Inefficient biomass stoves cost Africa over 50B USD per year and cause irreparable damage to the environment through pollution and deforestation. Efficient alternatives exist for <10$ – they use up to 80% less fuel and have the potential to save millions of lives. However, uptake of these stoves remains low due to negative consumer attitudes and behavioral barriers around the purchase process.
The World Bank operates a number of projects focused on economic empowerment in East Africa. One of the most impactful of these is their Clean Cookstove initiative in Uganda – a country where inefficient cookstoves cause more deaths than malnutrition or poverty. Although a number of clean cookstoves are available to consumers, there are issues of fraudulent practices and scams in the stove market, in addition to issues of ineffective marketing strategies adopted by Ugandan distributors. There is also a lack of alignment between marketing collateral and consumers, leading to low affinity.
Past work by the Bank and other para-governmental institutions focused on shifting health awareness. However, this approach has been ineffective – our team worked with the Ugandan government, distributors, manufacturers and the Bank to carry out research on hundreds of households in Uganda aimed at understanding stove usage habits, penetration methods, and biases involved in decision making during the purchase funnel. This fieldwork revealed that the biggest barrier to uptake is the perception that ‘investing’ (i.e. buying a more efficient stove so save money in the long-term) is seen as a luxury. Our recommendations use behavioral economics techniques (nudges delivered through a centralized SMS systems) to reverse this bias and reframe baseline stoves as the ‘luxury’ option. Based on experiments, this approach significantly increases willingness-to-invest. The project also resulted in the creation of reports that are currently being published by the Bank and used to inform decision making at the private and government levels in Uganda.