PATH’s Springboard Initiative: a new ecosystem of water filters

Nearly two billion people still lack access to safe drinking water despite decades of effort. But change is happening. Thousands of people are enjoying safe water from a new generation of water filters that deliver higher levels of user experience, performance, and affordability.

PATH’s Springboard Initiative has produced a new ecosystem of interchangeable water-filter products from a range of companies and given impetus to multimillion dollar investments by major multinational companies.

Children with water filter

Photo credit: Imerys SA

Our ambitious goal to harness competition

PATH aimed to raise the level of competition in the water-filter category. To do so we encouraged and guided companies’ market-entry efforts by validating demand and making it much easier for any company to design or source water filters that consumers want to buy and love to use. Indeed, purchase and consistent use drive health impact. They also directly underpin scalability and sustainability.

Results—Springboard’s growing ecosystem

The water filters in the Springboard ecosystem  significantly improve on previously available filters (see chart).

  • Low cost. Filters cost just pennies per person per day, including the cost of replacement cartridges.
  • User-preferred. Typically, over 80 percent of users would recommend to a friend after three months of use.
  • Good water quality. Filters meet guidelines set by the World Health Organization.
  • Breakthrough ceramic cartridges. These include one with a user-friendly flow rate 2–3x faster than normal and another with bacteria reduction 100x normal.
  • Robust supply base, with multiple manufacturers and factories in China, the United States, and India.
  • Strong distribution prospects via multinationals’ global networks and partnerships with local brands and nongovernmental organizations.

Recent launches by two major multinationals—Imerys SA (Paris, France) in April 2016 and the Kohler Company (Wisconsin, USA) in November 2015—represent important milestones for the ecosystem.

Existing products from 2011-2016

The Springboard Initiative has already gained the interest of independent researchers from Duke University and Tufts University. Their ongoing research projects and Springboard’s exciting progress were showcased in a dedicated satellite session  of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) annual conference, held in San Francisco on April 10, 2016.

Our strategy

PATH knows big problems require multifaceted solutions that engage commercial partners. First, we crafted the technical and commercial essentials for market entry. Then we provided these at no cost to companies big and small so they can offer better water filters to poor consumers.

  • For their designers, we created and shared publicly the first user-driven design guidelines for this product category, based on 600 hours of in‑home observations and research with over 10,000 consumers.
  • For their engineers, we invented the C1 Common Interface—the common connection point and platform solution at the heart of Springboard’s open ecosystem of next-generation water filters (see figure above).
  • For their product managers, we made available PATH-designed filters to supply pilots, field evaluations, and customers when our partners launched products.
  • For their supply-chain experts, we assembled a one-stop guide  to water filters with the C1 Common Interface.
  • For their marketers, we validated market demand through development of the world’s first successful market-based distribution model to sell water filters in poor rural areas. This used a rapidly redesigned device for the local Cambodian market. Its high market acceptance validated a key assumption—poor consumers paid more for a more desirable product.
  • For their lawyers, we posted online a no‑cost license for the C1 Common Interface design so anyone can create filters for this ecosystem.

Lighbulb and filter diagram

To broaden the market for Springboard filters, supply competing brands, and thereby drive economies of scale at the ecosystem level, we also invested in early-stage R&D on bromine-based technology for optional second-stage cartridges. Aimed at both lower- and lower-middle-income consumers, these cartridges can enhance the (already good) performance of the primary, ceramic cartridges in Springboard filters. Imerys is field-testing prototypes and plans commercial launch by 2017.

The C1 Common Interface

Products are standardized on the PATH-developed C1 Common Interface to create a “light bulbs and sockets” scenario so that different brands of products can work together. This improves choices for both consumers and brands. The interface allows for easy attachment of upper and/or lower cartridges and includes built-in safeguards to prevent errors such as upside-down cartridge installation.

Fieldwork and evaluation

Most Springboard filters are variations on a PATH prototype design developed through sustained, intensive fieldwork. A commercial pilot (~15,000 people) and smaller NGO pilot in Odisha, India, measured high acceptability over the pilot periods of 3 to 6 months. PATH funded an ongoing 9-month independent study by Tufts University to evaluate the PureEasy device and Imerys prototype cartridges with 150 households in Haiti and Kenya. The study publication is expected in 2017. Meanwhile, graduate students with the Bass Connections’ Innovation & Technology Policy Lab (ITPLab) at Duke University are preparing a case study on the Springboard Initiative.

Product guide, design guidelines, and other Springboard resources

We offer an array of resources for interested readers:

  • Springboard Initiative fact sheet. This concise document summarizes Springboard’s aims, strategy, and results.
  • Guide to water filters with the C1 Common Interface (second edition, April 2016)  This simple guide includes product specifications, performance-test results, advice, illustrative pricing, and manufacturers’ contact details.
  • Design guidelines for water filters. Developed through a user-centered process that involved 600 hours of in-home observations and research with over 10,000 people, these detailed and interactive guidelines provide over 85 pages of practical recommendations for designers interested in creating better water filters for poor consumers. The story the guidelines’ development is told in a related briefing paper.
  • No-cost license to the C1 Common Interface. Interested parties should simply review, sign, and return a scanned electronic copy to springboard@path.org. Include “C1 Common Interface license request” in the subject line and your organization’s contact details in the message body. We will reply with a counter-signed copy and the complete engineering package. Please understand the terms of the license are nonnegotiable.
  • Demand validation and “beta test” filter re-design in Cambodia. Springboard's beta test resultsThese documents tell the story of the successful filter re-design (2010) and microfinance-based distribution pilot (2011). Our local partners, iDE and VisionFund, have gone on to scale-up this sustainable distribution model. Over 111,000 units of the redesigned filter had been sold as of April 2016, a quantity estimated as sufficient to provide safe drinking water to over 500,000 people in Cambodia, given the average size of local households.
  • The complete story of the project that laid Springboard’s original foundations is told in the Perspectives report.

For more information on Springboard: springboard@path.org. Information on PATH’s water, air, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) project portfolio is available here.

Disclaimer: Products referred to on this page and in the documents it references are made and sold solely by the respective companies. PATH receives no consideration and makes no representation or warranty, express or implied, with respect to the products or the technologies embodied therein.