The 365 Ways Blog

Michael Norton is author of "365 Ways to Change the World", which provides an issue for each day of the year, interesting facts, inspiring case studies of people doing things to address the issue and ideas for action. Originally published in the UK, versions with local content have been published in Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and the USA. To find out more visit our website:

24 April 2007

Building with Good Earth

Kiln-fired bricks are by far the most common building material, particularly in rural areas. The manufacture of these requires enormous amounts of heat, which means that vast amounts of timber and charcoal are being consumed. It also emits a lot of CO2 (an important consideration in the global warming scenario). The cement used in building is also energy intensive and expensive. So what are the alternatives?

Stabilised Soil Block Technology compresses moistened subsoil mixed with minimal cement into building blocks. The blocks are "cured" not fired.

ISSB presses compact moistened subsoil mixed with minimal cement into building blocks. The presses are manually operated, require little maintenance and are guaranteed for seven years. They cost around $740. Assuming soil types are favourable, a team of four
with basic training, can make up to 500 blocks per day using one press. The presses are easily transported, making them accessible to remote communities. Close cost analysis reveals savings of around 20% for construction of houses, classrooms, clinics etc and a 50% reduction in the construction of water tanks and sanitation facilities.

Recent modifications - designed by the Faculty of Technology at Makerere University, Kampala - have transformed the potential of this technology. The new presses use the same process, but with increased compaction produce Interlocking Stabilised Soil Blocks (referred to as “ISSBs”). There are two types:
1. Interlocking straight blocks – for basic building
2. Interlocking curved blocks – for construction of water tanks and sanitation facilities

The blocks are stronger and more durable than fired bricks. The interlocking design strengthens all construction work, and enables quicker construction with lower levels of masonry skills. Considerably less mortar is required, and his significantly reduces the cost.

Did you know…
10,000 Bricks are required to construct a two-room house or a classroom block. To fire them requires 10 tons of firewood and causes 7630kg of CO2 emissions. The situation in Uganda, typical of Africa, as a whole constitutes a terrible irony where the development of infrastructure and community assets threatens the vital ecosystems on which people depend for their survival and hastens climate change.

Between 1990 and 2005, Uganda lost 1,297,000 hectares of forest (18.4% of the total). The alarming rate of deforestation across the whole of Uganda prompted research into Stabilised Soil Block Technology by the University of Makerere in Kampala.

Good Earth building schools
Good Earth is a small non-profit working in Uganda using ISSB technology. It is working with Climate Care UK to promote the sale of ISSB presses in Gulu in Northern Uganda and to calculate the carbon savings arising from their use. It is also building a classroom block and teachers accommodation at a school in Jinja (in Eastern Uganda):

“Perhaps the greatest success of the project lies not in the construction work but in the level of student participation. The simplicity and safety of the technology has enabled many of them to become actively involved, making blocks and helping with the construction of their own classroom. They have had the chance to acquire new skills, earn themselves some money and to learn about the developmental, environmental and health benefits of an appropriate technology. The headmaster has been so impressed that he has encouraged teachers to initiate discussions about ISSBs in technology and agriculture lessons. The students have also become advocates for the technology and interest in the local area has been considerable.”

If the project is successful, it could provide a model for creating new educational facilities across Africa.

What you can do
Organise a fundraising event and try to raise enough money to pay for one ISSB press. This will go on working for years to build homes and schools, create employment for the team running the press, and save CO2 emissions. perhaps a group of people going on holiday could consider sharing in the cost of one press to offset their flight emissions.

Good Earth Trust:
Build IT International:
Ugandan Rural Schools Initiative:

Downshift today

21 to 27 April is National Downshifting Week. These were the 7 ways they suggested for slowing down and greening up:

1. Money: Cut up a Credit card
We are surrounded by the 'Buy Now, Pay Later' credit culture and have forgotten the value of our true earnings. Curb your debt and prevent future overspending by cutting up a credit card.
Mantra - The more money you spend, the longer you need to work to pay for it.
Remember - The very best things in life are free.

2. Time: Reclaim an hour of time this week
Everybody can claw back time pockets here and there. When you change your perspective on the best ways to spend it, a whole new world opens up. You don't need expensive gadgets, gizmos or toys with plugs on. What happened to hangman, board games, reading, talking and interacting as a family? We have simply forgotten how to do them.
Mantra - What's the point of a fortune, it you haven't the time to spend it?
Remember - The most important gift of all, is time.

3. Waste: Start composting or recycling
Running taps, bulging bin bags, lights left on - you might find yourself going automatically greener as your pace slows down. Composting is an easy one to get started with - coffee grinds, tea bags, veggie and fruit peelings will all turn into 'black gold' potting compost, ideal for your first spring plant out.
Mantra - Get a handle on refuse and energy use and watch your waste!
Remember - Landfill is one stroke away from land full

4. Giving: Donate time or things to a worthy cause
An incredible sense of contentment comes when you give something back to your community. Whether it's volunteering or donating at the local charity shop, or doing a bit of gardening in the hospice, you cannot imagine how much light you shine in the lives of those less fortunate.
Mantra - Make this your year to volunteer.
Remember - Kindness is infectious, give someone else the bug.

5. Food: Cook a simple meal using fresh local ingredients
Celebrate the fantastic revival of simple, wholesome dishes. Consider organic and free range too. Cooking from fresh is cheaper and can often be quicker than the processed options, with taste and health benefits beyond anything in a box. Relax if you don't have all the ingredients, substitute it or leave it out, but above all, enjoy putting your meal together.
Mantra - Peel it, chop it, stir it, stuff it, love it!
Remember - Ditch the fear and indulge the fun and fantasy of simple, home cooking.

6. Community: Purchase produce from a local shop
Through local shops and vibrant markets flows the lifeblood of our communities; they need our support more than ever before. By making one new purchasing decision each week, that favours local seasonal produce, you are helping to breathe new life into this precious resource.
Mantra - It's time to explore our super markets!
Remember - A high street without decent, local shops, is a street that's lost it's high.

7. Enjoy: Start doing something just for yourself
Have you ever wanted to unleash your concealed talents? With so many great ways to unwind your mind and simply feel good, it's just a question of giving yourself permission to have a go. Greetings card making, painting, gardening, am dram; whatever rings your inspirational bell, go ring it!
Mantra - There is a life outside of the commute.
Remember - How will you ever know what lies within, unless you make the time to scratch the surface?