RainStick: developing sustainable showers without compromise

As we’re navigating a global pandemic and a just recovery, we want to amplify the stories of those that are working harder than ever for a low-carbon future. We’re profiling each of our 16 ventures in Earth Tech – CSI’s Climate Ventures accelerator for startups and nonprofits working on climate and freshwater solutions. This article was originally published by Bullfrog Power – Canada’s leading green energy provider and an Earth Tech partner.

Do you remember that episode of Seinfeld where low-flow showerheads throw everyone’s lives into chaos? As Kramer famously put it, “If I don’t have a good shower, I am not myself. I feel weak and ineffectual… I’m not Kramer.” We can all relate to that feeling, but it doesn’t change the facts: every time we shower in North America, we heat up about 100 litres of fresh water, only to send it down the drain seconds later.

Alisha McFetridge, co-founder and CEO of RainStick, wanted to find a better way to shower — and prove that you can be sustainable without sacrifice.

RainStick is a recirculating shower that cuts energy and water use by 80%, but still feels like a high-pressure shower. Users can lessen their environmental impact without giving up that squeaky-clean shower feeling, and they can also save upwards of $700 a year on utilities. “This technology is just around the corner,” Alisha told us. “We want to make it easier than ever to live a sustainable lifestyle without compromising the shower experience.”

A rendering of the RainStick shower


Testing the waters

Alisha’s concern for the environment began when she was working for an international NGO in 2010, and she was tasked with creating ten hours of climate change content for high schoolers across Canada. “This was an intimidating task because I knew very little, and I had only four weeks to put it together!” she admitted. “There were a lot of sleepless nights, but I learned so much.”

This interest in environmental issues grew into a passion, and Alisha went on to study climate change in her master’s program. From there, she chose an entrepreneurial path. “Climate change is our most pressing issue, and we don’t have much time,” Alisha said. “In my opinion, the role of innovative and scalable solutions is to leapfrog existing technologies to make the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time.”

Catching a wave

Alisha spent time working in Kenya, where she saw firsthand the role that fresh water and sanitation play in our health and wellbeing. In the Masai Mara National Reserve, she supported communities in the development of sustainable water and sanitation projects, particularly safe water storage tanks, handwashing stations, latrines, and educational workshops. “We have very limited freshwater on Earth — only 1% of the planet’s water is accessible and fresh,” she said. “But every time we use it, we waste it. There’s considerable opportunity to reduce our usage.”

Alisha at work in Kenya

When she returned to Canada, Alisha and her partner, Sean McFetridge, started an idea of the month club where they would grab a beer and discuss what the world needs. One session’s conversation turned to how wasteful showers are: after going to all the trouble of collecting and heating 100 litres of clean, fresh water, it only touches our skin for a second before it goes down the drain.

Alisha and Sean saw a need for a shower that cuts back on water waste without sacrificing pressure. The two co-founders came up with a closed-loop concept — a shower that would filter, heat, and recirculate water instead of draining it away. “We started to create mock-ups in a spare bedroom in our home,” Alisha remembered. “People kept telling us that they wanted one of our showers when they were ready, and that validation kept us going.”

Going with the flow

The pandemic has slowed RainStick’s progress, but Alisha says that they’re charging on. “Today we have our working prototype and are moving to our high-fidelity version so we can install our first units!” she said. “We’re so thankful to have the fantastic advisory support and the great community of like-minded entrepreneurs that Earth Tech brings.”

RainStick’s other challenge has been to help people get used to the idea of reusing water from their shower. “Many of us have baths, but recirculating showers are new to us,” Alisha said. “We’ve overcome this by incorporating a multi-stage filtration mechanism that makes the water at the end of your shower safe enough to drink. For many people, RainStick makes your water cleaner than what you would get from the grid.”

Alisha and Sean’s shower is already making waves — Alisha took home the top prize in this winter’s Fierce Founder’s pitch competition, a program that supports woman-led tech companies. “It was incredible validation of the hard work we’ve put into RainStick, and that others are just as excited as we are,” Alisha said.

“Climate change is our most pressing issue, and we don’t have much time. In my opinion, the role of innovative and scalable solutions is to leapfrog existing technologies to make the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time.”

Alisha McFetridge

When it comes to market, the RainStick shower has the opportunity to make a huge impact on our water and energy use. Alisha predicts that the product will be a great fit for sustainability-conscious homeowners who may already have a smart thermostat and are looking for more ways to reduce their impact. “If everyone adopted our solution, we’d save over ten trillion litres of fresh water over the next two years,” Alisha said. “That’s what motivates us to keep working.”

Learn more about RainStick here.

Learn more about Earth Tech and meet the other ventures here. Earth Tech is made possible because of our partners: RBC Foundation, Bullfrog Power, Vancity Community Investment Bank (VCIB), and WWF-Canada