Ian Dommisse's New Entry

Ian Dommisse's New Entry: The EcoBrick Exchange

Port Elizabeth, South AfricaPort Elizabeth, South Africa
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$10,000 - $50,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

EcoBrick are our vehicles to address multiple social challenges. Made by compressing plastic waste into bottles, EcoBricks protect the environment whilst creating a low-cost building material. We support needy preschools by sharing this concept and exploring transformations that follow.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

the way we handled our waste created opportunities, bridged social divides, protected the environment and provided food security?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

1. Lack of environmental awareness, 2. Lack of support for early childhood development centres, 3. Lack of social integration in the newly democratic South Africa

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

We advocate EcoBricking to all sectors of our society. Within a micro community of a township preschool we engage with the needs that exist and form a reciprocation contract which goes something like this: If you get your community EcoBricking we'll gather a support network to address the needs that you may have. If hunger is a problem we teach people how to build raised vegetable gardens out of EcoBricks. If they need furniture we empower them to fashion EcoBricks into desirable pieces. Once we've established relationships and we see dedicated involvement we offer the EcoBrick building range. By this stage we've up-skilled 'EcoBrick Artisans' meaning that they're able to generate the additional construct costs on their own steam.


A Social Innovation Award from the SAB Foundation, A SEED Award for Entrepreneurship within Sustainable Development
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

We heard about a township preschool that wanted to build a food garden but couldn't afford it. After running a workshop with the students of the school as well as their parents, we challenged them to produce 100 EcoBricks. This is no small task as it take an hour and one large bag of plastic waste to create just one. Once we heard that they had completed this task we returned and trained some of the parents to produce EcoBlocks. Second hand clothing was donated by our supporting network and we started having EcoBrick Swopshops where EcoBricks became a currency. Our team of volunteers leveraged plaster and board and newly trained 'EcoBrick Artisans' completed the raised bed. New skills, environmental awareness and relationships were created.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

We advocated the EcoBrick concept far and wide. Through exhibitions, festivals, workshops and presentations we have reached over 20000 participants. We have prevented 4.8 tonnes of plastic from harming the environment. We have gathered over 200 volunteers, presented to 5000 school students, trained 40 artisans and engaged 300 members of our pilot community. We are currently developing a lightweight EcoBlock kit that will be easy to deliver to all parts of the country where interest has been expressed. Together with online support, this would enable our network will be able to dramatically increase.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

We have gathered an advisory board with particular skills within the built industry. Together we have pioneered a manner of packaging EcoBricks into walls that are fireproof, water proof, highly insulating and fully recyclable (should the building have to change in the future). This has been a lengthy process of red tape and municipal approvals. But during the way we've gathered many passionate stakeholders within the building trade that believe in our goal and have offered their full support. With time we foresee many genius inventions from this skilled network that we've gathered.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Hiring out our EcoBlocks for temporary exhibitions has been requested of us. We believe that we have a strong value offering. The positive brand association, employment opportunities and environmental protection that each order will create will enable us to charge premium rates for our structures. These rentals will cover our running costs and provide the funding for our community projects. This will mean that our reach can extend significantly.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

A company called bottle 2 school using special interlocking square bottles to build low cost schools. We differ from them in that we aim at using easy to come by items so that anyone can participate. Also, by encouraging our bottles to be tightly filled with plastic, we prevent a great deal more plastic from polluting the environment. Finally in our low skilled technology focus we are able to upskill our participants easily as we go. In this way the recipient community end up with a building as well as a developed skill set.

Founding Story

After graduating and working one year within a corporate architectural field the EcoBrick concept found me and changed my direction instantly. Leaving my 8 - 5 lifestyle I formed a Non Profit Company and developed a team of contributors. Next I realized the severity of the task at hand (of getting this technique approved) and formed partnerships with established members of the built industry. Through EcoBrick lobbying we were invited to partake in a number of Design related events and festivals which opened up a broader scale of thinking with which we could collaborate and expand our efforts.


Sebastian, our media and communications director has a formal training in disaster management as well as film and media. Kinga, our director of HR and marketing holds a degree in sociology, is a yoga instructor and is currently writing her PHD. Ilze heads up our training and workshops division with her training in HR. I am the design and built relations director with my masters in architecture. We all have additional forms of employment until such time as we're able to scale to the point that our full time can be catered for. We currently employ 4 people on a part time basis.
Please confirm how you heard about the Unilever Awards:

I was recommended to enter by a friend of mine (who also entered)

Please confirm your role in the initiative (eg Founder/co-Founder) and your organisational title:


Which of the 8 UN Global Goals (Sustainable Development Goals) pre-selected for this competition does your solution relate most closely to? [select all that apply]

No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Clean Water and Sanitation, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Responsible Consumption and Production.

Leadership and the Unilever Awards
Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered.

When I was in high school I volunteered for Habitat for humanity. After the first two builds that I took part in the offshore funding was withdrawn and so we had to generate the money to start any new builds that we could attend. Teaming up with dedicated friends we kickstarted multiple fund raising initiatives that generated sufficient funding to build two houses.

Our pilot preschool that we're working on has involved some hard work. It is the first time that an EcoBrick building is approved in this country (to be built within the urban environment), the first time that the entire EcoBrick wall can be fully recycled, and the first double story EcoBrick building globally. To build it we will need 6000 EcoBricks. To collect these we set up a series of local drop off points that reward EcoBrick donations with discounts/small prizes. This system meant that we rapidly developed a loyal following and all members of society have been included.

Beyond your existing team, who else are you working with to achieve your objectives, eg partners, advisors, mentors?

I have mentioned that we formed partnership with architecture firm (SVA International) and an engineering firm (Aurecon) who add a wealth of knowledge and in kind support.
The Red Bull Amaphiko Academy just recently came on board as a mentoring entity and help out wherever they can.