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Frugal Innovation Trend Meets Global South’s Innovation Culture

There is a trend occurring across the global South that some are calling the next great wave of innovation. It has different names but many are dubbing it ‘frugal innovation’. Frugal innovation is basically innovation done with limited resources and investment. In short, innovation on the cheap but packing a big punch.

The phenomenon has several strands. One involves innovators and companies from the developed world setting up in the developing world and beta testing their inventions and innovations there. Another strand involves innovators in companies and governments in the global South increasingly targeting the so-called ‘BOP’ – bottom of the pyramid – market of the poor.

Another strand is focused on capitalizing on innovations for tackling the problems of the poor that are coming from the poor. Many of these innovations are improvised solutions. They may not be slick but they solve a problem.

And finally, there are companies and entrepreneurs in the global South taking their innovations to the markets of the wealthy, developed countries and finding a welcome reception from price-savvy consumers.

In the global South, frugal innovation is transforming lives – and it is finding its way into developed, wealthy countries too. It has been celebrated in the new book Jugaad Innovation: A Frugal and Flexible Approach to Innovation for the 21st Century (http://jugaadinnovation.com/) by Navi Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu and Simone Ahuja. The authors are innovation experts with a wide mix of backgrounds, from an academic to a Silicon Valley “thought leader and strategic consultant” to the founder of a marketing and strategy consultancy specialising in emerging markets innovation.

The authors propose “jugaad innovation” as a solution to the urgent need to innovate quickly and efficiently in a fast-changing world where little can be taken for granted. This breed of frugal innovation comes from India. Jugaad is a Hindi word (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jugaad) and basically means a work-around, improvised solution to a problem because it is cheaper. This is commonly used to describe makeshift vehicles people construct in India (http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/25/jugaad-cheaper-than-a-nanobut-watch-for-splinters/).

As champions of the jugaad philosophy, the authors proclaim the old innovation paradigm is obsolete. The idea that throwing more capital and more resources at a problem will boost innovation, no longer works, they contend. Better results can come from being frugal and flexible. Being more creative allows for a fluid and improvised innovation culture to develop.

“In today’s interconnected world powered by social media, top-down R&D (research and development) systems struggle to open up and integrate the bottom-up input from employees and customers,” the authors say on their website.

“Jugaad on the other hand is flexible, frugal and democratic: it is often bottomup rather than top-down and involves a much larger number of people beyond those who are typically tasked with doing innovation in corporations. The strength of jugaad innovators lies in their ability to get more from less,experiment continually, and creatively engage people who are typically left out of the innovation process.”

And they have a message for the Western, developed nations. They must look to “places like India, China, and Africa for a new, bottom-up approach to frugal and flexible innovation,” if they want to experience continuing prosperity in the 21st century.

For global South inventors, entrepreneurs and manufacturers, this will prove a great opportunity. As debt-laden Western consumers deal with their lower spending power and incomes, they will be looking for products that cost less and yet tackle problems and improve their standard of living with minimal expenditure.

The Indian company Mahindra and Mahindra (http://www.mahindra.com/What-We-Do/automotive) sells its small tractors to American hobby farmers. The Chinese company Haier (http://www.haier.net/en/about_haier/haier_global/china/) has a range of frugal products that have become popular sellers. They include air conditioners, washing machines and wine coolers. Haier is so successful with these products it has been able to capture 60 per cent of the market in these categories in the United States.

Some of the hallmarks of frugal products are their efficient production, rapid development cycle, lower price point, and appeal to poorer customers.

The book argues that adopting a “jugaad” mindset will enable people and companies to innovate “faster, better and cheaper,” “generate breakthrough growth” and “outperform competition.”

“Jugaad innovation has three major benefits. First, it is frugal: it enables innovators to get more with less. Second, it is flexible: it enables innovators to keep experimenting and rapidly change course when needed. Third: it is democratic: it can therefore tap into the wisdom of otherwise marginalized customers and employees.”

“In contrast to the traditional structured approach to innovation, jugaad is inherently more customer-centric rather than technology or product centric.

Because jugaad innovators seek to solve a customer problem first and then develop a suitable solution, jugaad is more market-based than more structured approaches (that may be driven by the motivation to develop technology for technology’s sake) are.”

There are so many of these innovations and inventions happening, a culture has emerged to gather and document them and share them with others.

A good advocate of jugaad innovators in India is the Honey Bee Network (http://www.sristi.org/hbnew/). It has been building a database of grassroots innovation and knowledge (http://www.sristi.org/hbnew/augment_innovation.php).

