The 2015 Zayed Sustainability Prize winner, Liter of Light – a Filipino-born global grassroots movement committed to redesigning solar lighting for the developing world – has been using its platform to extend lighting access to over one million households a year across more than 30 countries since 2013, and its impact is still growing.
The non-profit has developed four very simple solar lights, including a solar lamp, house light, streetlight, and bottle light, that use recycled plastic bottles and other affordable materials that can be sourced locally in any part of the world.
An Evolving Movement
After winning the Prize, Liter of Light was able to significantly expand its operations beyond the Philippines, bringing sustainable lighting solutions to developing countries like India, Pakistan, Kenya and Brazil.
“Winning the Zayed Sustainability Prize was a seminal moment in our organisation’s trajectory,” Illac Diaz, Founder and Executive Director of Liter of Light shared. “The Prize allowed us to scale our operations across more than 30 countries, spanning every continent. As winners, we were also connected to thought leaders in sustainability and clean energy who helped us to think through how to improve our technology, and partner with us in our community-based work. Finally, we were given access to incredible platforms to share our impact story from the Philippines around the world.”
Sharing, inspiring, empowering, and giving a voice to the world’s young climate activists eager to tackle climate change has been at the centre of Liter of Light’s focus through its “Light it Forward” campaign and many other initiatives.
“Light It Forward” Campaign
Because of strict health and safety protocols put in place in response to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, Liter of Light faced difficulty accessing communities and volunteers, and came up with a new way to continue their mission in a way that would be safe for everyone.
They launched the “Light It Forward” digital challenge, which invited people from all over the world to contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by building solar lights from the safety of their home. Liter of Light volunteers created inspirational messages made from donated solar lights to raise awareness and support for the campaign. Then, thousands of people around the world did the same and shared on social media.
The challenge empowered over 75,000 individuals with Liter of Light’s hand built solar lights. Each of the hand-built solar lights assembled during the challenge reduces carbon emissions by 1,000 kg over five years by replacing traditional forms of lighting, mainly kerosene, with clean energy.
Solar Lights’ Growing Impact
Solar lights are proving to be a key tool for providing energy access to poor rural areas. Climate change concerns and the rapid decline in solar photovoltaic (PV) and battery prices have made solar-powered electricity an attractive investment. Portable solar lights have low up-front costs, require little maintenance, and can provide much needed light in remote, off-grid areas. Liter of Light provides a 1-watt LED with micro-solar panels and battery that would provide 10 hours of light at night for $10 each, or a 2-watt light for $15. Their daytime light solution, which illuminates dark rooms in slum communities, is made using only a plastic bottle, water and 10ml of bleach (to prevent algae growing) for $1.
Solar PV lighting solutions are considered by many policy makers as key to addressing both energy poverty and energy sustainability. More than 1.5 billion people today live in darkness or the dim glow of kerosene lamps, whose fumes are poisonous.
Importantly, replacing oil or kerosene lighting systems with solar-powered solutions also helps create a healthier environment that improves the health and well-being of the community. Emissions from kerosene lights contribute to global warming and cause severe indoor air pollution.
Solar lights are also particularly useful for lighting up communities impacted by natural disasters, which are accelerating due to a warming planet. Natural disasters like hurricanes are often followed by darkness, and it can take months for aid and light to reach the most remote places. Liter of Light has provided over one million sustainable solar powered lights, illuminating rooms, homes, businesses and entire villages around the world.
Community Empowerment at its Core
More than a provider of sustainable solar lights, Liter of Light is a social enterprise that teaches marginalised communities how to build the lights that illuminate their homes, businesses, and streets. In this way, Liter of Light extends electricity access while empowering indigenous people, vulnerable communities, and women to be entrepreneurs and solar engineers.
Liter of Light’s hand-built solar lighting technologies create local jobs, teach green skills, and empower energy-poor and disaster-stricken communities.
Rather than depending on imported, patented, and expensive technologies, Illac explained that their grassroots green lighting movement embodies the principle that anyone can become a solar engineer.
“Through producing easily repairable solar lights with locally available parts, we empower communities to become self-reliant by integrating a livelihood model with the knowledge and skills to quickly assemble lights rather than diverting almost 70 percent of production costs on logistics from overseas,” Illac explained.
Liter of Light’s business model involves training indigenous community members, including local women’s cooperative groups, on how to build the solar lighting technologies.
Giving a Voice to Those Most Impacted by Climate Change
Nearly 85% of the world’s population has been affected by human-induced climate change, but most of their voices are not heard. Much of the work Liter of Light does now revolves around finding ways to give these marginalised communities a chance to be heard.
Illac explained why the Prize is an important organisation for promoting climate action and inspiring real change: “By recognising solutions from the Global South who have a unique perspective on the challenges that we are facing, the Zayed Sustainability Prize empowers organisations like ours to reach communities far beyond our own shores. Social inequalities have similar traits across the developing world, and while solutions may already exist to address them, innovators often do not have the ability to scale them. The Zayed Sustainability Prize, through its resources, access to partners, and ability to foster connections, helps us to take urgent action to address these issues on a global scale.”