Categories
Archive Blogroll

Rammed-Earth Houses: China Shows how to Improve and Respect Traditional Homes

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions (Havana, Cuba), November 2008

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

The pace of change across the South has been blistering. Over the past decade, the overall population has moved from being primarily rural to majority urban. In the process, rural communities have suffered, as they have seen their young and ambitious leave in droves seeking a better life in cities.

More than 200 million Chinese farmers have moved to cities in recent years. It’s easy to see why. Chinese farms are tiny, with the average rural household farming just 0.6 hectares. And incomes are low compared to the cost of living: average annual income was just US$606 in 2007, a third of city salaries.

But it is possible to improve the quality of life in rural areas and in turn boost economic fortunes.

In China, projects that upgrade homes to modern standards while respecting traditional designs and architecture are breathing new life into rural communities. A return to the age-old technique of using earth as the principal building material is saving energy and keeping house costs low.

The tradition of packing earth to build a wall dates back to some of the earliest stretches of the Great Wall of China in 220 BC.

Currently it is estimated that half the world’s population-approximately 3 billion people on six continents – lives or works in buildings constructed of earth.

This traditional building technique is being used in the reconstruction effort to build new homes after the May 12, 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province. The earthquake left millions of people homeless in the country’s worst natural disaster in 30 years, and has made low-cost but efficient house building critical.

In western China, villages have been entirely rebuilt from scratch. The application of research and science to the traditional designs – roofs in the pagoda style, with buildings arranged around courtyards – enabled the development of homes that are energy efficient to run, and are more hygienic and earthquake safe. In Yongren County of Yunnan Province, over 7,000 mountain dwellers were moved to better farming land and over 2,000 homes were built in the new village of BaLaWu. Over 30 of the homes were built using rammed earth by the Xi-an team. 

“The original homes had very low living quality,” said team member Hu Rong Rong of the Green Building Research Centre of Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology (http://www.xauat.edu.cn/jdeg/about.html), which oversees building of the new homes. “The architecture layout of the indoor space and courtyard was not reasonable. In the courtyard the areas for living, raising livestock, storing and processing crops were mixed up. The indoor environment was not comfortable. It was cold in the houses during winter and hot during summer. Most of the rooms lacked natural lighting and were dark in the daytime.

“In the poor areas, many people still live in earth houses because of the low cost. However, most of the earth houses have low living quality.

“After we finished the project, through our design, the living quality was improved very much. The dwellers were satisfied with their new houses.”

Land reform in China has brought more hope to the country’s 750 million rural poor, many of whom live on less than US$1 a day. It is hoped that giving the rural poor more control over their lives will bring an improvement in agricultural production, food security and economic prosperity. Reforms also mean the poor have more secure land rights.

Hu said gaining the trust and buy-in of the villagers was critical to the success of the project.

“We built the first home as a demonstration. After we finished, the villagers could experience the advantages of the new home. Most of them decided to use our design and they could choose the one they liked from several proposals.”

Poverty is a big problem in the villages. Incomes are very low, at 2000 RMB per year (US $290). Hu said “families were given a house-building allowance of 8000 RMB (US $1,160) to meet the cost of building materials – and the land was free for them to use.”

“The villagers built the houses by self-help. We helped them to design and build the houses for free,” Hu said.

The houses are pioneering in using natural sources to provide light, heat, waste disposal and gas for cooking and heating.

“We used natural material like earth as a main building material to get good thermal mass and also to reduce CO2 emission,” Hu said.

“We designed a simple family sewage-purge-pool and marsh-gas-well system to reduce pollution and get energy from wastes.”

Using rammed earth has a long history in China. Across Western China, there are many buildings constructed with rammed earth. And using earth has many advantages when resources are scarce or expensive: “Earth buildings avoid deforestation and pollution, and can achieve low energy costs throughout their lifetime,” said Hu.

