Disruptive Innovators: Converting Litter Into Safe Eco-Housing and Sustainable Jobs

Ubuntu-Blox Founder and Inventor Harvey Lacey Sees Beauty and Opportunity in Plastic Trash

 The first in a series of Disruptive Innovators, offered by Naveen Jain and the World Innovation Institute

Those who follow my musings know that I am enormously passionate about disruptive innovation, and have dedicated much of my life to fostering innovation and entrepreneurship at every turn. If we don’t empower entrepreneurs and energize their potential, I believe we fail ourselves and our planet, as these individuals are critical to solving the world’s biggest problems.

My goal is to shine the spotlight on some of today’s unknown, disruptive innovative individuals so that they may be further recognized for their tenacity, disruptive ideas and powerful businesses that have the potential to change the world for the better. Entrepreneurs who step out of their comfort zones and help solve the world’s biggest problems deserve our attention and goodwill. I am honored to put disruptive innovators in the spotlight and look forward to sharing their remarkable, inspiring stories in this series of articles.

The first individual I would like to highlight is Harvey Lacey, a man who shares my philosophy of Entrepreneurial Philanthropy. Lacey is positively disrupting three areas of great importance: pollution, housing and employment. Through innovation and his faith and compassion in people, Harvey has created the opportunity to help people empower themselves with paying jobs, incredibly safe and affordable housing and a less toxic environment. He wants to help people help themselves. And what better way to do that that than to help people create a new economy out of affordable housing made of plastic trash? In doing so, Harvey is helping to solve more than just one global problem with his Ubuntu-Blox project; he is addressing at least three acute needs: plastic pollution reduction, the global housing crisis and extreme unemployment in underdeveloped countries.

The thinking behind Entrepreneurial Philanthropy is that it is not enough to write a check and hope a problem gets solved. This offers short-term assistance to a long-term problem. Instead, Harvey believes, as do I, that it is critical to deliver philanthropic initiatives that drive local business development and sustainable revenue streams.

A welder by trade from Wylie, Texas, Harvey created a process and easily replicable, manual machinery to make building blocks out of plastic bags, Styrofoam and other plastic waste. While jobs, money and housing might not be abundant in places like Haiti for example, there is plenty of plastic trash that can be reformulated as a resource. Where others see blight and toxic waste, Harvey sees construction materials for a new home. One block of compressed plastic trash has no power on its own. However, an Ubuntu-Blox home is hardy and recently passed earthquake and hurricane proof testing where it withstood an 8.2-magnitude earthquake with hurricane force winds clocking at 90 mph winds with four inches of rain every 30 minutes with minimal damage. You begin to understand why Harvey sees beauty in blocks of plastic trash.

Here’s how the Ubuntu-Blox process works: plastic trash is collected and sanitized before being pressed into blocks in the manual machinery that requires no electricity or fuel. Once enough blocks are made, a housing frame is strengthened with rebar and surrounded in plaster, mud, or other housing coating materials to make the homes more durable and UV protected. Each Ubuntu-Blox home is built out of about 600 blocks, which is the equivalent of one 40-foot shipping container filled with plastic trash that won’t make its way into a landfill, our oceans, or be strewn across our communities. To make his dream a reality, Harvey recently visited Haiti where he trained men and women on how to build and maintain the machinery to build their own Ubuntu-Blox home. With the support of the Haiti Communitere, they are now building a manufacturing plant to empower locals with sustainable jobs and a burgeoning micro-economy.

Ubuntu-Blox is proudly open source, which means anyone can build homes with the machine worldwide. Harvey specifically built the machines so that anyone with training in welding could duplicate them for free, enabling local communities to make and repair the tools locally. He also designed the machine for the way women work to enable their contribution based on the unique needs of these impoverished countries. Harvey understands that societies with empowered women are dramatically more successful, less corrupt and less violent. He also realizes the importance of creating jobs for poor countries like Haiti, which was ravaged by the horrifying earthquake in 2010 that left millions unemployed and homeless.

“The Ubuntu-Blox project is a holistic approach that empowers individuals to change their world and our planet,“ explains Lacey. “My goal is to help the people of developing nations create their own sustainable lives.”

Ubuntu isn’t only the namesake of Harvey’s project; it’s a philosophy of humanness from the Bantu language that he lives by. We are weak as one, but together we are strong.