Ever wondered how you could support ethical, sustainable businesses and nonprofits? Welcome to a new regular series highlighting products, services and organizations that are doing well by doing good.

Solight Design creates beautiful and sustainable products that use renewable energy for a mobile and zero carbon lifestyle, including the SolarPuff, a flat-pack solar lantern. The company also allows you to gift the lanterns to communities in Syria, Ghana, Nepal and Haiti.

We spoke to Alice Min Soo Chun, a Co-Founder and CEO of Solight Design, and the inventor of the SolarPuff. Alice is a Professor of Design and Material Culture at Parsons the New School for Design.

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Please give us an overview of your business.
SOLIGHT DESIGN provides beautifully architected and sustainable home lighting solutions that appeal to the global consumer while providing light to those in need. The crisis of climate change has forced us to rethink the way we live by using alternative means of energy consumption. Solar Energy is all around us; the sun has over 8 billion BTUs of energy to be tapped. The use of Fossil fuels is antiquated and has had catastrophic effects on our air, our ecology, and our planet. The health of our children, our families, and our neighbors here and on other continents have not escaped its toxic reach. The amount of carbon emissions must be mitigated by innovative design solutions to this global problem.

We are a design innovation company with a social mission. To eradicate the use of fossil fuel for lighting and lower our individual and global carbon footprints. Our little lantern distinguishes itself from other solar lanterns because of our belief that good design matters in the 1st world + 3rd world. DESIGN fosters our belief of smart design for all. Most companies that sell to the underserved communities make products that are not designed with beauty, wonder, or awe in mind. We believe Design Matters no Matter What. Great design appeals to a wider consumer base—enabling a more profitable model that helps sustain a larger social mission. 

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How did you get started with this idea?
When my son was born with asthma, after many visits to the doctor’s office, I heard kids raspy gasps around me with severe allergies, kids with nebulizers pumping steroids helping them to breath, kids with red eyes and heaving little lungs. So I did my research…. it turns out that in NYC alone one out of four kids have asthma, and it’s 70% higher than the rest of the country. It’s due to the pollution in the air from energy consumption, the buildings, these skyscrapers… and it’s making our children sick.

So this is when I started to experiment with harnessing solar energy photovoltaics to get away from fossil fuels and integrating thin substrates because I’m also a Materials specialist and the trend in materials is getting thinner lighter, faster, and adaptable.

At the same time I was teaching at Columbia when the Haiti earthquake happened, and I converted my graduate architecture studio into an innovation studio for developing solutions to help Haiti. We discovered a sick thing about global poverty; 2 billion people still uses kerosene to light their world at night and 2 million children die, due to this type of toxic air. Even when living on a few dollars a day, people are spending up to 30% of their income on kerosene to light their world at night. Most are living in extreme terrain where there are are no roads or infrastructure. Kerosene is a 38 billion dollar industry and it is heavy to ship; in India alone, it causes 30,000 house fires every year. So we decided a light that is light and adaptable would be a better design.

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What are you proudest of?
That I have invented something everybody loves and is inspired by; that if we all work together we can mitigate climate change with the small things.

How do you think you are different than your competitors?
It is the lightest on the market at 2.6 oz, so for hikes and camping it is ideal as well as for people living in rural areas, where there is no grid, it makes it easy to travel with in different terrains. It’s not bulky or heavy, it packs flat so it’s very compact when traveling or on your bag for charging during the day. It has an origami fold flat and pop open design and it is hygienic. Other lanterns are made of hard plastic that are not recyclable, whereas our materials for the diffusers are recyclable. You do not need to inflate our product by mouth or pump; it auto inflates into a cube though the origami fold so there is no risk of cholera or ebola spreading. Design is the Biggest differentiator. We believe that whether you are a child in Nigeria or a child in Nantucket, design matters and to have something that is beautiful provides dignity.

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What do your customers/community say about your business that makes you happy?
Here are two testimonials that I appreciate. Most of the comments are like these:

“Congratulations on the patent!! Well-deserved. Proof that people can create a profitable business while also significantly contributing to world healing and improving lives. You’ve created a world-wide use product…simply amazing. Well done!”

“Love my solar puffs! Bought 2 via KS then after receiving them bought 4 more via the website. I haven’t had any issues with them so far – been a few months now, and am currently using 3 on vacation in Puerto Rico (so easy to stash in luggage for travel – nice ambiance while on vacation!). Looking forward to using them on the deck in the summer too!! Awesome invention, so useful and adaptable!! :)”

What is your favourite story about your business?
My favorite story is when the lights were delivered to the refugee children in Lesbos Greece, it made them smile and laugh, these kids that come in on a boat with no home, some have lost their families, and are sometimes barely alive, the light gives them some sort of happiness. In Nepal after the earthquake, after the lights were delivered to a small hill town where there was no electricity, the villagers started to sing and dance, grateful for the lights.

We have also had stories of people getting their children to take a bath by putting the light in the tub… to people who endure blackouts during hurricane season, and use the light several times a year when this happens.

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Where can people go to support your business?
Please visit www.solight-design.com – people can go and get a light for themselves, and also give the gift of light.

Afdhel Aziz is the co-author of the forthcoming book on social entrepreneurship ‘Good is the New Cool’ available for pre-order on Amazon now.

If you have a suggestion for a business or organization you think should be highlighted, please email him at goodisthenewcool@gmail.com

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