Emily Cummins

About me

Here's where it all began

When I was four, my Grandad gave me a hammer and began to teach me how to make toys from scraps of materials found in his garden shed. I loved the fact that we could make something out of seemingly random bits, and my interest in sustainable design was born. As I got older I learnt about the properties of different materials and became more experienced in using a range of tools. Now I'm 27 and my latest innovation is a sustainable fridge which is 'powered' by dirty water but keeps medicines or small food items clean, dry and cool. I refined my fridge during a gap year in Namibia and then decided to give away the design plans in townships across southern Africa because I wanted to enable as many people as possible to build their own fridges.

My design philosophy involves a back-to-basics approach which keeps an eye on the past as well as the future and combines the best of both. I'm motivated by human need as well as sustainability principles. My creative thinking has, amazingly, led to a string of commendations including being named as one of the Top Ten Outstanding Young People in the World 2010, The Barclays Woman of the Year Award 2009 and Cosmopolitan magazine's Ultimate Save-the-Planet Pioneer 2008.

Sustainable refrigerator

We can’t continue to rely on electrical appliances powered by fossil fuels, so I tried to come up with an alternative: a sustainable fridge which is ‘powered’ by dirty water. My prototype consists of two metallic cylinders, one inside the other, between which a locally-sourced material such as sand or wool is packed tightly before being soaked with water. When the fridge is placed in a warm environment, the sun’s energy causes the outer part of the fridge to ’sweat.’ Water evaporates from the sand or wool and heat energy is transferred away from the inner cylinder, which therefore becomes cooler. The design is ideal for use in the developing world because it doesn’t require electricity and can be built using barrels, spare car parts and ordinary household materials. Unlike previous pot-in-pot coolers, the contents are kept dry and hygienic because the water does not come into contact with the product.

My sustainable fridge is 'powered' by dirty water

Water carrier

African women and children often walk many miles a day to collect water using only one or two jerry cans, so I designed a carrier that would make their journey easier and more productive. Up to five containers of water can be held in place using surplus tyre inner tubes. Inspired by the Dyson Ball Barrow, the ‘wheel’ provides maximum stability for the containers and is created using tree branch sections of varying diameter. Pegs are used instead of glue so that individual components can be renewed as needed. The product can be adapted to carry firewood or other heavy loads and may be completely recycled at the end of its working life.

My sustainable fridge is 'powered' by dirty water

Toothpaste dispenser

One of my Grandads couldn't squeeze toothpaste tubes properly because of his arthritis, so I created a dispenser that changed the squeezing action into a pushing one. The angled back-plate is attached, via a pivot, to a lever that can be pushed by any part of the body. As the lever is depressed it squeezes the tube from the top down, minimising wastage. The dispenser can be used with a variety of products, by people with limited arm movement or prosthetic limbs and in situations where hygiene is important, such as in hospitals or kitchens.

My sustainable fridge is 'powered' by dirty water

Awards and Achievements

2014

  • Pioneer of the Purpose Economy 100 - Europe Winner

2012

  • MADE Festival Change Maker

2011

  • STEMNET Ambassador
  • One Young World Delegate

2010

  • Real Business’s top 30 entrepreneurs aged 30 or under
  • Yorkshire Young Achievers Award - Achievement in Management and Enterprise
  • Honouree for the Oslo Business for Peace Award
  • JCI Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World Award
  • Red's Hot Women Awards - 20 Under 30 List

2009

  • The Barclays Woman of the Year
  • The Shining World Inventor Award

2008

  • Leeds University Enterprise Scholar
  • Cosmopolitan magazine's Ultimate Save-The-Planet Pioneer
  • Future 100 Young Entrepreneur of the Year

2007

  • Appointed 'Women of Achievement Ambassador'
  • Female Innovator of the Year
  • Diamond Award for Exceptional Creativity
  • Appointed 'Girls make your Mark Ambassador'

2006

  • Merchant Adventurers' Award for Enterprise
  • Technology Women of the Future Award

2005

  • Young Engineer for Britain Award for Most Benefit to the Community
  • Young Engineer for Britain Award for Most Innovative Solution for a Sustainable Environment
  • Audi Young Designer of the Year, Regional Winner and National Finalist
  • Ignite! Creative Spark Award