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  • Writer's pictureCecilia Wandiga

Transdisciplinary Convergence on Circular Bio/Blue-Economy Innovation - Earth Building Materials

Updated: Apr 7, 2020

Creating an innovation ecosystem is always a Herculean task. However, when there is no definitive technology standard and evidence on the most optimal processes are lacking, the task of building an innovation ecosystem is even more daunting. Our five pillars process is a simplified approach to the basic research model for evidence based discovery:

As a UNESCO Associated Centre, CSTI supports the UNESCO Strategy for Action on Climate Change, in particular [emphasis added]:

  • Raise awareness on climate change as a cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary issue in an overall sustainable development context while building on the strength and focus of each Major Programme of UNESCO;

  • Promoting interdisciplinary climate knowledge and scientific cooperation for climate change mitigation and adaptation;

  • Promoting cultural diversity and cultural heritage safeguarding for climate change mitigation and adaptation;

  • Supporting inclusive social development, fostering intercultural dialogue and promoting ethical and gender equality principles in relation to climate change mitigation and adaptation

An understanding of the linkages between environmental pollution and changes in weather patterns is not necessary to understand the following very basic premise: a dirty environment is not healthy.

You do not stockpile garbage or smoke inside your house or office because you would get sick. The fact that we have historically stockpiled garbage and smoke outside of your houses (landfills, garbage dumps, lakes and rivers) only means that we have spread the risk of diseases from the confines of our homes and offices to the general community. In the case of air pollution and water pollution, we are not just putting our local community at risk of disease, we are putting the regional and global community at risk of disease


There are two main cost categories associated with pollution and toxic chemicals:

  1. the cost of damages from the effects of pollution - the short-term business costs, without including the losses to public health or species biodiversity, are forecasted to reach US $1 trillion by 2025; California's PG&E utility company is the first company in history to file for bankruptcy due to climate related damages - wild fires.

  2. the cost of pollution remediation and conversion to clean technologies - there is good news: "[i]f we aggressively pursue all of the low-cost abatement opportunities currently available, the total global economic cost would be €200-350 billion per year by 2030 [which] is less than one percent of the forecasted global GDP in 2030" ; based on the biomimcry philosophy (develop products and technologies that emulate how nature functions, instead of how machines function) CSTI is focusing on circular bio/blue-economy innovation as the adaptation strategy for promotion.

If the presented evidence is still not sufficiently convincing, there is also the law.

Kenya's Constitution mandates a clean environment as a basic human right. Which means all industries, government entities, households, and, individuals must make a concerted effort to create and maintain a clean environment

Article 42 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 provides for the right to a clean and healthy environment, which includes the right to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations through various measures and obligations relating to the environment.
Article 70 obligates the state to enforce environmental rights by judicial means. This means if a person alleges that a right to a clean and healthy environment recognized and protected under Article 42 has been, is being or is likely to be denied, violated, infringed or threatened, the person may apply to a court for redress in addition to any other legal remedies that are available in respect to the same matter.

Now that the context for clean technology and circular bio/blue-economy innovation are established, here are highlights from our collaboration journey:

Industry - Academia Consensus Building

Our framework

Start with a shared research need. Identify convergence points for social impact and business value. Learn about the situational landscape.

We are still in the early stages of Integrating workflows between organizations. Even when there are shared goals, shared passion and shared goals/priorities, the reality of organizational life is that each of us has a myriad of daily tasks in addition to the collaboration project. It is critical to have weekly sharing of information that enables members of the collaboration team to absorb relevant information. Just because we all agree that clean environmental standards can be achieved through affordable technology and we set a financial benchmark, does not mean that we are in agreement of the best implementation approach that encompasses transdisciplinary (converged multi-disciplinary frameworks) community engagement. Building trust is critical so that each others autonomous decision-making capacity can be readily embraced as beneficial for the collective team and project outcomes.

Pillar 1: Discovery

  • Observe Problems and Conditions

  • Understand Effects and Impact

  • Quantify Risks, Exposure, Costs


Initial meet and greet to understand the advantages of Durabric as a building material.

Shared Research Goal: how can unfired clay be used as a profitable, industry standardized, biologically benign, and, globally scalable masonry material for affordable housing and local job creation?

