RELX Group Environmental Challenge

Each year the RELX Group Environmental Challenge is awarded to projects that best demonstrate how they can provide sustainable access to safe water or sanitation.

There is a $50,000 prize for the first place entry and a $25,000 prize for the second place entry. The winners also receive free access for one year to ScienceDirect, our Scientific, Technical & Medical business’ database of full text, scientific information, including almost 250,000 articles since 2000 in Environmental Sciences.

Projects must have clear practical applicability, address identified need and advance related issues such as health, education, or human rights.

About the challenge

The RELX Group Environmental Challenge is open to individuals or organisations operating in the not-for-profit and for-profit sectors. Projects must advance sustainable access to safe water where it is presently at risk and/or access to improved sanitation, and include the following criteria:

  • Be replicable, scalable and sustainable. and set a benchmark for innovation
  • Have practical applicability
  • Address non-discrimination/equity of access
  • Involve and impact a range of stakeholders
  • Have local/community-level engagement

These are the criteria against which projects will be assessed. Early stage projects are preferred. The winning project in the RELX Group Environmental Challenge will receive a single payment of $50,000, with the second place finisher receiving a single payment of $25,000.

All applicants will be offered access to relevant RELX Group products, such as Water Research, that can help in the preparation of their submissions. All applicants will be offered access to LexisNexis Risk Solution’s open source high performance computing (HPCC) resource, to allow them to process large amounts of research data. Documentation, tools, code examples and online training courses in HPCC and ECL, the programming language used by the HPCC Systems platform, will also be available to those applicants that may need them. Winning projects will be highlighted in Water Research.

View our video looking back on five years of innovation with the RELX Group Environmental Challenge

View videos below of some of our previous winners:

 AIDFI, the Philippines

AIDFI, the Philippines

 Tagore Sengupta Foundation, India

Tagore Sengupta Foundation, India


Applications will be reviewed against the RELX Group Environmental Challenge criteria by the RELX Group Environmental Challenge advisory group, comprised of relevant internal and external water and sanitation specialists. Those in contention for the short list will be reviewed by an expert panel of external judges. The shortlist will be announced in June 2017. Shortlisted candidates will be given the opportunity to refine and elaborate on their proposals. Following interviews of shortlisted candidates, winners will be announced.



Environmental Challenge first place winner, $50,000: Loowatt Ltd.
Loowatt has developed a proprietary waterless and energy-generating toilet system that is clean and odourless, creating social and environmental benefits that include water savings, carbon emissions reduction, improved human health and job creation. Loowatt’s patented core technology can fit into toilets of any shape or size and seals human waste into biodegradable polymer film. These are then emptied into an anaerobic digester where it is converted into natural gas or fertiliser – creating local jobs and revenue streams. With support from the Environmental Challenge, Loowatt will address low access to quality sanitation in Madagascar’s capital city through investment in local manufacturing capacity for toilet refills. This will create jobs and revenue streams for the city residents while supporting Loowatt’s ambition for its technology to serve over 2m million customers a day in developing markets.

Environmental Challenge second place winner, $25,000: Aguaclara LLC
The $25,000 second prize winner is US-based AguaClara LLC, a social enterprise borne out of Cornell University. Its designs are for municipal-scale, nonelectric water treatment plants that are simple to operate and sustainable in small towns and villages. AguaClara’s gravity-powered water treatment technology is sustainable from its has sustainability built in, from their oopen-source design through to to easy maintenance of its modular components. Existing projects in Honduras (supported by the Cornell AguaClara programme prior to the founding of the company) and India are built using locally available materials and operated by the communities they serve. The Environmental Challenge prize money will support AguaClara in creating a 10-village water disinfection system in Orissa, India that will initially bring drinking potable water to 5,000 people, create jobs through manufacture and operation of the system and drive research to further improve the technology.


Environmental Challenge first place winner, $50,000: Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation (AIDFI)
AIDFI, a Philippines-based social enterprise that provides reliable drinking water to upland rural areas using a unique hydraulic ram pump. Made from locally-sourced materials, the pump uses the pressure of falling water to pump water to villages above a water source, with each pump reaching an average of 600 people. AIDFI has had success in Afghanistan, Colombia, Nepal and the Philippines, assisting some 222,000 people in 370 villages. The prize money will launch a ram pump pilot project in Mexico.