But this dynamic innovators culture is not limited to India. Across Africa,information technology hubs and start-ups have been sprouting up. One of the more well-known is the iHub in Nairobi, Kenya (http://ihub.co.ke/pages/home.php) but there are centres of information technology innovation in Ghana, South Africa, Uganda and Nigeria.

One of the more outstanding and pioneering chroniclers of this frugal innovation culture in Africa has been the Afrigadget website (afrigadget.com).

It is packed with home-grown inventions. These include a young Kenyan boy using a rigged network of light bulbs to ward of lions from the cattle herd, a mobile phone security system for cars, and a home-made remote control toy car for children. Another great way to see this movement in action is at the Maker Faire Africa (http://makerfaireafrica.com/) which has been bringing together every year “handcrafters from Africa’s tiniest villages to her most expansive urban burgs”.

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: May 2012

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

Follow @SouthSouth1

Google Books: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=m5GYBgAAQBAJ&dq=development+challenges+may+2012&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/DavidSouth1/development-challengessouthsouthsolutionsmay2012issue

Southern Innovator Issue 1: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Q1O54YSE2BgC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 2: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ty0N969dcssC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 3: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=AQNt4YmhZagC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 4: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9T_n2tA7l4EC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 5: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6ILdAgAAQBAJ&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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Accessing Global Markets Via Design Solutions

The power of design to improve products and the way they are manufactured is increasingly being seen as a critical component of successful economic development.

The importance of trade – both South-South and South-North – as a reducer of poverty in developing countries is now widely acknowledged. Countries that have made the biggest gains in reducing poverty, like China, India and Brazil, have done it through trade.

The power of trade in high quality goods to raise incomes has been proven for more than a decade. South-South trade grew by an average of 13 percent per year between 1995 and 2007. By 2007, South-South trade made up 20 percent of world trade. And over a third of South-South commerce is in high-skill manufacturing. Making finished goods, rather than just selling raw materials, improves workers’ skill levels and increases the return on trade.

But trying to get other people to desire and buy your products is very tricky. Design plays a major part in understanding the unique demands of countries and markets, and what people find appealing or repellent.

A product that has both a successful design (people want to buy it) and is produced efficiently (a well-designed manufacturing process), will generate a good profit.

In India, the Craft Resource Centre or CRC Exports Limited of Kolkata (http://en..wikipedia.org/wiki/Calcutta)has been successfully selling leather travel bags to the Vodafone (>http://www.vodafone.com/hub_page.html) mobile phone company in The Netherlands. It did this by teaming up with Dutch Designers in Development (http://www.ddid.nl/english/index.html), an NGO focused on matching European importers and retailers and professional designers with small and medium enterprises in the South.

Founded in 1989, CRC applies the concept of adding value to turn small-scale and poor artisans into successful and sustainable businesses. Many of these traditional handicraft artisans subsist on low incomes. CRC provides artisans across India with marketing, design, finance and exporting help. It also connects them with other artisans and helps to divide projects between them. This has the power of using networks to help in bad times while also sharing opportunities when they come up.

CRC’s director, Irani Sen, has divided the more than 15,000 artisans they work with into 15 different trading groups. CRC has also consulted to over 350 projects across Asia.

“The best thing fair trade gives (artisans) is the continuity of work … and with the continuity comes the basic security,” Sen said on the CRC website. “With that security they can develop, they can plan and then we try to motivate them for education, health (and) education for their children.”

It all began with a need: Dutch company Unseen Products (http://www.unseenproducts.com/home) needed somebody to make high-quality leather travel bags for their client, Vodafone, who in turn wanted the bags as an incentive for their employees. Unseen Products is a business connecting European retailers with small producers in the South to build long-term business relationships. They seek to make “unseen or hard to find products accessible at commercially interesting prices.”

They approached Dutch Designers in Development (DDiD), which in turn recommended CRC.

As a matchmaker, DDiD puts together European clients, Dutch designers and small and medium-sized enterprises in developing countries. The designers share their knowledge of European consumer tastes, product development, design and quality standards.

DDiD receives orders from companies, NGOs and government agencies to stimulate the production and sale of sustainable products from developing countries in Europe.

The Dutch group works with producers to develop skills and adapt producers’ products to present and future demands in Europe. By following this approach, Southern producers can reduce the risk of making products nobody wants, or that lack originality in the marketplace and thus won’t sell.