“With living standards increasing, more and more people would like to use burned bricks and concrete to build new houses, which will consume more energy and bring pollution,” said Hu.

But like any technology, the application of modern science and environmental knowledge to the traditional designs, can reap huge improvements in the quality of the homes and comfort levels. And win people back to the benefits of rammed earth dwellings.

“Building with earth materials can be a way of helping with sustainable management of the earth’s resources,” said Hu.

And Hu is adamant the new, environmentally designed homes respect the wisdom of traditional design.

“The new earth house design should consider the local culture. It should be proved that both the house style and the construction technique can be accepted by the users.”

Resources

  • The Rural Development Institute focuses on land rights for the poor and has a series of articles on China’s land reforms. Website: www.rdiland.org
  • Rural DeveIopment Institute has recently been given an award from the World Bank’s Development Marketplace competition to create Legal Aid and Education Centres in China’s countryside. Website:www.rdiland.org/PDF/092808_WorldBankComp.pdf
  • A blog gives more details on the Chinese rammed earth project. 
    Website:www.51xuewen.com
  • Earth Architecture, a book and blog on the practice of building with earth, including contemporary designs and projects. 
    Website: www.eartharchitecture.org
Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

Categories
Archive Blogroll

Creating Green Fashion in China

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

China is the world’s largest manufacturer (Euromonitor) and the largest clothing maker, producing a quarter of all textiles and clothing. It is a global fashion production hub, and many major global clothing brands have their products made there – whether they admit it or not.

Although most people probably do not give it a second thought, the fashion and clothing industries can be highly polluting and exploitive. The use of toxic fertilizers to boost cotton yields leaves behind a legacy of contaminated soil and water tables. Dyes used to colour clothing also can be toxic and pollute water. For people working in this industry – many of whom are women – conditions can vary widely and include low pay and high stress.

According to the Ethical Fashion Forum, “it is difficult for companies sourcing from China to be sure of fair working practices. There have been many reports of low wages, long hours, and unfair working conditions in factories in China.”

But one innovative fashion brand is out to transform the way the garment business works in China and to develop a template that could be used in other places such as Africa.

The design duo of Hans Martin Galliker and Amihan Zemp has set up their clothing brand’s studio in one of Beijing’s historic hutong (alley) neighbourhoods – narrow streets of low-rise buildings that were the traditional urban dwelling environments for generations of Chinese people. The NEEMIC (neemic.com) brand, founded in 2011, makes sustainable fashions and champions green production methods in China.

The business’s belief is that the world has enough fabric already to meet the clothing needs of the population. In response, NEEMIC makes its clothing from a mix of recycled natural materials and new organic materials. According to its website, NEEMIC collaborates “with young designers from London to Tokyo to create a particular metropolitan aesthetic.”

“We use the finest natural fabrics for a perfectly comfortable feel,” Galliker said. “We pick the finest natural materials from leftovers of the industry, recycle used clothes, and strive to order new fabrics only from certified organic producers.”

Hans Martin Galliker began as a farming apprentice in his native Switzerland, and brings a practical bent to his approach to fashion. He draws on his knowledge of farming and agriculture to create a unique eco-conscious fashion product in China.

Galliker got his start in fashion working for a brand in Shenzhen, southern China. He worked with the organic farms there, and this inspired him to explore sustainability in fashion design and ways of introducing the principles of fair trade to the fashion and textile industries in China.

Galliker is passionate about taking a different attitude to fashion: “There are many fashion brands and many of them are … meaningless,” he told the China Daily newspaper. “They do fashion which looks more or less … the same, which has no creativity and does a lot of harm to the environment.

“Growing cotton is highly chemicals and labour-intensive, which degrades the soil and pays people very low salaries. And the dyeing and colouring processes pollute rivers and people receive low salaries but have to work long hours. The whole textile industry is really bad for the environment.”

NEEMIC has completed three collections of clothing since it was founded in 2011.