Environmental Challenge second place winner, $25,000: Project Salino
The $25,000 second prize winner is Salino, a project managed by Devlina Das of India’s VIT University. The project will convert sea water into drinking water using a unique five-step method powered by solar energy. Aimed at India’s semi-arid and arid zones, Salino will initially target 50 homes and data from the pilot will be used to scale implementation.


Environmental Challenge first place winner, $50,000: Sustainable Sanitation Design
Unisex Urinal: value-creating sanitation in Bwaise (Kampala), Uganda
Over 1bn people live in urban slums, without access to sanitation facilities. SuSan Design’s unisex urinal concept was developed through an inclusive design process with women in a Kampala slum. It provides women with a low cost urinal in their home that gives them privacy, collects valuable nutrients and reduces local pollution. It plays a pivotal role in reducing volumes in toilets and facilitates nutrient recovery.
Using funding from Reed Elsevier, the project will provide unisex urinals to 10,000 households, serving around 50,000 out of the 430,000 people living in slum settlements of Kampala. The urine will be collected and sold as natural fertiliser for local agriculture and/or to the flower production companies just outside Kampala.

Environmental Challenge second place winner, $25,000: Ecofiltro S.A
Development of the Ceramic Disk Filter for Household Water Treatment in Guatemala
A systematic review of water, sanitation and hygiene interventions commissioned by the World Bank suggests that improving household drinking water quality at the point of use is more effective in reducing diarrheal disease risks (by 30 to 40 percent) than improvements at the source. Ecofiltro, S.A. is one of the most successful ceramic filter factories in the developing world with a recognised brand name and successful track record in the manufacture, marketing and sales of ceramic pot filters to both urban and rural customers in Guatemala
Reed Elsevier funds will be used to develop and commercialise a new type of household water treatment and safe storage system called the ceramic disk filter—a practical, effective and affordable technology that provides a “protective” level of treatment performance for protozoa, bacteria and virus removal.

WASH Alliance prize winner, $15,000: Stanford Program on Water, Health & Development
Lotus Water: community-scale automated chlorination for drinking water in urban slums
More than 90 percent of households in the slums of Dhaka are served through public taps or handpumps connected to the municipal water system, commonly shared by 10-100 households. The Stanford team conducted a survey of shared water points in Dhaka slums and found that 98 percent are contaminated. Their product offers reliable chlorine dosing while remaining low-cost; it can be easily integrated into existing handpumps, and is designed to dose water accurately even under variable and intermittent flow.
Direct beneficiaries of the next phase (installation of 150 devices) of the Lotus Water project will include approximately 2,000 households in Dhaka, or 10,000 people, who will access disinfected water as a result of using the technology. These sites will also allow the team to carry out health impact and business model evaluations.


Environmental Challenge first place winner, $50,000: WaterSHED

[photograph from WaterSHED]

Introduction of Improved Toilet Shelters for Increased Sanitation Coverage

An estimated 1.8m million households in rural Cambodia do not have access to safe sanitation. WaterSHED’s goal is to use local market channels to improve the supply of Cambodia’s safe, sustainable, and affordable sanitation products and services. WaterSHED’s research demonstrates that Cambodians desire a shelter for sanitation facilities, and will not purchase a latrine without an appropriate accompanying structure.

The Environmental Challenge award will allow WaterSHED to iteratively design and test-market a solution to improve access to toilet facilities for a significant portion of rural Cambodians, providing an affordable, attractive, and accessible shelter using durable, environmentally safe materials.

WaterSHED predicts their efforts will encourage more than 50,000 households to build latrines within the next two years, with far-reaching impacts across the region.

Environmental Challenge second place winner, $25,000: Gadgil Lab, UC Berkeley

Sustainable and scalable arsenic remediation of groundwater in South Asia

Deaths and disease are linked to high levels of naturally occurring arsenic in untreated groundwater throughout South Asia. Gadgil Lab, UC Berkeley, aims to bring safe water to local communities in West Bengal through their invention, Electro-Chemical Arsenic Remediation (ECAR). ECAR removes arsenic using ordinary steel plates and low DC voltage; its performance exceeds international standards for arsenic-safety across diverse groundwater conditions, and produces less waste sludge than conventional methods.

ECAR is rapidly scalable, directly addressing causes of previous failure through a focus on maintenance, ongoing education, affordability, and quality control.

The Environmental Challenge award will be used to distribute arsenic-safe water from the ECAR prototype to school children in West Bengal, in collaboration with school administration and its management committees. Schools will serve as educational hubs for awareness and community involvement, and social marketing. Excess water will be sold at locally affordable prices to the village community.

