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  • Writer's pictureCecilia Wandiga

Kenya Sustainable Cities - Planning for Factor 10 Continuous Improvement

We plan many things such as our monthly household spending, our vacation time, the agenda and dates for important meetings or events. We plan these things to reduce conflicts and problems as well as to be able to assess if we did what we thought we were going to do.  

The same philosophy can be applied to planning our communities. The number of jobs we need, the types of industry in our local community, the types of housing, the cost of living, AND, the type of impact we will have on our environment. If we do not plan these things, not only are we not able to verify if things are progressing the way they should, we are not able to design effective solutions because there is no blueprint to use to diagnose the problem.

Imagine the amount of wasted time and money trying to find what is causing a light to flicker in a building even when the bulb is new and there is no diagram showing how the building is wired. The same applies to our communities, we need measurable blueprints.

Let us now look at how to plan for improvement in our daily Climate Action. In Kenya, we signed the Paris Agreement to reduce C02 emissions but how do we know the progress being made in Nairobi, versus Thika, versus Kisumu, versus Turkana? How do we know of subcounties are succeeding or struggling to get good results? 

Kenya has started a master planning framework through the System for Land Based Emissions and Estimation in Kenya (SLEEK). We cannot brag that we have less emissions than advanced industrial countries if we are not measuring our actual emissions. Most importantly, without planning monitoring and evaluation we have no means of ascertaining if we are getting close to a tipping point where our level of emissions becomes worse than the leading global polluters as we pursue industrial growth.

Every County, every subcounty, every residential district, every agricultural or industrial area can collect and report data for SLEEK.

The Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories (GPC) provides an excellent guide on how to collect and report the relevant information.

What is remaining is a way to plan for continuous improvement using a measurement. For this we propose Factor 10 reductions. There are many Factor 10 explanations that will give you a migraine. Here is an easy one: 

Factor 10 reduction means a 90% reduction so that you are left with 1/10th (10%) of the original amount. 

More details on the Factor 10 concept can be found here

How to Apply in Kenya:

If you want a Factor 10 reduction in sulfur dioxide emissions (which CSTI research has shown the majority of sublocations in Nairobi City, Kikuyu , Athi River Town, Kisumu City, Turkana County and Vipingo have higher emissions than WHO limits) you need to plan for changes in human activity that will cause a 90% reduction in the levels registered during the study (click title for pdf summary). 

Although the concept now sounds easy, there are many things to think about which is why planning is critical.  

Our goal with sustainable development is to create an improved quality of life, not just a reduction in negative impact. We also want to ensure long-term (200yrs +) availability of high quality natural resources so that we know our country can continue to grow and prosper for multiple future generations. 

To address this when we use Factor 10 measures, we are looking at a unit of measurement that enables us to track inputs versus outputs over the lifecycle of a product.  

Unit of measurement = MIPS, the life-cycle-wide Material Input Pro unit deliverable Service (extractable value) 

MIPS means we measure from when the raw materials is extracted or harvested to when the product is no longer causing an environmental impact which is why landfills are a problem because products just sit in landfills rotting and continuing to create a negative impact even if they are not being used AND there is no longer any extractable economic value. 

Let us look at sulfur dioxide emissions which in Kenya are typically caused when we burn our garbage in our backyard. However, we get a better understanding by examining a detergent bottle. There were resources used to make the plastic bottle. There were resources used to make the detergent liquid. There were resources used to transport the detergent bottle. Then there are our activities while using the detergent and our activities when we dispose of the empty detergent bottle. This is the lifecycle of the detergent.  

Ideally we need to measure sulfur dioxide emissions at each of these points in the lifecycle of EVERY detergent bottle that is produced and consumed. This is the only way to be 100% certain of our sulfur dioxide emissions for the detergent bottle but we don't have the money to be this accurate. That is the reason we use aggregate measures such as the emissions level by sub-location. 

To improve the standard of living while reducing sulfur dioxide emissions and ensuring high quality natural resources remain abundant, we still use Factor 10 but we adjust the definition so that we are not just focusing on sulfur dioxide. 


How do we reduce our sulphur dioxide emissions by 90% (Factor 10 reduction in emissions) by using 90% less plastic (Factor 10 reduction in material inputs) in our detergent bottles while simultaneously reducing the retail price of the detergent by 90% (Factor 10 reduction in cost of living/price of consumer goods) and reducing the incidence rate of asthma and chronic bronchitis by 90% (Factor 10 reduction in environmentally triggered respiratory disease)? 

By nesting multiple Factor 10 reductions we now have a way to measure systemic progress towards all our sustainability measures.  

If we are really ambitious, we can commit to challenging ourselves by creating innovations that achieve a Factor 10 reduction in each of the 17 problems we are working to solve through the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

In other words, the above detergent bottle example only tackled four SDGs

GOAL 13: Climate Action - reducing sulfur dioxide emissions from the total lifecycle (production, consumption, disposal) of the detergent bottle 

GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure - reducing the amount of plastic used in detergent bottle (we can do the same for the amount of detergent needed to clean well) 

GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality - by reducing the retail consumer price of the detergent bottle we ensure that cleaning products are not just for wealthy people 

GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being - by reducing the incidence rate of asthma and bronchitis 

What are your ideas for addressing the remaining 13 SDGs in the detergent bottle sustainability plan we have started? 

Images Courtesy of 

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