St. Bernard Project, Inc. (dba SBP)
What is the name of your solution?
Upcycled Volcanic Ash Concrete
Provide a one-line summary of your solution.
A sustainable, low-carbon post-disaster reconstruction solution using upcycled volcanic ash to create high-strength, low-cost cement blocks.
Film your elevator pitch.
What specific problem are you solving?
The frequency and intensity of natural disasters has increased, exacerbated by climate change. From 1970 to 2019, natural hazards accounted for 50 percent of all disasters and 74 percent of all reported economic losses. Economic losses have increased sevenfold from the 1970s to the 2010s, going from an average of $49 million to a whopping $383 million per day globally.
Specifically, there are more than 1,300 active volcanoes around the world, with one in seven of the world's largest urban areas, encompassing over 1 billion people. Some of the world’s largest cities are at risk of total economic losses of up to $30 billion. This steep cost of reconstruction impedes many governments and humanitarian aid agencies around the world from effectively rebuilding, leading to a long-term housing crisis, and prevalence of mental health and other social issues.
The problem is twofold:
We desperately need cost effective and efficient solutions to guarantee every dollar available is used to return the most vulnerable families home in prompt and predictable manner; and
To promote sustainable rebuilding practices, we must simultaneously reduce carbon emissions significantly and affordably during reconstruction.
What is your solution?
Upcycled volcanic ash concrete solves the twofold problem of making reconstruction efforts more affordable, while also drastically reducing carbon emissions during the process, by taking a page out of the ancient Roman concrete manual. Long before the industrial revolution and the invention of Portland cement, Romans collected and used volcanic ash as a key ingredient in their mix designs to build everything from seawalls to the coliseum - things that have survived 2,000 years.
For this solution to work, public-private collaboration is critical. The process is simple:
Typically, after a volcano erupts, governments will spend millions of dollars on heavy equipment to clear volcanic ash from roads and public infrastructure by trucking thousands of tons of ash away from the impacted community. This is both costly and emits tons of carbon. Instead, SBP works with the government to collect and store the ash close to the community.
Instead of shipping many truckloads of building materials, such as cement blocks, to the impacted communities, we bring in a portable block making machine and produce the cement blocks on-site using a portion of the volcanic ash in the mixture.
Fully cured upcycled volcanic ash blocks are used to rebuild in the nearby community, which advances sustainable rebuilding practices and promotes long-term resilience for communities.
Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?
On April 9, 2021, the La Soufrière strata volcano erupted on the main island of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, devastating the livelihoods of Vincentian families and displacing approximately 20,000 people. Recent damage assessments conducted by the local government still count over 36,000 damaged homes (10% of which have major structural damages or are completely destroyed), totaling $23 million in repairs. This includes 13 schools and 16 healthcare facilities.
In Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, 85% of buildings are constructed using cement blocks. Early testing has shown that volcanic ash can replace Portland cement in the mix design, which will reduce the cost by 30%, enabling SBP to produce cheaper blocks from the upcycled ash to aid in the reconstruction efforts.
The government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines does not have the funding needed to support all of the reconstruction needs. Much of the international humanitarian aid was spent on temporary shelter, food and water immediately following the eruption, leaving a significant funding gap. SBP’s proposed program will help bridge the funding gap by providing cement blocks produced by upcycling volcanic ash to address residential rebuilding needs.
SBP’s solution provides the following benefits in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines:
Reduced emissions from transporting the ash away from the community;
Reduced cost of Portland cement by 30% by supplementing with volcanic ash;
Reduced emissions from reducing Portland cement in the mixture;
Reduced delivery cost by producing blocks onsite;
Reduced delivery emissions by producing blocks onsite; and
Overall reduction in emissions and construction costs when scaled to support reconstruction.
How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?
Founded in 2006 after Hurricane Katrina, SBP was born out of a need to create a more efficient framework for long-term rebuilding after disasters. Since our founding, SBP has responded to 15 disaster-impacted communities and remains actively rebuilding in 8 regions, including the Bahamas and Puerto Rico. SBP is a leader in the disaster recovery industry and, to date, has rebuilt more than 3,700 homes for low- to moderate-income homeowners, trained hundreds of nonprofit organizations in post-disaster rebuilding best practices based on Toyota Production System (TPS) methods, and developed an extensive pre-disaster preparedness platform that builds community resilience on large and small scales.