WASH Alliance prize winner, $15,000: Text to Change

[photograph from Text to Change]

WaterMonitor: Managing water supply and engaging communities at scale

The UN Joint Monitoring Program has estimated that water points in Africa fail between 30-60 percent of the time, while mobile phone penetration in Africa is approaching 60% and growing. Text to Change will develop a mobile communication tool called WaterMonitor to improve access to water in Uganda, helping map and extend the lifetime of the country’s water points.

WaterMonitor will allow stakeholders in the water value chain to map, monitor, and manage water infrastructure. Users will send a free SMS using simple codes to water companies containing all the relevant information needed for a repair, allowing water companies to respond more quickly.

The Environmental Challenge award will be used to map Uganda’s water points and for engagement with communities on WaterMonitor through traditional media such as radio, television, and posters, and mobile phone alerts.


Environmental Challenge first place winner, $50,000
Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST)

Iron-amended Biosand Water Filter for Millions of People in Nepal and Around the World

The project modifies a traditional Biosand Filter, which effectively strains large pathogens, by adding iron particles in order to remove viruses that previously remained in the filtered water. Rural villages in Nepal are greatly affected by water-borne diseases; this inexpensive project using local materials aims to help by installing 150 amended filters in two such villages that currently get their water from open springs. The project will especially target 1,000 of the most vulnerable people in the communities and provide health, environment, gender, and hygiene education workshops for the local community.

CAWST, based in Calgary, Canada, will be partnering with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), who developed the technology, and with Environment and Public Health Organization (ENPHO), a well-established and respected local NGO to disseminate the iron-amended Biosand Filters. The hope is that within 10 years, the technology can be adopted by and help millions of people worldwide. CAWST will facilitate this by disseminating anything learned from the project through its global network.

Environmental Challenge second place winner, $25,000

Sustainable Sanitation in Urban Slums of Africa

The project focuses on sustainable sanitation in the slums of Kenya, where 80 per cent of the population lacks access to adequate sanitation. Sanergy develops a dense network of small-scale but high-quality sanitation centres in slums. Each toilet is run by a local entrepreneur, with a training and support system in place. Waste cartridges are collected daily by Sanergy staff, and the waste is then converted into organic fertilizer and electricity. The prize money will be used to expand the pilot project, hopefully to 250 toilets in Nairobi by the end of 2012, and demonstrate the viability of the model across the entire value chain.

The project takes a systems-based approach with the issue, building out the entire sanitation value chain. It not only addresses the environmental and health impacts of poor sanitation, but seeks to boost the local economy as well. It also involves a range of stakeholders, including local residents, manufacturers, NGOs and the city council. Sanergy itself is well embedded in the local environment - 80 per cent of the team is Kenyan.

Watch Sanergy video


Environmental Challenge first place winner, $50,000
Tagore-SenGupta Foundation

Sustainable Treatment of Contaminated Groundwater in Cambodia: Turning a Crisis into an Economic Enterprise

The project focuses on arsenic removal in ground-sourced drinking water in Cambodia. Many people living in the Mekong river floodplains in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos use water contaminated with arsenic at concentrations typically over 20 times the safe limit prescribed by the World Health Organization. The project involves an arsenic groundwater removal system using locally available chemical compounds and reusable sand filters. Ground water is pumped into an overhead tank, chemically stabilised, filtered using reusable arsenic-selective adsorbents, and converted into stable sludge/solids for safe long-term storage. Twelve community-level arsenic removal units are to be installed in remote villages and schools in Cambodia.

The project, using locally available raw materials, will complement traditional methods of water collection and costs will be shared by users. Environmental sustainability is addressed through the careful containment and storage of the arsenic removed from the contaminated water to ensure it does not leach into the environment. Socio-economic sustainability will be addressed through the formation and functioning of community water councils to ensure efficient operation and upkeep of the units. The Tagore-SenGupta Foundation, based in Pennsylvania, will be partnering with Cambodian NGO, This Life Cambodia, and Lehigh University.

