Heroes of Sustainability: Harvey Lacey

Harvey Lacey. Photo by Beccalyn Photography.

Harvey Lacey, a grandfatherly looking Texas inventor in his 60s, has found a simple and elegant solution to a problem that others have found to be completely unsolvable — housing the most desperately poor people on earth. Lacey teaches Haitians how to build dry, well-insulated, and sturdy dwellings made from trash. The basic element of construction is what Lacey calls Ubuntu-Blox. (“Ubuntu” means “humanity to others.”)

Trash to Treasure
Ubuntu-Blox are building blocks made from recycled plastic and Styrofoam. The plastic and Styrofoam are cleaned and then compressed. Later, dwellings arise when the blocks are layered and reinforced with wire and rebar to form walls. Roofing can be done with scrap lumber. Finally, the walls are sealed with a coating of mud or stucco.

Surprisingly, dwellings constructed from Ubuntu-Blox have been shown in tests to be capable of withstanding hurricane-speed winds and a level of shaking found during strong earthquakes.

More about building with Ubuntu-Blox can be seen in a video from the Memnosyne Foundation and a recent article by Gail Bennison published in the Collin County Business Press.

In Haiti, Lacey teaches Haitians (generally women) how to make Ubuntu-Blox and how to use them in construction. One woman described her motivation to become a student of Lacey by saying that she simply did not want to have to stand in water when it rained. Lacey’s students can use the skills they learn in constructing a dwelling for themselves to earn income that will take them out of extreme poverty. They can make and sell Ubuntu-Blox and sell their labor to construct buildings for others.

A Humanitarian
Lacey is supported in his travels by a small grant from Memnosyne Foundation. Lacey’s reward for his work is helping people who desperately need help. He does not want royalties from those who choose to build with Ubuntu-Blox. He conceives of what he is doing as going beyond the familiar parable about teaching a hungry man to fish. He teaches a more advanced technology — a technology that is more like teaching a hungry man how to use a fishing net, not just a fishing pole.

Lacey is now getting calls from all over the world from people who want to find out more about how trash can be used to provide well-constructed dwellings for almost no money. He is very happy to take those calls and to offer his help and encouragement.

Lacey’s work is beginning to have a worldwide impact. That is important in light of a struggle that more and more poor people now have to stay out of extreme poverty. Turning recycled trash into decent housing is an exceptional advance in both humanitarian action and sustainability. If you like what Lacey is doing, you can let him know by sending a message to ubuntublox(at)gmail.com. You could also send a contribution to Memnosyne Foundation, 2902 Maple Avenue, Dallas, TX 75201, and let them know you appreciate their support of Harvey Lacey.

Share