Environmentally friendly solar flashlight brings light to Africa's poorest villages

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In undeveloped nations such as Eritrea, Haiti, or Cameroon, light is a luxury. Mark Bent thinks that's unacceptable.

Bent, a former American diplomat and Houston oilman, is CEO and founder of SunNight Solar, a company that has created solar powered flashlights that they are now spreading throughout the world by way of private donors, the United Nations and organizations such as Direct Relief International.

The Takeaway ran into Bent at the Greener Gadgets Conference in New York City on February 27th, where he happily pulled apart his product for us. The flashlights, the shape of which reminded me of a Pantene-Pro V shampoo bottle, are made of LED lights and a plastic case. They nab their power from three recyclable batteries that are re-charged by a solar panel that graces the side of the flashlight. In total, the panel provides power for up to 2,000 nights, and the batteries last about two years.

Bent was at the conference to participate in an expert panel titled, "Green Design For Good." When asked about using plastic in his product (a material that doesn't scream sustainability) Bent replied, "I'm willing to live with ABS plastic because I can get people to read." The former Navy man's flashlight do more than help people read. They cut down on the need for kerosene lanterns, which improves lung health, as well as allow villages and refugee camps to function safely after dark. Women are protected from sexual assault, refugees can use the lamps to deter thieves, and farmers can keep away wild animals.

Bent sat down with us post-conference to dish on how his flashlights promote gender equality and safety around the world, and why pink is his favorite color.