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Block Solutions is a Finnish environmentally-friendly construction company founded by a multi-entrepreneur couple on a mission to transform the way we build. Using their years of experience in the construction industry, they have developed a revolutionary process for turning recycled plastics and bio-composite byproducts into stronger than concrete building blocks that can be used to solve the urgent, global need for practical and affordable shelters and housing for millions. This innovation has sustainability at its very core, and addresses the UN Sustainable Development Goals #1, #5, #8, #9, #10, #11, #12, & #13.
The innovation from Block Solutions could be summarised as combining Ikea with Legos. Eco-Blocks are environmentally-friendly injection-molded construction blocks made out of recycled plastic and biocomposite. They provide a new, cost-efficient and carbon-neutral alternative to traditional construction, and are setting the foundations for transforming the way we build. Founder Markus Silfverberg set out to find a solution to the urgent need for shelter for millions of people living in temporary tents in crisis-hit areas, which is how the idea of mobile, affordable modular homes was born.
The lightweight (à 2-3kg) but stronger than concrete blocks are designed so that anyone armed with a rubber hammer and a wrench can build a house. In the design, special care has been given to ease and speed of building; a 30 square meter, 2 bedroom house can be built in less than 3 hours by two people without any professional construction experience. The blocks offer great flexibility to their inhabitants’ changing needs, as the blocks can be easily dismantled and rebuilt in another location, or more rooms can be added to the original building. Furthermore, construction does not require electricity, meaning these modular houses can be built in remote regions without proper infrastructure, making Eco-Blocks an ideal solution for crisis accommodation.
The carbon footprint of the blocks is minimal, as the biocomposite fibres are by-products of the forest or textile industry (wood, clothes, sugar cane), and the plastic is either bought recycled or collected from nature by locals in exchange for payment.
Prior to Eco-Blocks, Markus Silfverberg had decades of experience on environmental issues, different raw materials and the building industry. In 2016, after a discussion with the UN around solving the temporary accommodation problem in crisis-hit areas, such as the Haiti crisis, he set to work first by himself, and later with friends who had an understanding of technology and business.
“This is a solution that we need to start thinking of. This cannot be happening anymore.”
The UN had a need to build 15 million houses in Africa alone within the next five years, which was not possible with existing methods. Markus Silfverberg introduced them to the idea of Block Solutions, which was eventually one of three solutions provided by the UN to the market. The overall inspiration was to offer affordable and easy construction materials to build accommodation to areas in need. Sustainability was a core consideration, which was reflected in product development. Biocomposite and recycled plastics were chosen as the main raw materials because they wanted to produce something with minimal carbon emissions. After numerous test designs, the team figured out the right production method for creating blocks that were safe to use and environmentally sustainable, but also kept the cost of construction low, thus enabling anyone to build a house.
“Our vision is to revolutionize the entire construction industry with our innovative solution and material. We are creating a better tomorrow by creating sustainable communities around the world.”
The impact of this innovation holds significant potential across several SDGs. While the environmental benefit of using by-products and recycled plastics is notable because it supports responsible consumption and circularity (SDG #12) and reduces carbon emissions (#13), it’s the social impact of Eco-Blocks that holds the potential for significant change.
Eco-Blocks offer decent and affordable housing to all (#1), and help build sustainable cities and communities (#11). They promote new innovation to strengthen the local industry base (#9), create jobs for local communities and foster sustainable entrepreneurship (#8). One of the company's core values is that at least half of the workers are female, and all licensees must follow a code of conduct which includes gender equality and pay (#5, #10).
In the short term, the innovation solves one of the most fundamental human needs: shelter. Getting an accurate account of homelessness globally is challenging, but an estimated 1.6 billion people lack adequate housing, especially in emerging markets. Eco-Blocks hold the potential to significantly improve living conditions for millions.
Long term, an Eco-Block building is estimated to last over a 100 years and therefore offers value cross-generationally. With just one factory, Block Solutions can remove 3,000 tonnes of plastic from the environment and provide 3,000 homes to communities in need each year. By 2030, they aim to have 800 factories, meaning building 2.4 million houses annually.
“It’s going to be big at some point - we're not there yet but we’re gonna be!”
Block Solutions has received backing from governmental funds and NGOs, but their intention is not to be a charity. They plan on building a profitable business by transferring their technological know-how from Finland to local companies, which they call value driven partners, on licencing deals to set up factories globally. These factories are funded by the local companies or governments, meaning that Block Solutions has minimal capital risk involved. This enables them to rapidly scale their business model to generate revenue from licencing fees. For the local company, the factory’s estimated investment payback time is only 2 years.
By partnering with Block Solutions, the local companies get access to sophisticated technological know-how and investment that enables cost-efficient and sustainable construction to create cross-generational value. This also enables them to offer more employment to the locals, in forms of collecting waste from nature for raw material, block production, logistics, and construction. One factory can create on average 150 local jobs. The factory creates wealth in the local community and strengthens the local industry base with potential spillover effects to other entrepreneurs, such as electricians and foundation workers. Finally, one of the most pivotal long-term benefits to the host country is through the “spillover” of technology and knowledge, which can transform the local economy by up-scaling their productivity. As the local economy grows, so does the demand for housing, meaning more licencing fees for Block Solutions, more waste getting collected and more sustainable houses getting built.
Eco-Blocks contribute positively to communities in need and the environment which they inhabit, with multiple positive spillover effects. Traditional construction material production is responsible for roughly 10 % of global emissions, construction overall represents 38 %, whereas Eco-Blocks are carbon neutral. The impact if all houses were built carbon neutral would be substantial.
In 2018, powerful earthquakes hit Indonesia’s Lombok island, damaging more than 90 percent of the buildings. This left hundreds of thousands displaced, and affected in total 218,224 students who were left to study in temporary classrooms. Working together with NGOs and local authorities, Eco-Blocks helped to rebuild 200 schools, with one 5-classroom school taking just 5 days to build. As a result, children were able to return to full-time education in record time, thus reducing inequality and supporting quality education.
Eco-Blocks set forth a far-ranging impact in Lombok; it helped to rebuild local infrastructure and well-being, but they also helped economic recovery, as a Block Solutions factory was set up on-site. The factory uses locally collected plastics and byproducts to produce more blocks, addressing the prevalent waste and housing problems in a smart, sustainable way. In addition, Markus and Sanna Silfverberg want to educate the locals about corruption, gender-equality and recycling. The overall impact of Block Solutions is huge and Markus Silfverberg ends:
“The best moment is when you see the smiles on the locals’ faces when you bring them the blocks - Is it this easy to build a house for myself?”
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Markus Silfverberg, Founder
Sanna Silfverberg, Managing Director
Block Solutions is a Finnish environmentally-friendly construction company founded by a multi-entrepreneur couple on a mission to transform the way we build. By manufacturing environmentally friendly construction blocks made out of recycled plastic and biocomposite, Block Solutions wants to solve the urgent, global need for affordable housing.