DDiD explains to producers the importance of design and how it improves the product and the business. Good design, the group believes, should reduce production costs and the time taken to get to market, and boost the reputation of the product brand and maker.

Well-known Dutch bag designer Ferry Meewisse (http://www.frrry.com/hiep/Entrance.seam?labelId=1) was brought in to work with CRC’s artisans to craft new bags and a new way of making them.

Meewisse said he was uncertain at first whether the artisans would be able to make the highly complex bags. The solution was to break down the bag into smaller parts. And that is where the knowledge of design process comes into play.

“The button bag for example is a complex bag that has been taken apart: compartments, pockets, handles,” said Meewisse. “This provided us with elements that were each really simple to manufacture. After that the pieces would only have to be clicked together with the buttons. And there it was: a complete bag with all the elements you need in a good bag.”

The bags can be seen here: http://www.frrry.com/hiep/guest/GuestSeries.seam?seriesId=9&conversationId=30930

Stella van Himbergen, a project manager at DDiD, said the concept is about introducing a new way of looking at things through the prism of design.

“Small producers in developing countries are not lacking craftsmanship,” said Himbergen. But, she added, “it is important for producers to receive support in production-led design, and not only in aesthetic design.”

Conceptually, this is the difference between designing and making something because it is aesthetically pleasing, and taking a market-driven design approach – letting market demands lead to the design solution. As a different way of looking at things, it takes in the company’s vision, brand values and positioning in the marketplace, production requirements (costs, sustainability), organization, and client’s needs.

DDiD helps producers learn how to quickly create new products based on market demands. They also raise the level of awareness of design to global standards, and show how to apply this across the production process, from graphic design, to packaging, retail and exhibition space, brand design and design management. Since 2005, the group has completed 46 international projects.

DDiD also stresses sustainability, encouraging the use of environmentally friendly materials such as biological cotton, bamboo and water hyacinth for paper and rope.

Apart from Vodafone, the CRC-made bags are sold in shops and on the web.

The extra attention to design seems to have paid off. CRC’s bags have been such a success that a second order has been placed. And CRC has picked up another project from Dutch importer Global Goodies (http://www.globalgoodies.nl/). 

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: March 2009

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

Follow @SouthSouth1

Google Books: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=PBB0LYdAPx8C&dq=development+challenges+march+2009&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/DavidSouth1/development-challengessouthsouthsolutionsmarch2009issue

Southern Innovator Issue 1: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Q1O54YSE2BgC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 2: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ty0N969dcssC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 3: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=AQNt4YmhZagC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 4: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9T_n2tA7l4EC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 5: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6ILdAgAAQBAJ&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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© David South Consulting 2021

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Rammed-Earth Houses: China Shows how to Improve and Respect Traditional Homes

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions (Havana, Cuba), November 2008

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

The pace of change across the South has been blistering. Over the past decade, the overall population has moved from being primarily rural to majority urban. In the process, rural communities have suffered, as they have seen their young and ambitious leave in droves seeking a better life in cities.

More than 200 million Chinese farmers have moved to cities in recent years. It’s easy to see why. Chinese farms are tiny, with the average rural household farming just 0.6 hectares. And incomes are low compared to the cost of living: average annual income was just US$606 in 2007, a third of city salaries.

But it is possible to improve the quality of life in rural areas and in turn boost economic fortunes.

In China, projects that upgrade homes to modern standards while respecting traditional designs and architecture are breathing new life into rural communities. A return to the age-old technique of using earth as the principal building material is saving energy and keeping house costs low.

The tradition of packing earth to build a wall dates back to some of the earliest stretches of the Great Wall of China in 220 BC.

Currently it is estimated that half the world’s population-approximately 3 billion people on six continents – lives or works in buildings constructed of earth.

This traditional building technique is being used in the reconstruction effort to build new homes after the May 12, 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province. The earthquake left millions of people homeless in the country’s worst natural disaster in 30 years, and has made low-cost but efficient house building critical.

In western China, villages have been entirely rebuilt from scratch. The application of research and science to the traditional designs – roofs in the pagoda style, with buildings arranged around courtyards – enabled the development of homes that are energy efficient to run, and are more hygienic and earthquake safe. In Yongren County of Yunnan Province, over 7,000 mountain dwellers were moved to better farming land and over 2,000 homes were built in the new village of BaLaWu. Over 30 of the homes were built using rammed earth by the Xi-an team. 

