The green light

Ann Thorpe explains why the marketplace is ready to embrace sustainable design, as Mike Exon profiles three environmentally friendly products and solutions

ApproTEC Deep Lift Pump

ApproTEC MoneyMaker Deep Lift Pump

Sustainability is also about innovating to solve environmental problems. For its hand-operated water pumps, the Kenyan non-profit organisation ApproTEC appointed Ideo to help it create a design that meets the needs of farmers in the developing world.

‘The development of this human-powered water pump allows African farmers to continue to grow vegetables into the dry season and sell the excess food to pay for food, water, medicine and school fees for their families,’ explains a spokeswoman for Ideo’s Palo Alto design team.

ApproTEC, which helps to develop new technologies for local entrepreneurs and advises on how to take them to market, sought Ideo’s help to solve a specific problem: how to create a cost-effective pump for water wells as deep as 18m that can lift water up to 7m above the pump height. Previous designs could not reach anything below a depth of about 7m, which meant valuable resources were unobtainable. Furthermore, the design needed to be powered by people not fuel and, more specifically, it had to be used by barefoot users. It also needed to withstand the tough environmental conditions of the African continent.

Ideo’s solution was a design that costs no more than about £100 to manufacture and which is small and light enough to carry on a bicycle. A truly formidable design solution, it requires no specialist knowledge to operate and next to no maintenance. Moreover, it uses materials and construction processes common in Kenya, such as PVC pipes, galvanised steel and arc welding techniques.

The water pump itself works using a foot-operated treadle. By stepping repeatedly on a foot-sized platform, the user turns a piston at the bottom of the well to lift the water up the cylinder and then pressurise it out through a hose for irrigation. Ideo’s key innovation was a piston that did not require tight-fitting seals, which would be very hard to manufacture locally. m

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