Hanging out with my new friends in a village on the outskirts of Gogunda.
Both mothers now operate outdoor chulhas because the smoke was too
difficult to handle when they cooked inside their homes.
Tea time! The hospitality of Indian families is unlike
anything I've ever experienced in America.

Once again,

I am reminded that a wider lens captures more unknowns, but in the process, provides a clearer focus, a better picture of how things really are. The more I learn, the more I realize I have more to learn as an engineer, as a problem-solver.

Engineers make things.

Industrial Engineers make things better.

I am thankful for my collegiate education, mentors, teachers, and classmates at the University of Iowa who have shaped who I am and what I want to do with what I have learned and still need to learn.

Wide Lens. Clear Focus. Now smile big and say cheese! J
Goat in Gogunda (one of many).

  ‘cuz life is good and [with a positive attitude and the
help of industrial engineers] keeps gettin’ better

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Jan. 7-10 - The Triple Crown of Cooking


This week has been quite eventful for all our field teams. We have been rotating daily (morning, noon, and night) amongst the three settings and the three different cookstoves. It’s hard telling which one is “winning” per say. Though, our field team has consistently received great feedback from all the families about all the stoves. From my perspective, the HECs seem to be delivering on their promise; they are consuming less wood, cooking food in less time, and producing less smoke. It's the Triple Crown of Cooking!

Rani cooking with the local cookstove plus grate in Karech
While this stove performed fairly well in Karech, it performed even better in Gogunda. As expected, everyone has slightly different customs and preferences.
I’m anxious to start diving deep into all the data we have been amassing in our notebooks so we can design the best stove possible. More clarity will come from processing pages and pages of rich:

…qualitative data:

v  Positive and negative attributes of each stove

v  Ways we could modify the stoves so they are more effective at saving wood, time, and smoke, as well as we can make the stoves safer and easier to use

v  General cooking information: customary foods and biomass fuels; average amounts of food, biomass fuel, time, and smoke consumed (inhaled); normal occupants (the cooks in the kitchen); preferred cook times; specialty dishes and traditions to be aware of when designing a stove that meets and exceeds needs 

Using a temperature probe to investigate a design flaw after receiving
feedback that the exterior of this cookstove gets really hot (a major child-safety concern).  


…and quantitative data:


v  Temperature at the center and edge of the clay tawa (used to cook wheat and maize rotis) and metal pan (used to cook dal, vegetables, curries)

v  Time to start the fire, as well as the time to cook the entire meal, cook one roti, and cook the “soup-like” side dish

v  Weight of biomass consumed in the cooking process

v  Weight/volume of the ingredients used: kilograms of flour and liters of soup


(left) A migrant worker teaches us how she cooks roti while working in Udaipur. Her family of five lives in Gogunda, but comes into the city for 2-3 month blocks of time for construction work. (right) She and her daughter are eager to try cooking with a high efficient cookstove.


So what’s next for the group?

o   Complete final round of testing and surveys with families in Gogunda (town setting) and Udaipur (city setting)

o   Observe traditional cooking and complete comparative surveys in Karech (village setting)

o   Process and collate data (cookstove tests and surveys)

o   Calculate averages for comparison

o   Explore outliers and discrepancies

o   Discuss and debate findings

o   Translate findings and conclusions into action items

o   Further explore the newly-established bonus features of our research project, stay tuned…

People in India are incredibly warm and welcoming. We are frequently gifted with cups of steamy masala chai, which is like liquid gold in a semi-arid region before noon. 
Morning temperatures get into the 40s. Thankfully, our daytime temperatures have been wonderful, sunny and 70s. Cheers to the desert life!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Jan. 6 - GO!

Our first day of testing happened! And with great success! Two of the three stoves worked extremely well. In fact, the family my team cooked with liked the Darfur stove so much they started asking questions about how they could get a stove like this before the meal was even finished! They had never seen anything like it before.

Grandmother preparing the dough by the fire.

“What do you think?” I asked once Savita finished cooking. Savita is Grandmother's daughter-in-law.

Savita looked at me, giggled, and then turned to the translator and said, “I am so happy today. The stove is very good.”

Savita after cooking dinner using the Darfur Stove.
She was extremely happy with how well the stove performed.
This is it! This is why we are doing what we are doing. All the hours, all the failures, the times I thought my frustrations would get the best of me. This single moment, her happiness, was worth everything. We our working with people so that all of us can perform at our fullest potential and enjoy the best quality of life possible in an environment that is both sustainable and equitable.

In that moment, my mind was racing with all the thoughts I wanted to express. But really, it was simple. “We are happy because you are happy,” I replied back. Everyone was now laughing and smiling. Tonight, there was no "us" or "them". We were one.  

Hard work on everyone's part united us all; the evidence was in the cooking. Savita cooked their normal evening meal of wheat rotis (bread) and dahl (lentil soup) for 10-15 people. It took her half the time to cook this meal. (It usually takes two and a half hours to make this particular dinner. Using the Darfur stove, it only took Savita one hour and 15 minutes.) In addition, the stove consumed around 80% less wood (1.5kg of wood, instead of an estimated 8kg of wood). Most importantly, there was literally no smoke! I was able to sit right next to the fire (closer than anyone else) and had absolutely no problem. This is really saying something because my eyes typically water so much that I can’t even be in the kitchen, let alone sit right next to a traditional wood-burning stove while it's in use.
Weighing firewood to assess total amount of biomass consumed.

