Sanergy builds sustainable sanitation in urban informal settlements

Sanergy, a social enterprise started by MIT grads, offers a systems-based solution to addressing the hygienic sanitation challenge. Based in Nairobi, Kenya, it manufactures and distributes Fresh Life Toilets (FLTs)—high-quality, low-cost latrines specially designed for dense, urban environments, then converts the waste they collect into organic fertilizer and insect-based animal feed. 

Our goal is to build healthy, prosperous communities by making hygienic sanitation accessible and affordable for everyone, forever.

About 4.1 billion people lack access to hygienic sanitation. The problem leads to contaminated waterways and food supply, as well as diarrheal disease, which kills nearly 760,000 children each year.

Sanergy, a social enterprise started in 2011 by three MIT grads, offers a novel, systems-based solution. It manufactures and distributes Fresh Life Toilets (FLTs)— high-quality, low-cost latrines specially designed for dense, urban environments with a cartridge-based collection system. Sanergy collects the waste regularly, converting it into organic fertilizer and insect-based animal feed.

“[Our goal is to] build healthy, prosperous communities by making hygienic sanitation accessible and affordable for everyone, forever,” says David Auerbach, one of the entrepreneurs behind Sanergy.

David and his co-founders—Lindsay Stradley and Ani Vallabhaneni — conceived of the idea at MIT Sloan in a Development Ventures class. The course challenges students to come up with innovative solutions to large-scale social problems.

In 2010, the team flew to Kenya to observe Nairobi’s sanitation challenges up close. “We saw slums filled with discarded plastic bags known as ‘flying toilets’ and human waste being dumped in the water next to schoolyards,” says David. “There were people in the communities trying to change that, but they lacked support. That’s how we came up with our franchise model.”

Sanergy sells FLTs to local entrepreneurs, or “franchise partners,” who charge customers for using the toilets. Every franchisee receives training, and marketing and operational support. Franchisees also have access to a regular collection service, which transports the waste to a central facility and converts it into organic fertilizer and insect-based animal feed, which Sanergy sells to Kenyan farms.

Sanergy is also piloting a residential model, in which landlords provide FLTs in their plots as a value-added service for tenants, and a community model to provide sanitation in schools, reaching the most vulnerable populations.

To date, the company has treated 6,200 metric tons of waste and created more than 700 jobs in local communities. They serve over 30,000 people a day with hygienic sanitation.

Sanergy’s pioneering approach has positive knock-on effects, too. For instance, when Sanergy provides schools with access to sanitation, enrollment and attendance tends to increase.

Sanergy is focused on achieving 100% coverage in the communities it serves. As David puts it, “We’re interested in continuing to do well in communities [in Nairobi] that we are currently serving because that’s what really solves the larger social challenge: lack of accessible, affordable sanitation.” 

MIT Sloan Sanergy case study: how Sanergy used social media to engage its various constituents and meet the company’s mission.