“We started selling some of our designs at a boutique in Beijing that focuses on upcycling fashion. People like it and want to buy more,” said Galliker.

Upcycling is the process of converting waste material into new products (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upcycling).

And to counter any negative perceptions that organic cotton clothing can only ever be unfashionable, Galliker is out to prove it is possible to create stylish organic clothing.

On top of building the brand, Galliker also works to educate the industry and change ways. He is also setting up a branch in China of the Hong Kong Organic Textile Association (http://neemic.asia/organic), which encourages fashion designers to jointly buy organic materials. He also publishes a website on sustainable agricultural practices in China, with details on current policies on organic farming.

“It is very normal for Chinese farmers to use many fertilizers, but the environment is going bad and consumers do not like this kind of farming,” Galliker points out. “For farmers, it’s not meaningful to produce only to make money to live a decent life. It should be more than that.”

The NEEMIC operation is lean: the Beijing studio does all the designing of the clothes, programming of the multilingual websites and runs the online shopping and payment sites.

For now, the goal is to not only increase the use of organically grown materials but also to introduce the fair trade concept into China.

“In two years we want to do fair trade production,” Galliker said.

And he has Africa in his sights with his green fashion template.

“In the long term we will have many successful projects here or non-profit companies … a lot of creative force and investment so that we can help rural regions in Africa to do sustainable agriculture projects.”

Resources

1) Ethical Fashion Forum: The Ethical Fashion Forum is the industry body dedicated to a sustainable future for fashion. A not for profit organisation, EFF aims to make it easy for fashion professionals to integrate sustainability at the heart of what they do. Website:http://www.ethicalfashionforum.com/

2) Hong Kong Organic Textile Association: Its mission is to promote organic textiles in Hong Kong Website:http://www.facebook.com/HKOrganicTextileAssociation

3) Tips on how to upcycle. Website:http://www.independent.co.uk/property/interiors/the-insider–how-to-upcycle-without-much-effort-2343100.html

4) How to create a Lookbook for a fashion brand. Website:http://noisetteacademy.com/2011/05/creating-a-lookbook/

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

Categories
Archive

Two-stroke Engine Pollution Solution

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

Cities across the South choke on the pollution made by the small two-stroke engines (http://www.howstuffworks.com/two-stroke.htm) powering motor scooters, motorcycles, auto rickshaws, tuk-tuks and other vehicles. People choose these vehicles to get around because they are cheap, powerful and easy to fix. But the environment – and human health – suffers as a result. And as cities balloon and populations grow, the number of journeys and two-stroke engines grows with it.

In large cities across Asia, 1 million three-wheeled auto-rickshaws form an important means of daily transportation, and a source of income for their drivers. And the Asian Development Bank estimates there are over 100 million vehicles using two-stroke engines in Southeast Asia. But these vehicles cause serious air pollution and emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), which contributes to global warming.

Because two-stroke engines burn an oil-gasoline mixture, they also emit more smoke, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and particulate matter than the gas-only, four-stroke engines found in newer vehicles.

In the Philippines, auto rickshaw drivers are pioneering specially adapted two-stroke engines that reduce particulate emissions by 70 percent and carbon dioxide emissions by 76 percent.

Tim Bauer, the 31-year-old American mechanical engineer who developed the technology, said auto rickshaws “play an essential role in the social and economic fabric. But their impact on public health is disastrous.”

Motorized tricycles produce an astonishing amount of pollution: each one is equivalent to 50 cars. In Bangkok, Thailand, two-stroke engines contribute 47 percent of pollution particulates in the air.

The World Health Organization (www.who.org) ranks urban outdoor air pollution as the 13th greatest contributor to disease burden and death worldwide. It has been estimated that the air pollution leads to the deaths of more than half a million people a year. About two-thirds of the residents of Delhi and Calcutta suffer from respiratory symptoms such as common cold and dry and wet cough, much of this caused by two-stroke engine emissions.

