Lorna Rutto is a Kenyan eco-preneur, and the inspiring founder of EcoPost, a social enterprise created in response to the need to find alternative waste management solutions to Kenya's huge plastic waste problem. In 2009 she founded her company, which collects plastic waste and manufactures commercially viable, highly durable, and importantly environmentally friendly fencing posts, used widely across Kenya. In 2011, Lorna was recognised by the prestigious Cartier Women's Initiative Awards as their laureate for sub-Saharan Africa.
Lorna has not only provided Kenya with a commercial alternative to timber, but has in the process created over 300 jobs, generated much needed revenues, saved over 250 acres of forests and taken over 1 million kilogrammes of plastic waste out of the environment. Her efforts have won her numerous plaudits and awards, both at home and abroad.
Lorna Rutto's startup story
This woman entrepreneur with a conscience has built a social entrepreneurship business by recycling the vast amount of waste plastic in Kenya and turning it into an environmentally friendly alternative to wooden fencing products.
As a young child, growing up in the Kaptembwa Slums in Kenya, Lorna Rutto experienced more than her fair share of poverty, unemployment, garbage and rotting waste in the streets, and clogged, overflowing sewers encroaching people's homes. As a young schoolgirl, her eco-consciousness came to the fore, when she noticed the huge amounts of plastic waste littering the environment. She decided to start making a small difference to addressing the situation, recycling this plastic litter and making creative pieces of jewellery and small ornaments by melting the plastic, reshaping and decorating it into new objects. She sold her creative work at school to other pupils and friends for small amounts of money, but it was a small step to becoming more environmentally aware.
"Our vision is 'To Transform Africa’s Waste into Wealth'. We use waste plastic as a resource to manufacture aesthetic, durable, easy to use and environmentally friendly plastic lumber. Our aim is to create a sustainable solution to the growing plastic waste menace, provide a suitable alternative material so that we reduce the cutting down of trees and create job opportunities to reduce poverty."
After school, she went to college, graduating with a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Accounting, and went into a career in banking, a solid career choice given the tough employment market in Kenya at the time. However, she felt unfulfilled and longed to work with people and in the field of science, instead of working on financial systems and structures. Her passion for the environment, and her desire to do something to address the increasing waste problem in the country, led her to take the entrepreneurial plunge, leave the banking sector, and start up in business. Together with her co-founder, Charles Kalama, a biochemical engineering graduate from University College in London, they founded EcoPost in 2009, a green business manufacturing aesthetically pleasing, durable and environmentally friendly fencing posts utilising plastic waste.
"By providing an alternative to timber we conserve our forests & maintaining them as water catchments areas. Forests act as carbon sinks by removing CO2 from the atmosphere hence mitigating climate change."
Today, EcoPost is an entrepreneurial and an environmental corporate success story. The venture not only provides an effective solution to the management of the huge amounts of plastic waste created in Kenya each day, but also converts this waste into usable fencing products that in turn conserve forests that are under threat from logging. EcoPost is also directly providing a solution to the terrible unemployment situation in the country, creating over 300 jobs for young people and women who were previously marginalised in society. Going forward, the EcoPost business model is looking to create 100,000 jobs over the next 15 years. Its eco-footprint is no less impressive, with the company removing over 1 million kilos of plastic waste from Kenya's urban slums, and saving around 250 acres of precious forest in the country.
Lorna and her eco-business, EcoPosts, are truly inspirational and demonstrate how it is possible to create a viable and sustainable business in Africa, whilst at the same time positively impacting on local communities and the environment.