“The original homes had very low living quality,” said team member Hu Rong Rong of the Green Building Research Centre of Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology (http://www.xauat.edu.cn/jdeg/about.html), which oversees building of the new homes. “The architecture layout of the indoor space and courtyard was not reasonable. In the courtyard the areas for living, raising livestock, storing and processing crops were mixed up. The indoor environment was not comfortable. It was cold in the houses during winter and hot during summer. Most of the rooms lacked natural lighting and were dark in the daytime.

“In the poor areas, many people still live in earth houses because of the low cost. However, most of the earth houses have low living quality.

“After we finished the project, through our design, the living quality was improved very much. The dwellers were satisfied with their new houses.”

Land reform in China has brought more hope to the country’s 750 million rural poor, many of whom live on less than US$1 a day. It is hoped that giving the rural poor more control over their lives will bring an improvement in agricultural production, food security and economic prosperity. Reforms also mean the poor have more secure land rights.

Hu said gaining the trust and buy-in of the villagers was critical to the success of the project.

“We built the first home as a demonstration. After we finished, the villagers could experience the advantages of the new home. Most of them decided to use our design and they could choose the one they liked from several proposals.”

Poverty is a big problem in the villages. Incomes are very low, at 2000 RMB per year (US $290). Hu said “families were given a house-building allowance of 8000 RMB (US $1,160) to meet the cost of building materials – and the land was free for them to use.”

“The villagers built the houses by self-help. We helped them to design and build the houses for free,” Hu said.

The houses are pioneering in using natural sources to provide light, heat, waste disposal and gas for cooking and heating.

“We used natural material like earth as a main building material to get good thermal mass and also to reduce CO2 emission,” Hu said.

“We designed a simple family sewage-purge-pool and marsh-gas-well system to reduce pollution and get energy from wastes.”

Using rammed earth has a long history in China. Across Western China, there are many buildings constructed with rammed earth. And using earth has many advantages when resources are scarce or expensive: “Earth buildings avoid deforestation and pollution, and can achieve low energy costs throughout their lifetime,” said Hu.

“With living standards increasing, more and more people would like to use burned bricks and concrete to build new houses, which will consume more energy and bring pollution,” said Hu.

But like any technology, the application of modern science and environmental knowledge to the traditional designs, can reap huge improvements in the quality of the homes and comfort levels. And win people back to the benefits of rammed earth dwellings.

“Building with earth materials can be a way of helping with sustainable management of the earth’s resources,” said Hu.

And Hu is adamant the new, environmentally designed homes respect the wisdom of traditional design.

“The new earth house design should consider the local culture. It should be proved that both the house style and the construction technique can be accepted by the users.”

Resources

  • The Rural Development Institute focuses on land rights for the poor and has a series of articles on China’s land reforms. Website: www.rdiland.org
  • Rural DeveIopment Institute has recently been given an award from the World Bank’s Development Marketplace competition to create Legal Aid and Education Centres in China’s countryside. Website:www.rdiland.org/PDF/092808_WorldBankComp.pdf
  • A blog gives more details on the Chinese rammed earth project. 
    Website:www.51xuewen.com
  • Earth Architecture, a book and blog on the practice of building with earth, including contemporary designs and projects. 
    Website: www.eartharchitecture.org
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Two-stroke Engine Pollution Solution

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

Cities across the South choke on the pollution made by the small two-stroke engines (http://www.howstuffworks.com/two-stroke.htm) powering motor scooters, motorcycles, auto rickshaws, tuk-tuks and other vehicles. People choose these vehicles to get around because they are cheap, powerful and easy to fix. But the environment – and human health – suffers as a result. And as cities balloon and populations grow, the number of journeys and two-stroke engines grows with it.

In large cities across Asia, 1 million three-wheeled auto-rickshaws form an important means of daily transportation, and a source of income for their drivers. And the Asian Development Bank estimates there are over 100 million vehicles using two-stroke engines in Southeast Asia. But these vehicles cause serious air pollution and emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), which contributes to global warming.

Because two-stroke engines burn an oil-gasoline mixture, they also emit more smoke, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and particulate matter than the gas-only, four-stroke engines found in newer vehicles.

In the Philippines, auto rickshaw drivers are pioneering specially adapted two-stroke engines that reduce particulate emissions by 70 percent and carbon dioxide emissions by 76 percent.

Tim Bauer, the 31-year-old American mechanical engineer who developed the technology, said auto rickshaws “play an essential role in the social and economic fabric. But their impact on public health is disastrous.”

