Sustainable Housing Materials – Choosing Import or Indigenous

Posted by:

I have been in several conversations lately regarding sustainable housing materials and I have drawn some new conclusions.  

My consultative status with the UN offers a way to hear a vast array of opinions on a lot of subjects.  One conversation that is discussed often has to do with opinions over importing modern green building materials or using indigenous green building materials. 

Overall it is being said that neither solution is profitable as a sustainable housing solution.  In general I agree, but I must say that I disagree with this on a macro level and believe I know why so many sustainable housing concepts never get off the ground: hence the notion of un-profitability.

The issue is that any improved housing is generally beyond the means of people living in poverty.  If it weren’t beyond their means then we would have to conclude that people living in poverty (slums for example) have not invested in themselves and their families and taken strides to improve their living condition.  This is simply not the case, the investments are obvious and to the level they can afford.  

Thankfully, many sustainable housing technology innovators, practitioners, and companies are striving to lower the cost of building material technologies and process to lower the overall cost of the dwelling.  However, nobody has broken the cost/material code on a technology that can accomplish this and hence the conversation often turns to the use of indigenous materials. 

The indigenous material advocates know the cost/material restriction has not been cracked so they capitalize on that fact and lay claim to locally available materials being a superior solution.  However, here too the problems are reduced to effectiveness and availability of local materials.  Which, had they been effective, available and at the affordable level then the problems with housing may not be as prevalent as they are.

So whether you are a low cost green building material innovator looking for the next best solution or an advocate of using locally available materials only then you both may have a long unprofitable road to travel.

Why?  Because the solutions for low cost housing are not the housing itself; rather there will be a blend of innovative material use (importing modern green building materials) and the utilization of locally available material use that emerges when the condition of poverty improves first. 

In very simple terms, poverty communities must export something out of their environment to bring money back in.  The money coming in will ultimately drive improvements in the housing stock after water, food, and medical necessities are improved and the standard of living is increased. 

One of the more promising economic engines to fuel growth in the urban poverty community is going to come out of the housing markets (lower/middle to upper) globally and positioning the production of products in the poverty community will facilitate the global housing market growth as well as have the ability to improve the local (poverty community) housing stock.

I believe fixing the inadequate housing problems globally will requires not taking housing in but exporting housing components out to lower the cost of sustainable home building in general and improve the likelihood that that activity can also sustain the community.   The countries that figure this out will be the ones best positioned to really impact sustainable development on the whole and sustainable housing specifically.

IADDIC solutions cover all facets of sustainable housing from ongoing participation at the UN (Rio +20 and post 2015 SDG),   sustainable housing development through construction and consulting as well as being a supplier of sustainable housing technologies.