  • SDG 9 - Industry Innovation and Infrastructure (indicators 9.3.1, 9.4.1, 9.5.2, 9.b.1)

  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities (indicators 11.1.1, 11.3.1, 11.5.1, 11.5.2, 11.6.1, 11.6.2, 11.7.1, 11.a.1)

Discovery - Understanding Problems & Conditions

Faculty at the University of Nairobi Institute for Climate Change and Adaptation emphasized the need for a systems approach because emissions do not just come from the use of energy, emissions come from the chemical reactions in building materials (masonry, paints, sealers) as temperature levels heat or cool. Septic systems and household cleaners also contribute to pollution. We need to think about the design of a home as a holistic intervention that requires adaptation of the functions of a home, not just the structure and materials. University of Nairobi Science and Technology Park capabilities were showcased. The previous year's visit to LafargeHolcim's Haller Park in Mombasa was reviewed as a viable ecosystems regeneration model. Interlocking bricks (unfired/compressed not burnt) made from waste-to-resource composites were also examined as appropriate technology.

Competing paradigms include mortgage standards versus building code standards for approved materials, rapid construction using mortgages versus slow construction using self-financing to lower the cost from interest payments, need for highly efficient/streamlined production process that are globally competitive versus need for large scale job creation in low-income communities, manufacturing feasibility versus social feasibility and local preferences. Consensus on the use of 3D printing (including CNC machining) as a tool for new designs and collaboration from Fablab Winam in Kisumu.

Regenerative fresh water systems are a critical component of sustainable industrial ecology. Materials should be as close to naturally occurring as possible. Buildings and manufacturing facilities emit emissions and leach chemicals that accumulate in the air and soil. These chemicals end up in our water, our food, our bodies. Additionally, toxic chemicals harm species such as millipedes which build the nutrients in soil which in turn reduces our food security. During our November 19, 2018 tour of Haller Park in Mombasa, we were delighted to learn of local capabilities for building artificial lakes and rivers. This type of green infrastructure would reduce the ecological stress on natural lakes and rivers. They can sustain aquatic life which means you can stock an artificial lake with fish instead of building fish cages in a natural lake. Biodiversity in artificial lakes and rivers is critical. Tilapia eat mosquitoes. We stood in a very lush tropical setting and there were no mosquitoes or flies. Crocodiles eat some tilapia and must be fed animal meat (see if you can spot the crocodile swimming in the artificial river). As they move through the artificial river, the movement of their tails prevents the water from stagnating. In this manner you can maintain an artificial river without any need for an electric pump to keep the water flowing and fresh.

Discovery - Understanding Effects & Impacts

The environmental benefits of using clay bricks are well documented.

Currently lacking in Kenya are standardized sustainable supply value chains for sourcing clay materials as well as building designs and construction techniques that accommodate for various masonry skill levels.

December 17, 2019

In order to ensure biodiversity and regenerative communities, we cannot just think of building affordable homes with renewable materials such as clay (soil). We must also think about the design of the structures (both residential and commercial) and the landscaping in communities. What type of food farm supports a traditional rural home versus an urban five-story apartment? What level of training is needed to empower a traditional fundi (master mason) with design skills specific to sustainable construction and regenerative ecosystems? Can we change the interlocking soil stabilized bricks so that they are comparable to stone yet light enough for women to easily work as fundi's? Cultural heritage is an important source of identity and social cohesion. Mud and stone are traditional elements of African architecture. Can clay bricks in the form of thin bricks be used to revive 3,000 year old Nubian vaulted construction techniques in addition to modernizing the traditional round hut?

Photos from left to right:

  1. Nubian vault arches at Luxor

  2. Traditional mud huts at Thimlich Ohinga

  3. Interlocking block round homes built by Makiga Engineering

  4. Bert Treehouse designed by Precht studio and Buambau

  5. Sesto San Giovanni Campari Headquarters (office + residential) designed by Mario Botta

  6. Single family house designed by Mario Botta

  7. Cantina Petra winery designed by Mario Botta

  8. Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre designed by Peter Rich Architects

  9. Rwanda Cricket Stadium designed by Light Earth Designs

We are still working on the discovery phase. Stay tuned...

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