• In 2013, WWF and South Pole launched projects in China to install clean-burning stoves in rural homes, and families halved their use of firewood.
  • These projects were developed in villages around giant panda habitats to ease pressure on the bamboo forest and protect these iconic bears.
  • Eight years on and 3,900+ installed stoves later, the project is working! 600+ hectares of forest has been saved each year.

It is not without reason that WWF chose the iconic black and white panda as their logo. For decades, the giant panda, China's beloved bear, saw their numbers plummeting. Their biggest threat? Loss of habitat. Once widespread throughout southern and eastern China and even as far as Myanmar and northern Vietnam, pandas are now confined to around 20 isolated patches of bamboo forest in six mountain ranges in China's Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces. Human encroachment has isolated panda populations, preventing them from breeding and migrating to new areas in search of tasty bamboo.

By cutting firewood use by 50%, energy efficient cookstoves keep villagers healthy and stop the deforestation of Giant Panda habitat

At South Pole, we support and develop 'triple-win' projects – projects that help people, wildlife and the planet. Back in 2013, we looked into how changing local habits could help save the Giant Panda, improve the lives of rural communities and cut carbon emissions for a greener, cleaner future.

The solution was simple: installing efficient cookstoves that reduce the use of firewood.

With limited to no infrastructure and patchy, unaffordable electricity supplies, rural families rely on firewood for cooking and heating. In the southern province of Sichuan, residents were using on average 25 tons of firewood each year to meet their household needs, which was collected from the surrounding panda-perfect forests. The traditional mud or stone stoves showed poor thermal efficiency and bellowed dirty clouds of smoke, resulting in the community spending up to three months out of every year scouring the forest for firewood. They also put their respiratory health at risk every time they cooked and warmed their homes.

Joining forces with an international team from WWF China and WWF Switzerland, we launched seven projects around the Mamize, Dafengding and Huangguanshan Nature Reserves to install improved cooking stoves for the local communities. Leading Swiss supermarket chain, Coop, was a key partner for the four projects around the Mamize Nature Reserve. All projects are certified by the Gold Standard, to ensure the projects meet the highest environmental and social standards.

Eight years on and 3,900 stoves later, we see the huge difference these projects are making:

Graphic showing impact that projects have made across different subjects

Image: Graphic showing impact that projects have made. * 65% reduction of indoor smoke based on average across the 7 projects.

Protecting precious panda habitat is just one of the many benefits these projects bring

Health benefits

According to WHO, indoor air pollution from cooking fires kills around 4 million people every year, many of whom are children. With a 65% reduction in indoor smoke, these communities are less at risk of fatal respiratory diseases. Significant health costs are reduced and rooms that were black with smoke now dance with light.

Image: A woman stands in the kitchen with her new stove – the built-in stoves are designed to cook traditional food and to be long-lasting.

Image: A woman stands in the kitchen with her new stove – the built-in stoves are designed to cook traditional food and to be long-lasting.

Empowering ethnic minority groups

The ancient Yi communities in southwestern China who live side by side with pandas are known for their strong traditions and deification of nature. But what they boast in rich cultural customs, they lack in lower than average incomes. Families working with the project typically rely on agriculture, fruit plantation, and collecting mushrooms and herbs to make ends meet. Without the means to afford electricity, they have no option but to collect wood for household use, meaning these communities often find themselves at odds with the surrounding nature reserves. With the new, efficient cookstoves, they spend on average 50% less time collecting firewood. This both eases the pressure on the forests and allows women and girls, especially, more time for work, play and other cultural activities, empowering them with increased financial security and preserving their ancient, cultural traditions.

Climate benefits

Last but by no means least, these projects also pack a powerful climate-protecting punch. Together, they cut over 45,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions on average every year. That's the same greenhouse gas savings as keeping 17,000 tonnes of coal in the ground! The nature reserves protected through the projects are biodiversity hotspots and known as vital gene banks for plants and wildlife, as well as forming some of the most important watersheds in Southern China.

Choosing the right project

When choosing projects to balance your footprint, consider the wider Sustainable Development (SDG) impacts of a project. For companies seeking to expand their impact – and share their efforts with stakeholders – this should be the norm.
Doing good is also good for business and brand: results-based projects provide credibility to companies' climate action.

The projects outlined above are a perfect example: not only have they driven down carbon emissions, but
they also protect panda habitat and improve the lives of over 13,000 people living in rural areas.

If businesses look toward their values and stakeholder interests when choosing their projects then, in forging a future for this planet, we can drive efforts to make it both greener and more socially equitable.


Get in touch to find out how you can support the sustainable development goals through your climate action today!