Environmental Challenge second place winner, $25,000
Jenna Forsyth

Improving access to safe water and empowering students and communities through a scalable school-based water treatment and education programme in Kenya

The project developed by Jenna Forsyth, a student at the University of Washington, aims to develop a scalable school water treatment and education programme in the Nyanza province of western Kenya. The Smart Electrochlorinator 200, developed with Cascade Designs and Program for Appropriate Technology in Health, utilises locally available salt and battery or solar power to generate enough chlorine-based disinfectant solution per six minute cycle to treat 200 litres of water. The pilot, concentrating on three schools initially, will involve creation of school water clubs to increase knowledge of basic water, sanitation, and hygiene, among students, teachers, and parents.

The project will engage a range of stakeholders including community health workers, village leaders, and officials from the Kenyan Ministries of Education, Water, and Public Health. A project leader from each school will be trained to conduct regular sampling to ensure the water meets WHO standards for water quality.

The other shortlisted projects were:

“Aakash Ganga”: A community rooftop rainwater harvesting system in India
Candidate: Pratibha Shenoy/Sustainable Innovations Inc.

Water supply in India is dependent on the monsoon which brings a rainy season in the summer accounting for 80% of yearly rainfall. Delayed onset of the monsoon can have catastrophic consequences for the domestic water supply and larger economy. This project to collect and store rooftop rainwater, aims to provide equitable distribution of drinking water, at a village level, all year round.

The rooftop collection system has been piloted successfully in six villages in Rajasthan. The collected rainwater is shared between a network of local reservoirs, with capacity to supply domestic water to each household for a year.

If successful, prize money will contribute to the extension of the project, including construction of a 10,000 m2 rainwater harvesting park that will yield an estimated 40 liters of water per capita per day. Among other contributions, local government would lease land for free to establish the park. Total project cost is estimated at $85,000 for one village.

A solar energy-based water purification system for Mozambique
Candidate: Boris Atanassov/Greenlight

Following the end of a 30 year civil war in 1995, Mozambique is still recovering from the destruction of its infrastructure, particularly in rural districts. As few as 32% of the population have access to adequate sanitation and just 43% to clean water, and the practice of boiling water for purification using inefficient biomass fuel systems brings further health impacts and contributes to deforestation and CO2 emissions.

This project would utilise a water purification system, developed by Solvatten in Sweden, to purify water through solar energy. Each 10-liter unit can purify water in as little as two hours, generating 10-30 litres of safe drinking water per day. Two regions, one urban and one rural, suffering from severe water-quality problems would be chosen in the pilot which aims to reach 500 communities. The total cost of the project is estimated at $49,900.


Dr Mark van Loosdrecht

Dr Mark van Loosdrecht is a full professor in the department of Biochemical Engineering at Delft University of Technology, and head of the Environmental Biotechnology section. He obtained his Engineering Degree in Environmental Engineering at Wageningen University and obtained his PhD with a focus on the adhesion of bacteria and the effects of adhesion on the microbial physiology at the same university in 1988. He has been lecturing at Delft University of Technology since 1988. He has been a scientific advisor of Water Cycle Research at KWR Water Cycle Research since 2008, and holds several fellowships and an honorary doctorate at the ETH Zurich. His research interests include the principles of microbial growth in biofilms and granules and the principles of metabolism in mixed microbial cultures under dynamic conditions, and one of his many academic achievements has been in the mechanistical understanding of biological phosphorus removal processes from wastewater and of the morphogenesis of biofilms. Currently four different wastewater treatment processes developed by his team are being introduced on a commercial scale.

Dr van Loosdrecht is Editor-In-Chief of Elsevier’s journal Water Research and has recently been awarded the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize 2012 for his breakthrough contributions in creating sustainable solutions in the field of wastewater treatment. He has contributed a video interview to Elsevier’s Bigger Brains initiative, a platform that provides career guidance and advice for early career researchers.

Dr Prasad Modak

Prasad Modak obtained BTech (Civil Engg-1978) and MTech (Environmental Science and Engg-1980) from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay. He received Doctor of Environmental Engg from the Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok, Thailand in 1984. Dr Modak joined the Centre for Environmental Science and Engg at IIT Bombay as a faculty in 1984. He left IIT Bombay in 1995 to set up the Environmental Management Centre (

Since 1996, Dr Modak has worked as a Corporate Consultant (Environment & Infrastructure) with Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services (IL&FS) Ltd. In this capacity he provides oversight on IL&FS's Environmental & Social Policy Framework. Dr Modak is an Adjunct Professor at the Centre for Technology Alternatives in Rural Areas at IIT, Bombay since 2009.

