A Grandmother’s Cooking Launches Global Environmental Project

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At the design competition launch in 2012 in Columbus, Indiana, Srikanth Padmanabhan describes growing up in India and the reasons clean cook stoves were chosen at the first global Corporate Responsibility project for Cummins Emission Solutions. 

Posted: October 2014

Srikanth Padmanabhan distinctly remembers the smell of the wood his grandmother used to cook with, the black smoke that would fill the air whenever she started a fire and the soot that lined the kitchen wall. But what stands out today when he thinks about his grandmother was the sound of her chronic coughing.
Padmanabhan, Vice President and General Manager for Cummins Emission Solutions (CES), grew up in Chennai, India, the country’s fourth-largest city. His maternal grandparents lived in a village nearby and he would often visit them during school breaks in part to enjoy his grandmother’s delicious cooking.

“I had no clue why she would cough,” he said. “But then I learned about clean cook stoves and I realized that the smoke coming out of my grandmother’s fire pit actually impacts you and that’s why she coughed.”

His grandmother would go on to live until 97, but Padmanabhan remembers that everyone in the village, for a very long time, used firewood. Statistics show that many people who depend on wood-burning cook stoves have not been as fortunate as his grandmother.

According to the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, daily exposure to the harmful smoke from traditional cooking practices is one of the leading causes of death around the world, and one of the least publicized. Four million premature deaths each year result from smoke inhalation from traditional cook stoves and open fires. Women and young children are the most affected.

Padmanabhan and the CES Business team wanted to make a difference with a vision for a global corporate responsibility project that put employee skills to work on a problem closely related to the products they design and manufacture.

“Being a division that produces products that reduce harmful engine emissions around the globe, we felt that it was appropriate that we should focus on the environment,” Padmanabhan said.

CES employees zeroed in on indoor air pollution resulting from poorly ventilated cookstoves. Padmanabhan shared with his CES colleagues his experiences and his vision for a global corporate responsibility project. Together, they brainstormed ways to make their efforts sustainable.


Padmanabhan and his leadership team quickly came to the conclusion that focusing on clean cook stoves was a natural fit. It addressed a critical global need and aligned well with CES’ business focus to reduce emissions from engines.

So began Project S.T.E.A.M. – Standards, Testing (and design), Education, Application and Monitoring – CES’ first global Corporate Responsibility project. A clean cook stove design competition was launched in August2012, in Columbus, Indiana.

A Grandmothers Cooking Launches Global Environmental Project_2Teams from CES locations around the world were tasked with designing a new or improved, clean-burning cook stove along with a marketing plan including its unique characteristics.

Twenty-seven teams submitted concepts from multiple Cummins sites. The top five teams, from Cummins facilities in Germany, India and the United States, were selected as finalists during an extensive judging process held in 2013.

Cummins employees, including experts in combustion, technology and environmental strategy, as well as a former cook stove business owner, judged all of the project submissions.

Prototypes of the top five designs were built at the manufacturing facility of Prakti Design in Chennai. The Cummins’ designs were then shipped to Maharana Pratap University of Agriculture and Technology in Udaipur, India, for testing.

A group of engineers from Cummins Research and Technology India Ltd., joined forces to form Team EcoFlame and were selected as the winner of the design competition in late 2013.

EcoFlame’s design not only meets all Indian government requirements for thermal efficiency and emission of both particulate matter and carbon monoxide, but it is also able to lower particulate emissions by a factor of four compared to current Prakti stoves.

Prakti, one of the world’s top cook stove manufacturers, partnered with Cummins in the competition and believes it generated many ideas that could have practical applications for future cook stoves.

“The Prakti/Cummins partnership proved to be a great success,” said Mouhsine Serrar, cofounder and CEO of Prakti Design. “Prakti would like to thank all the participants for a wonderful effort and the significant contribution to [our] technology road map for the future.”

EcoFlame’s stove will now go into production as part of the business unit’s partnership with Prakti.

“What we liked best about the competition was that it compelled us to think beyond stereotype boundaries,” said EcoFlame Team Leader Ambarish Khot. “It united us to engage our technical expertise for social welfare.”


Padmanabhan is pleased with how the projecthas turned out.

“The idea of building the prototypes and testing them at a university in India, and the whole exercise being global, was novel and elegant,” he said. “I am enormously pleased at the outcome.”

The new stoves will be tested in villages in India and China that are near Cummins facilities where employees can help with the adoption. In addition, CES will work with EARTH University in Costa Rica, which teaches sustainable agriculture to its students from around the world, to make those students familiar with the stoves.

Other projects to design better cook stoves have faltered at this point, unable to overcome years of tradition around cooking over an open flame without proper ventilation.

But Padmanabhan is enthusiastic, believing the project can build on community outreach efforts taking place at Cummins locations around the world.

“We are going to show that we can actually make a difference,” he says as he thinks back to the woman who helped inspire it all. “We can use our collective ingenuity to do something really terrific.”


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