Motorized tricycles produce an astonishing amount of pollution: each one is equivalent to 50 cars. In Bangkok, Thailand, two-stroke engines contribute 47 percent of pollution particulates in the air.

The World Health Organization (www.who.org) ranks urban outdoor air pollution as the 13th greatest contributor to disease burden and death worldwide. It has been estimated that the air pollution leads to the deaths of more than half a million people a year. About two-thirds of the residents of Delhi and Calcutta suffer from respiratory symptoms such as common cold and dry and wet cough, much of this caused by two-stroke engine emissions.

Two-stroke engines are highly inefficient users of fuel: up to 40 percent of the fuel and oil goes out of the exhaust pipe unburned. This exhaust is packed with oxides of carbon, nitrogen, sulphur, hydrocarbons and fine dust – all toxic contributors to air pollution.

But the attraction of these engines remains strong. “They are powerful, simple, reliable and robust,” said Bauer, “and spare parts are easy to find. They also have a long lifetime.”

Bauer faced some strict constraints in developing the technology.

“It had to substantially reduce emissions without impairing the engine’s performance. It had to be installed without machining the engine crankcase, and with only a basic tool set. Of course, it also had to be affordable for Filipino drivers.”

Using off-the-shelf components, Bauer developed a kit that turns two-stroke engines into fuel-injection machines. This adjustment reduced particulate emissions by 70 percent and carbon dioxide emissions by 76 percent. He now sells the kits through Envirofit, a non-profit organization (http://www.envirofit.org/). It has been pilot tested at two Filipino holiday resorts, Vigan and Puerto Princesa.

Auto-rickshaw drivers tend to be poor and earn on average US $3 to US $4 a day. The cost of fitting vehicles with Bauer’s new technology is met by microcredit.

“Drivers earn money daily, so it’s easy for them to pay back their loan, and 90 percent of them do it in less than a year,” he said. Over 260 taxi drivers have already installed the new kit.

“These drivers are at the base of the economic pyramid and these tricycles are a testament to their ingenuity and work ethic. At the end of the day, we can improve their lives with a cylinder head, a few brackets and, of course, hard work.”

Bauer pioneered his solution while working on fuel injection in snowmobiles at the Engines and Energy Conservation Lab at Colorado State University. He started to market the solution in Asia in 2004. Bauer has won a Rolex Award for Enterprise to pay for the distribution of the kits throughout Asia.

There is, of course, another solution: an outright ban or measures to push the vehicles off the road. In the Philippines’ San Fernando City, economic incentives were what drove the transition from two-stroke to four-stroke (less polluting) tricycles. In 2001, three-quarters of the city’s 1,600 registered tricycles ran on two-stroke engines. But after a city council mandate to totally phase out the vehicles by 2004, and offers of interest-free loans for down-payments on four-stroke models, more than 400 four-stroke tricycles had replaced the older two-stroke models.

When Bangkok toughened up vehicle inspections and emissions standards in 2000, two-wheelers made up over 96 percent of the city’s traffic. But by March 2004, they made up only 40 percent, according to Supat Wangwongwatana, deputy director general of Thailand’s Pollution Control Department.

Resources

  • Tukshop is a website selling auto rickshaws and tuk-tuks.  Website:http://www.tukshop.biz/
  • A wide range of auto rickshaws for sale.  Website: http://www.auto-rickshaw.com/ 
  • The Hybrid Tuk Tuk Battle is a competition to come up with less polluting auto rickshaws, clean up the air in Asian cities, and improve the economic conditions for auto rickshaw drivers. 
    Website:http://hybridtuktuk.com/
  • The Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities promotes and demonstrates innovative ways to improve the air quality of Asian cities through partnerships and sharing experiences. It is run by the Asian Development Bank together with the World Bank and the US Agency for International Development. 
    Website: http://www.cleanairnet.org/
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A new book launched in April 2019 by journalist Beth Gardiner (@Gardiner_Beth), “Choked: The Age of Air Pollution and the Fight for a Cleaner Future” (Granta) (University of Chicago Press), explores today’s global air pollution crisis in the world’s cities. Gardiner is an environmental journalist who writes for The New York Times, The Guardian and other publications (bethgardiner.com).  

Called “One of the Guardian’s Best Books of 2019“. The UK cover for Choked: The Age of Air Pollution and the Fight for a Cleaner Future (Granta, 2019).