SBP’s Executive Director for the Caribbean, Andy Stofleth, established a partnership with the government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines through the Buildings, Roads and Government Services Administration (BRAGSA) to begin collecting and storing volcanic ash during the initial response back in June 2021. To date, more than 60,000 cubic yards have been collected and are available for use in the block making program. BRAGSA has also offered to supply sand and aggregate for this public-private partnership.
Stofleth has a track record of successful public-private partnerships in the Caribbean, including working with the Bahamas Public Hospital Authority to retrofit the second largest hospital in the Bahamas and four other facilities with resiliently designed water purification and storage capacities following the saltwater intrusion after Hurricane Dorian, as well as repairing more than 400 homes in partnership with the Grand Bahama Port Authority and the Bahamas Disaster Reconstruction Authority since 2019.
SBP will manage this project, working closely with BRAGSA and the government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to prioritize using the upcycled volcanic ash blocks to help rebuild for the most vulnerable families using the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment conducted by the government and the United Nations.
Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?
Enable mass production of inexpensive and low-carbon housing, including changes to design, materials, and construction methods.
Where our solution team is headquartered or located:New Orleans, Louisiana, United States of America
Our solution's stage of development:Pilot
How many people does your solution currently serve?
SBP’s solution is currently funded to produce enough construction materials to rebuild 64 homes for approximately 250 people, along with providing short-term employment to 11 local laborers from the impacted communities in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
Why are you applying to Solve?
This solution is not constrained to the volcanic recovery efforts in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, as there are more than 1,300 active volcanoes in the world. To help improve upon this project design, SBP needs support with accurately monitoring the carbon emissions saved to unlock additional resources through carbon offset markets, which will make this solution much more likely to be replicated and scaled in future disasters. To make an impact, we need to grow our network of like-minded partners and increase our exposure beyond our current capabilities. SBP would greatly benefit from the MIT Solve network’s input and influence, in addition to the award’s exposure and monitoring/evaluation support to effectively measure the many impacts of this solution.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
Monitoring & Evaluation (e.g. collecting/using data, measuring impact)
Who is the Team Lead for your solution?
Andy Stofleth, Executive Director - Cari
What makes your solution innovative?
By stockpiling volcanic ash near the impacted communities, this project has greatly reduced transportation costs for BRAGSA, as thousands of truckloads have been collected to-date. When less fuel is expended, we effectively reduce CO2 emissions, which is another long-term benefit of this public-private partnership.
In addition, the partial substitution of volcanic ash for cement reduces CO2 emissions associated with the concrete-making process by limiting the amount of Portland cement used in the mix. Portland cement is made using a carbon intensive process. This, combined with using a portable block making machine, significantly reduces carbon emissions by reducing transportation costs to move the ash offsite to a production plant and then to ship the cement blocks back to these communities.
Beyond St. Vincent’s recovery, this project serves as a playbook that can be replicated anywhere around the world where any of the 1,300+ active volcanoes may erupt, which can save governments millions of dollars in debris removal and disposal. It also creates a more cost effective building material that can be produced at scale. This program can help maximize available resources after volcanic eruptions to ultimately benefit more vulnerable communities.
What are your impact goals for the next year and the next five years, and how will you achieve them?
1) Produce 160,000 upcycled volcanic ash blocks to help rebuild 64 homes in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines during the project’s pilot phase.
2) Leverage additional funding to scale production, which will significantly reduce the cost of reconstruction efforts to reconstruct additional homes, healthcare facilities and schools within the next two years.
3) Develop a simple, step-by-step guide that NGOs and governments can use to replicate this program to achieve variable production targets based on available resources in all future volcanic eruptions around the world within the next five years.
How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?
1) SDG 9: SBP can measure CO2 emission per unit of value added to support more resilient infrastructure, promote and sustain industrialization, and foster innovation. This project can effectively support upgrading infrastructure and retrofitting industries to make them sustainable, with increased resource-use efficiency and greater adoption of clean and environmentally sound technologies and industrial processes by 2030.
2) SDG 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. 11.c: Support least developed countries, including through financial and technical assistance, in building sustainable and resilient buildings utilizing local materials
3) SDG 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. 12.5: By 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse.
4) SDG 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.
4.1) SDG 17.17: Encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnership data, monitoring and accountability.
