The St Andrews Prize for the Environment

University of St Andrews


21 May 2018



Two-time Winner, Ian Thorpe has taken home the top prize for two outstanding innovations – The Elephant Pump in 2005, and the Elephant Toilet in 2008. Presenting both times on behalf of Pump Aid, the charity helps rural communities in Africa gain access to clean water and appropriate sanitation.

The Elephant Pump uses a 2,000 year old Chinese technique for lifting water, and is around ten times cheaper than a piston pump while still producing a higher yield from the same depth. The Elephant Toilet provides a sustainable sanitation solution with waste being used to develop rich compost for growing vegetables.

“When I found out we were shortlisted, I was excited to have the opportunity to share our experiences with environmental experts. When we won with the Elephant Pump, and again with the Elephant Toilet, I knew that the recognition from both would provide a huge boost to these projects, as it would help us secure funding for dramatic expansion.”

Since winning the Prize, the projects have gone from strength to strength, and Pump Aid shows no signs of slowing down.

“Apart from the boost to fundraising, the network of trustees and others associated with the prize have opened up numerous opportunities. For example, last month I took part in the Business Forum at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting and the Pitch at the Palace events. I am also mentoring various entrepreneurs from across Africa as a result of connections made through the St Andrews Prize.

“As far as the projects are concerned, at the time of winning the prize for the Elephant Pump, around 250,000 people were benefitting. Now millions of people across Africa use the Elephant Pump every day.”

“We are currently working on a project which involves the recycling of waste plastic to produce useful products which complement our expanding water and sanitation work. The products include plastic roofing tiles, drain-pipes made from re-used plastic bottles linked to huge tetra-pak style water storage tanks to allow for the harvesting and storage of rainwater. We are also using the storage tanks made from recycled plastic as bio-digestors, which helps in the treatment of waste with two useful by-products: biogas for cooking and sterile fertiliser for agriculture. We are also currently installing over 50 new Elephant Pumps every month, which is the highest rate of expansion since we started.”

Having faced the St Andrews Prize panel twice, Ian has some valuable advice for those considering entering for the 2019 Prize.

“If you believe that your project includes an original innovation, which has the potential for scale and addresses a critical environmental problem, then you should certainly apply to the St Andrews Prize. You will find that if you are selected as a finalist, those involved with the prize will become your allies as they help you recognise and realise the potential that your project has.”