Dr Modak has worked with almost all key UN, multi-lateral and bi-lateral developmental institutions in the world. Prominent amongst these are United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Geneva, Osaka and Paris; United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), New York, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), New York; United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Vienna; Dept for International Development (DFID); London; Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) and Carl Duisburg Gesellschaft (CDG), Germany; Asian Productivity Organization (APO), Tokyo; Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), Embassy of the Netherlands, New Delhi; Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the World Bank (WB), International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

Dr Modak has been invited by several international agencies, public bodies, professional journals and Governments to serve as a Jury and a Reviewer. He has authored and executed more than 300 consulting reports and trained more than 5000 professionals across the World.

Dr Modak has published books with UN University on EIA (translations in Chinese, Japanese), Tokyo; Oxford University Press; UNEP, Paris on Textile Industry and Environment and Centre for Environmental Education in India on Waste Minimization. In 1993, he coordinated learning materials on Air Pollution for UNESCO. For UNEP, Geneva he served as Coordinating Author for the Chapter on Waste Management & Recycling in the Green Economy Report. He was instrumental in developing the International Platform for Waste Management for Local Authorities (IPLA) for UNCRD. He served as Hon Editor of the Journal of Indian Water Works between 1998 and 2004.

Dr Modak is a Council Member of the International Green Purchasing Network (IGPN), a Columnist for Green Purchasing Asia magazine which is published from Malaysia and he chairs the Green Purchasing Network India.

Dr Modak has received a number of awards and recognitions, and his name has been listed in distinguished personalities on environmental management. He has been recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award of AITAA in 2010 for Significant Contribution to International Affairs. In 2011, Dr Modak was elected by the American Association of Environmental Engineers as Board Certified Environmental Engineering Member for his work in Research, Teaching and Professional Practice.

Dr Gang Pan

Dr Gang Pan is a professor at the Research Center for Eco-environmental Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences. He is the Chairman of the Global Phosphorus Recycling Initiative (GPRI), SCOPE (Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment), chief scientist of a Sino-EU governmental cooperation programme on water science (Ministry of Science and Technology), deputy chief-scientist of a national R&D programme on Taihu Lake (45 million RMB) and project leader for three national key basic research projects (11 million RMB).

He is the vice president of Chinese Association of Aquatic Environment, board member of the Chinese Society of Environmental Nanotechnology,, the Chinese Society of Environment and Energy, the NSF assessment panel, and the Chinese Society of Limnology and Oceanology. He is a member of American Chemical Society, and a member of the editorial board of five peer reviewed journals. He has published more than 140 peer reviewed papers and issued more than 40 patents.

Dr Pan was a pioneer in developing cost-effective and safe technologies for toxic algal blooms and water pollution controls as well as nutrient recycle/reuse technologies in natural water systems. He also developed fundamental physicochemical theories and methods to study environmental and geochemical interfacial reactions (adsorption, flocculation, and nano science). He has a track record in developing multidisciplinary studies in chemical, environmental, ecological, water, and nano areas, ranging from fundamental science to applied engineering.

Valerie Labi

Valerie Labi

Valerie Labi can be described as a social innovator, with a proven track record for nurturing growth strategies and delivering shared value in emerging markets. Valerie is making a significant contribution to tackling the global sanitation crisis by pioneering new forms of household sanitation with potential for widescale replication in emerging markets. In 2015 she was appointed as Director of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for iDE and subsequently founded Sama Sama a sanitation social enterprise; which uses a direct sales approach to increase people's demand for improved toilets and aggregates local businesses in order to match supply.

Not only is her work today establishing a robust sanitation market ecosystem in Northern Ghana which aims to reach more than 300,000 people. Valerie previously served as CEO of Clean Team Toilets, 2013 winners of the Dame Lesley Strathie Award for Operational Excellence at the UK Civil Service Awards.

She excels when driving business transformation, providing leadership and finding innovative solutions to social issues. She is determined to empower households and improve living conditions in Africa by driving the ‘democratisation of toilets’ and the ‘commercialisation of waste’ across the continent.

Her accomplishments to date at driving social change through business were recently acknowledged when she was recognised as one of the ‘10 under 35 Changemakers in Ghana’. Valerie was honoured by President Obama when she was awarded the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders 2014.

In addition to being a mother and a business leader, Valerie is pioneering in academia contributing to thought leadership, pursuing her Masters of Studies at the University of Cambridge, UK with a core research focus on Sustainability Leadership.


For more information about the RELX Group Environmental Challenge please email

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