It’s interesting to note that several of the men congregated in the kitchen while Savita cooked. And I don’t think they sat in just because we were there. In fact, the guys came right out and said the reason they don’t normally occupy the kitchen during cooking is because they simply can’t tolerate the smoke. Tonight, they said they had no problem sitting in the kitchen while Savita cooked. The impact of this statement sunk in when I thought about women and their kids, two groups of people that don’t have the luxury of choosing whether or not to occupy the kitchen.

Less time.
Less wood.
Less smoke.
More life.

Gathering performance data and feedback during testing.

Logistically speaking: Today was a village test day. Our large group broke off into three subgroups (Field Teams A-C). Each team was designated a different home and stove. Our sample size is 3 homes per setting, so each of the three stoves will be tried out by three families. FES helped us recruit volunteers, a total of 9 families (three homes in each of the three settings). Last thing, we are rotating settings between each test. So tomorrow we will test out the same stove but in the city and the town settings. The day after tomorrow we will come back to the village and test out a different stove in the same homes. Each team will stay with the same family at each setting for the duration of the field study. Each family will try out all the stoves, but in different orders (in case order has a biasing effect on preference).

Jan. 5 - Ready, Set...

Enjoying Udaipur, the City of Lakes.
Following an exciting and refreshing weekend, the team regrouped to begin the test phase of our research project. Few changes were made to the original design of our stove experiment. We are comparing the performance of three different cookstoves in three different settings.

Two of the three stoves are high efficient cookstoves (HECs). This type of cookstove is designed to improve the combustion of wood by increasing the airflow and upward funneling of heat to the cook surface. Improved efficiency means food cooks faster with less wood and less smoke. Big picture: HECs could help us to reduce household air pollution and deforestation in rural India.

The three types of stoves being compared:

Ø  Darfur Stove, an HEC developed by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 2005 for refugees in Darfur; the stove has been very successful in this particular region; it was modeled off the TARA Stove, a smoke-reducing Chulha actually designed for rural India; the TARA Stove was produced by the social enterprise called TARA, which stands for Technology & Action for Rural Advancement

Ø  PCS-I Premium Cook Stove was developed by a company called Envirofit; it is produced in India specifically for rural Indian families to cook with less wood and less smoke

Ø  A street stove purchased from a market in Udaipur last week; it consists of a metal semicircular cylinder attached to a pan; we added a metal grate inside the cylinder to elevate the placement of the firewood to increase airflow

Each stove was selected to compare different factors, including design, price, availability, materials of construction, durability, and ease of use. In addition, we are testing the stoves in different settings to see how variations in demographics, environmental pressures, socioeconomic factors, and culture might also affect preferences, demand, and usage. The goal of varying our test sites is to explore how different groups interact with the same stove.

The three settings being compared:

Ø  Udaipur, a city

Ø  Gogunda, a block or town (50 km from the city)

Ø  Karech, a village (75 km from the city)

The purpose of our test is to determine whether or not the HECs actually produce less wood, less smoke, and require less time to cook traditional meals as marketed. I recognize the fact that we are comparing too many things all at once and our sample size is far too small to be able to report with any level of statistical significance. However, we have designed our experiment in such a way that we will be able to gather several layers user feedback about the performance of each stove. What worked? What didn’t work? How could the stove be improved? Did the stove consume less wood, require less time, and/or produce less smoke? And if they are interested in the stove, how much would they be willing to pay for one?

All of this information will be vitally important for us to refine the design of our solar-powered cooker. Our current stove captures and stores thermal energy from the sun to cook food. Whether or not we proceed in developing this particular technology is yet to be determined based on what we find out from this experiment. This is an important disclaimer because I’ve learned to avoid two things in particular when problem-solving as an engineer: 1) selecting any one concept early on, and 2) prematurely assuming technology is the answer. I am excited to see what concepts we generate within and beyond the technology realm. With us all working together, I am confident we can succeed in developing a sustainable method of cooking that is good for people and the environment.

So how do we succeed in innovation that has high-impact and is ethical? By taking both bold risks and baby steps. I am actively learning how to do this better, to balance passion and reason, immediacy and patience, action and reflection. This is a vital skill set because we are working with people in a dynamic system, not a static lab.

With this in mind, I’d say what we did today was an important “baby steps” day:

B-Step 1: Assemble and calibrate stoves. We boiled a liter of water with each stove to establish an average baseline efficiency for all three cooking setups in a “controlled environment”. Raw data was averaged, analyzed, graphed, tabulated, interpreted, stored…

Boiling water with the Envirofit Stove.

B-Step 2: Confirm and clarify field test methods. The team finalized the test procedures, test questions, and test observations after working with the stoves themselves. We went over our plan of attack several times so everyone knows what is going on and is on the same page BEFORE we start testing in the field. There are lots of intended and unintended variables in our test system; consistency is vitally important!
Team circles up around Dr. H.S. Udaykumar to finalize plans.
The three cookstoves pictured left-right: local stove with grate, Envirofit, Darfur.
Step 3: Soak it all up. Reflect on what we are doing and why we are doing what we are doing. Have some chai, have some fun, and then get some sleep…tomorrow is finally show time!

Team bonding at sunset at Monsoon Palace.