Dr. Mark Lung is CEO of Eco2librium, which recently received the all-time high score on the Certified B Corporation assessment. His company’s work focuses on using business as an explicit tool to solve environmental and social problems. It currently has four divisions that focus on reducing carbon emissions, sequestering carbon, slowing tropical deforestation, and job creation.
Eco2librium was started in Boise, Idaho and now calls Kenya its home. The company markets energy-efficient, wood cook stoves, solar energy kits, and renewable biomass waste fuels. Its Forest Again initiative creates jobs for local people directly relating to restoration and conservation of the Kakamega Forest. Eco2 currently employs more than 500 people in Kenya.
What’s the dent you’re trying to make in the universe?
The original dent was tackling tropical deforestation; this is still there, but from a much broader lens.
What life lessons did you learn from your mother and father?
My father and his father were very honest people. My grandfather owned and ran a tire store called “Honest Johns.” I try to ask myself what each would do in tough situations. My mother is grounding and calm and I think I got some of that from her.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I just wanted to play and explore, and wasn’t looking much further beyond the end of each day. I am still a bit that way; luckily I work with people who do look a bit further into the future. I really did not have any firm ideas of what I wanted to be, other than following in my father’s footsteps in medicine. I used to practice sewing up oranges with sutures.
Why did you choose Kenya for your work?
Kenya chose me. Just out of college I spent a year there as a teacher in a small high school. It got in my blood and I ended up doing biology research in a tropical Kenyan forest which ultimately led to our business.
Can you give us some measurable results Eco2librium has created in Kenya?
In an area with 50% employment and high poverty, we employ, directly and indirectly, more than 500 people, 70% of whom are women. Steady income for these people results in being able to buy food when grown food runs out, sending children to school, and investing in health care. Their employment is directly related to producing, distributing, and selling products that reduce forest wood use. One product is in 50,000 households, which cuts forest wood use by 4,000 pounds per year for each home. This saves the equivalent of 200 acres of forest per year, decreasing the time and money spent collecting fuel by half and improving indoor air quality by reducing the smoke from cooking.
Why the name, Eco2librium?
I originally had a pretty sorry name, so my brother (and business partner) came up with this. It has its root in words like ecology, equilibrium, and CO2. It is a good verbal symbol of what we do.
Why did you choose to operate as a private company rather than as an NGO (non-governmental organization)?
NGO’s have a less-than-inspiring story in Africa; much money has been spent and there’s not a lot to show for it. In aid, money usually comes first and then people are asked to work. In business, people work and money comes later. This simple paradigm seems to make a difference, plus working gives people self-reliance and self-respect.
It’s inspiring to us that you registered the all-time high B Corp certification score. How’s it feel to you?
We are proud of it and it drives us further, but we also realize that we had the cards stacked in our favor doing what we do and where.
Can you tell us about a particularly gratifying experience where you’ve had an impact on an individual’s life in Kenya?
We have lots of data and track many things. I have just been looking at long-term financial changes in people’s lives that have worked with us for long periods. I tracked responses to “How has life changed in the last year of working?” For people who have worked one year, the most common response is, “I can afford basic needs now.” For people who have worked two years, the most common response is, “I can afford school fees for my children.” For people that have had steady work and income for three to four years, the most common response is, “I can support my parents and other family members.” For people that have enjoyed consistent income and work for more than five years, they are building permanent homes and latrines, getting water or electricity, and buying assets like livestock and land. This is a very clear and interesting pattern that happens when someone has a job. This would not likely happen with traditional NGO aid.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
I eat eggs and fruit most mornings.
What is your secret vice?
Who inspires you?
Nature and “Hobbes” from the comic strip “Calvin and Hobbes.” Nature inspires me for reasons I cannot express well, and Hobbs does because the world to him seems exciting and big and full of hope for a can of tuna.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I need more patience.
What are you reading right now?
I generally have multiple books open. I just finished a book called The Fourth Phase of Water and am about two-thirds through Michael Pollen’s Cooked. I’m also starting a book on the science of Sasquatch by a professor at the university I attended for graduate school.
Rock, paper, or scissors?
I would say, in the wake of the last book I read about water, that we need a fourth choice. I would choose fire, because it’s not real clear where it would fall with the others.
I am color blind and generally do not give a lot of thought to color. In fact, when I was little I had clothes called Garanimals. The pants and shirts had tags with different animals. To make my clothes match, I just had to match the animals.
How should people connect with you on social media?
Come by and say “hello.” You can call first. 208-921-0243.