Startup Spotlight: Sweden-Based ECOLOO Is Aiming To Address Environmental And Societal Issues Through Its Sustainable Toilet Solution
Launched in Sweden in 2008, ECOLOO was created on the principles of simplicity, scalability, environmental responsibility, and economic viability.
This article is part of an ongoing series covering startups that have been a part of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Innovation Fund (MBRIF) accelerator program.
1.7 billion people in the world lack access to clean toilets, as per the 2021 Joint Monitoring Program Report developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). The same study goes on to note that a total of 3.6 billion people do not have safely managed sanitation facilities. While these statistics are both jarring and concerning, they also put into perspective the privileged lives most of us live.
It's this reality that was brought to Imad Agi's attention by watching a television documentary that inspired him to launch ECOLOO, a sustainable toilet solution. Launched in Sweden in 2008, ECOLOO was created on the principles of simplicity, scalability, environmental responsibility, and economic viability. "ECOLOO is a fully enclosed sanitation system that requires no energy and no water for flushing, which prevents sewage generation and water contamination, as well as pollution and environmental contamination," explains Agi. "But ECOLOO is not just about sustainable toilets. It is a technology that can save money, water, energy and create a healthier and greener environment."
Agi's claims here allude to ECOLOO going beyond simply solving the issue of accessing clean toilets, but also addressing a wide array of environmental and societal problems. For starters, ECOLOO has come up with a special formulated bacterial culture that can easily get rid of solid human waste, while also transforming it into an organic liquid fertilizer that can be used for farming. And this is the facet of the ECOLOO solution that can cause positive ripple effects on a socio-economic scale, believes Agi. "The poor can benefit from free organic fertilizer from ECOLOO and improve their lives," he says. "No more expensive chemical fertilizer will be needed. No need for genetically modified organisms (GMOs) either. Organic agriculture also brings higher value to the farmers and supports them financially."
Of course, the fact that ECOLOO uses no water in its solution is also a key showcase of its eco-friendly approach. "We have to protect our water resources, by preventing water from being flushed or mixed with waste," he says. "The flush toilet system is the worst invention of all time, according to UNICEF's Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) experts, when it comes to creating diseases that kill people. Also, by treating our waste on site, instead of dumping the untreated sewage and toxics into oceans and rivers, we ensure the lives below the water are not contaminated!" While a large part of ECOLOO's focus is on underprivileged societies, Agi remains upbeat about the prospect of it proving to be successful in urban areas too. "By adopting sustainable solutions in cities and communities, we can turn any complex or building into an eco-friendly and sewage-free area, leading to sustainable living," he notes.
From a purely business standpoint, ECOLOO's business model is fairly simple to comprehend. "Operating as a social impact business, ECOLOO Group sells, rents, and maintains its innovative ECOLOO toilet solution," explains Agi. "Our business model is developed to integrate underserved populations into the supply chain by creating business and job opportunities for the local community from production to distribution, installation, training, maintenance, collection and reuse of fertilizer from the toilet, which may lead to organic farming." At this point, Agi doesn't shy away from also pointing out that the end goals of his startup also cater to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with the core line of its work adhering to the objective centered on "clean water and sanitation." As an example, he points out how ECOLOO can provide a solution to the problem of cultural stigmas and socio-economic issues in certain countries that prevent women from gaining access to, and being educated on, sanitation facilities. "ECOLOO offers hygienic toilets that lead to healthier people, especially for women and children, by eliminating risks such safety and security too," Agi says.
It is this people-oriented vision that perhaps also influences how the ECOLOO team gauges the scale of its achievements. "The huge impact on the whole supply chain is our way to measure our success," says Agi. "For example, we measure it through the number of units we install, the number of people using our toilets, the amount of water and energy we save, the decrement of infant, child, and maternal mortality, the number of farmers using our organic fertilizer, the business and job opportunities created through our social business model, and the decrement of pollution and carbon footprint." As of today, ECOLOO's toilet solution has already been sold in more than 20 countries, and its work has also been acknowledged by media outlets and global social enterprises alike, including the United Nations Foundation, CNN, Swedish Energy Agency, as well as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. With the startup now gearing up to introduce its solution to the UAE, it has received help in navigating the local business landscape through its participation in the MBRIF accelerator program. "We joined the MBRIF program because we wanted to establish ourselves in the region and specifically in the UAE, and being a part of the accelerator program was the best thing that happened to our startup, because we received the support we needed to restructure our business, and to be on the right track again," says Agi. "It was all thanks to the mentors and organizers that provided us with one-on-one meetings to discuss the issues we faced and the knowledge we lacked, and made us an investment-ready company. We are very grateful and humbled by all the support and efforts that were put into the program to help us achieve our milestone."