Two-stroke engines are highly inefficient users of fuel: up to 40 percent of the fuel and oil goes out of the exhaust pipe unburned. This exhaust is packed with oxides of carbon, nitrogen, sulphur, hydrocarbons and fine dust – all toxic contributors to air pollution.

But the attraction of these engines remains strong. “They are powerful, simple, reliable and robust,” said Bauer, “and spare parts are easy to find. They also have a long lifetime.”

Bauer faced some strict constraints in developing the technology.

“It had to substantially reduce emissions without impairing the engine’s performance. It had to be installed without machining the engine crankcase, and with only a basic tool set. Of course, it also had to be affordable for Filipino drivers.”

Using off-the-shelf components, Bauer developed a kit that turns two-stroke engines into fuel-injection machines. This adjustment reduced particulate emissions by 70 percent and carbon dioxide emissions by 76 percent. He now sells the kits through Envirofit, a non-profit organization (http://www.envirofit.org/). It has been pilot tested at two Filipino holiday resorts, Vigan and Puerto Princesa.

Auto-rickshaw drivers tend to be poor and earn on average US $3 to US $4 a day. The cost of fitting vehicles with Bauer’s new technology is met by microcredit.

“Drivers earn money daily, so it’s easy for them to pay back their loan, and 90 percent of them do it in less than a year,” he said. Over 260 taxi drivers have already installed the new kit.

“These drivers are at the base of the economic pyramid and these tricycles are a testament to their ingenuity and work ethic. At the end of the day, we can improve their lives with a cylinder head, a few brackets and, of course, hard work.”

Bauer pioneered his solution while working on fuel injection in snowmobiles at the Engines and Energy Conservation Lab at Colorado State University. He started to market the solution in Asia in 2004. Bauer has won a Rolex Award for Enterprise to pay for the distribution of the kits throughout Asia.

There is, of course, another solution: an outright ban or measures to push the vehicles off the road. In the Philippines’ San Fernando City, economic incentives were what drove the transition from two-stroke to four-stroke (less polluting) tricycles. In 2001, three-quarters of the city’s 1,600 registered tricycles ran on two-stroke engines. But after a city council mandate to totally phase out the vehicles by 2004, and offers of interest-free loans for down-payments on four-stroke models, more than 400 four-stroke tricycles had replaced the older two-stroke models.

When Bangkok toughened up vehicle inspections and emissions standards in 2000, two-wheelers made up over 96 percent of the city’s traffic. But by March 2004, they made up only 40 percent, according to Supat Wangwongwatana, deputy director general of Thailand’s Pollution Control Department.

Resources

  • Tukshop is a website selling auto rickshaws and tuk-tuks.  Website:http://www.tukshop.biz/
  • A wide range of auto rickshaws for sale.  Website: http://www.auto-rickshaw.com/ 
  • The Hybrid Tuk Tuk Battle is a competition to come up with less polluting auto rickshaws, clean up the air in Asian cities, and improve the economic conditions for auto rickshaw drivers. 
    Website:http://hybridtuktuk.com/
  • The Clean Air Initiative for Asian Cities promotes and demonstrates innovative ways to improve the air quality of Asian cities through partnerships and sharing experiences. It is run by the Asian Development Bank together with the World Bank and the US Agency for International Development. 
    Website: http://www.cleanairnet.org/
Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

A new book launched in April 2019 by journalist Beth Gardiner (@Gardiner_Beth), “Choked: The Age of Air Pollution and the Fight for a Cleaner Future” (Granta) (University of Chicago Press), explores today’s global air pollution crisis in the world’s cities. Gardiner is an environmental journalist who writes for The New York Times, The Guardian and other publications (bethgardiner.com).  

Called “One of the Guardian’s Best Books of 2019“. The UK cover for Choked: The Age of Air Pollution and the Fight for a Cleaner Future (Granta, 2019).