Many of us have heard of the importance of staying hydrated, even in the winter while on our snowshoes. To some, staying hydrated may seem obvious and a need that is easy to fill. We can take for granted the gift of clean, nourishing H2O. But for over 785 million people around the world, that is not the case, and access to basic water services is difficult to come by. One outdoor brand has been working tirelessly over the last decade to turn the tides and ensure that clean water is available to millions around the globe.
You may be familiar with Sawyer Products and some of their flagship outdoor accessories for safe adventuring: water filters, insect repellent, first aid, sunscreen. Their sunscreen, in particular, is essential for us snowshoers as we head out into the winter sun (yes, they can go together). But, what you may not have known about this outdoor company is that they’ve been working with international programs for over 12 years with a commitment to using their products to save lives.
The Start of Sawyer International
Sawyer began the journey on water filtration technology in 2001 (though their insect repellent and sunscreen products have been around since the 1980s). Then, just seven years later, in 2008, looking to expand their mission to help the community, pilot programs of their sustainable impact projects and their initiative for Sawyer International began, leading to their first charity partnership in Fiji that same year.
As Travis Avery, Sales and Marketing Director at Sawyer Products, says, “We dabbled in the beginning with how to do the implementation ourselves. But a company who makes filters is not always the best charity. Also, what works well in one county does not work well in another. There are different strategies needed for each country.”
For example, in Papua New Guinea, one family can share their water filter with three other families. But in some countries, each family may need their own filter because they don’t have that communal culture. “The skills, knowledge, and abilities of these various charities are capable of taking these filters even further than we ever could ourselves,” says Avery.
After Fiji, Sawyer began working with Honduras and Haiti to provide clean water solutions. This work also included the implementation of 120,000 filters as disaster relief for the earthquake in Haiti in 2010. Today, Sawyer International has collaborated with over 140 charities in 80 countries. Moreover, they’ve impacted over 25,000,000 people in eliminating contaminants from their water.
The Long Term Impact of Clean Water
Water is truly the key to flourishing health. That daily dose of 11.5 to 15.5 cups of water keeps us hydrated. But it also is essential for an array of other functions. It helps regulate body temperature, protects organs, carries nutrients to cells, lubricates joints, and gets rid of body waste. The physical impacts on our bodies are undeniable. But did you know that access to clean water also has positive economic impacts?
Health and Economy
In December of 2020, Sawyer completed a historical 10+ year multi-charity project to provide the people of Liberia with sustainable, clean water border-to-border. Over 130,000 squeeze water filters (via Sawyer’s international bucket system) and 3,700 wells were distributed across Liberia, even to the remote 20% of the rural areas across the country.
During the project, they collected data from over 100,000 families (with the rigorousness for scientific publication). The datasets showed 90+% decreases in rates of diarrhea and a 95% decrease in waterborne sickness. Clean water also led to economic and educational impacts for the community. The data reveals an increase in days of work (and thus money for the family). It also shows increased days of school (and learning) and decreases in medical costs associated with waterborne sickness.
Economic impacts can also be found in partnering with the county’s local charities. The locals working at each charity are those who are distributing the filters. Moreover, each person receives comprehensive training to ensure long-term impacts. Avery emphasized the importance. “In Liberia, all of the people who are distributing the filters and have received the training are Liberians. There is not only an economic incentive but [there is a] pride and effectiveness component.”
Knowledge for Long-Term Results
The training for individuals distributing the filters (which also includes online videos due to COVID) includes how to use and maintain the water filter and can include washing and sanitation practices. Washing and sanitation practices may not be commonplace in some areas. So, the addition of these topics to the training has had a significant impact. “We’ve been able to get diarrhea reduction of over 90% in more than two countries by incorporating washing and sanitation practices into the training”, states Avery.
Another benefit of the training is that it leads to long-term results and use of the product. In fact, Avery mentioned that some original filters in Honduras and Haiti are still being used daily after 12 years! This fact shows the feasibility of these filters, and the training that comes with them can provide long-term solutions. Also, since Sawyer collects data every few weeks, it allows for training check-ins. For example, they can check that individuals are maintaining filters properly. This follow-up ensures the most significant health benefits to the people in the area.
Clean Water for All
Liberia may have been the first country that Sawyer has helped access clean water to border-to-border, but it is not the country being touched by positive impacts through Sawyer products.
About seven months ago, Sawyer International began a project to help Kibera. This area is the largest urban slum in Africa and one of the world’s worst slums. So far, they’ve brought about 30,000+ tap filters, which can filter up to 500 gallons of clean drinking water per day, to almost 90,000 people.
As Avery mentioned, “Now that we’ve used our bucket filters to help bring clean water to the remotest parts of Liberia, we’re excited to see how these filters can make a significant impact in an urban area.” As part of Sawyer’s data, they saw the impacts of clean drinking water. They found that ensuring a family has clean drinking water can replenish 1/8 of a family’s annual income! Thus, this project has the potential to have an enormous impact on those living in Kibera.
In addition to these long-term, transformational efforts for clean water, other efforts are in place. For example, Sawyer supports short-term disaster relief and effective and portable relief in refugee camps. Collaborations with partners such as the American Red Cross have allowed for low-cost emergency responses via Sawyer’s one-gallon gravity water filtration system.
Since the filters are so light (1.5 oz) and collapsible, they save space on transport vehicles. Furthermore, they save weight in transport planes, leading to overall cost savings for disaster recovery. The need for cost savings in disaster recovery is also apparent domestically in the U.S. Avery mentioned that “Domestically there is a need for a shift in practices and understanding the impacts.” However, they are making progress with FEMA to use water filtration as an alternative to cases of water. In terms of weight, 1 case of water weighs about the same as 50 filters!
Ways to Contribute to the Cause
Sawyer has been making incredible strides to provide access to clean water for people around the globe. Now, there are ways that we as individuals can contribute to the cause as well.
Products such as water filters, sunscreen, first aid, and insect repellent are all necessary for outdoor adventures all year. Water filters treat chemicals and limit waterborne illnesses on the trail (I’ve been there, and it isn’t fun). Sunscreen is essential for skin health, even in winter, and insect repellent, including the permethrin repellent by Sawyer, keeps those bugs at bay in the warmer months.
But, when not outdoor adventuring, the water filters can double as home filters. In fact, water filtration systems can make a positive impact on our environment by reducing single-use plastics.
So, there is something to be said about supporting a brand trying to make a difference in the world as a fundamental part of its mission. Because Sawyer’s products are already connected to over 140 charities, you may have involvement with Sawyer International if you’re involved with a charity yourself.
It’s truly amazing what one person can support and one outdoor company can do to impact the lives of others across the world. As Travis Avery mentioned, ” [We are] fortunate that our filters cannot only allow people to safely go adventuring but even more so, the impact we are making around the world.”
Were you familiar with Sawyer’s international efforts? What impact do you want to make on the world? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below.
Sawyer Products sponsored this article.