What is your theory of change?
SBP believes that, after a disaster, when faced with the burden of having to rebuild their damaged homes, communities experience financial and emotional trauma that can cause irreversible damage. Time, predictability and access to resources are three critical components that must be prioritized to prevent unnecessary suffering and long-term trauma.
SBP is a social impact organization focused on changing the way America and the Caribbean region prepare for and recover from disasters. Operating at the nexus of racial equity, climate change adaptation and human resilience to return marginalized families home after disaster, SBP shrinks the time between disaster and recovery in three interconnected ways:
SBP shapes policy changes and improvements to the disaster recovery industry by advocating for disaster-impacted communities and advising government agencies on how to assist survivors more efficiently and effectively.
SBP builds resilient communities by rebuilding homes for the most vulnerable disaster-impacted families; building new homes that are affordable, energy efficient and resilient; and sharing our evidence-based model with other organizations.
SBP prepares home and business owners for disasters through the provision of in-person, webinar and app-based resilience training, and provides online educational resources designed to speed recovery if and when disaster strikes.
Since 2006, SBP has rebuilt homes for over 3,700 disaster-impacted families across 15 operating sites. On average, SBP reaches 12 million people through online and in-person training, and advises state and local leaders on disaster recovery process innovations to benefit approximately 25 million survivors each year.
Describe the core technology that powers your solution.
SBP’s proposed solution incorporates two basic technologies:
Volcanic ash is a natural pozzolan, and was a key ingredient in ancient Roman concrete. A 30% reduction in Portland cement replaced by a natural pozzolan would mean a reduction of such greenhouse gas emissions in cement production by one third, which could have enormous positive impact throughout the production lifecycle for the environment. When natural pozzolans like volcanic ash are used in normal proportions, it also typically improves concrete performance and durability, which will promote long-term resilience for vulnerable disaster survivors.
SBP will bring a machine to the surplus of ash, instead of transporting thousands of truckloads of volcanic ash to a disposal site or a block making facility where we would then have to transport the blocks back to the damaged communities. SBP can place a $30,000 portable block making machine on site, saving more than $1.5 million USD on transportation costs and reducing carbon emissions by 34.5 tons.
Which of the following categories best describes your solution?
A new application of an existing technology
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
What type of organization is your solution team?
How many people work on your solution team?
There are two full-time staff members who work on this solution, two partner agencies, and 11 contracted laborers.
How long have you been working on your solution?
SBP has been developing this solution for the last year. We met with the government of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in June 2021 and began a partnership to develop a working prototype.
What is your approach to incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusivity into your work?
With a relentless focus on social equity, SBP’s rebuilding program focuses on building resilience for low-income, disaster-impacted families by streamlining recovery processes and fortifying them against future disasters. When the homes of low-income families are destroyed, long-term financial instability and unnecessary suffering becomes commonplace in at-risk communities. SBP works to mitigate these issues by rebuilding homes for the most vulnerable populations (the elderly, persons with disabilities, families with small children, veterans and the under- or uninsured), ensuring a prompt and predictable recovery and preventing low-income survivors from reaching their breaking point.
Guiding SBP’s multifaceted approach is the understanding that the first step in creating upward mobility for low-income families is helping them access and maintain safe and secure housing. Through its REBUILD intervention, SBP scales impact by not only returning low-income families home quickly utilizing the Toyota Production System, but also by fortifying homes and families against future disaster through energy efficient and resilient upgrades. Further, SBP advances the reach of its services and expertise through its SHARE intervention, which has granted over $6 million to 30 post-disaster rebuilding partners across the nation and returned over 900 families home to date.
SBP’s work doesn’t end with rebuilding; indeed, our goal is to eliminate the need to ever rebuild by advancing intersectional, equity-focused solutions that PREPARE communities before disaster. In addition to its free, downloadable and interactive disaster preparedness resources available at SBPprotects.org, SBP recently released its own mobile app in 2021. Developed in partnership with AT&T, SBP’s Equip app forecasts region-specific disasters and provides preparedness measures to safeguard under-resourced communities against the threats of extreme weather.
SBP is committed to addressing the structural inequities that are rooted in our nation’s history of housing discrimination and have manifested in nearly all facets of the federal disaster recovery system. Through its ADVISE and ADVOCATE interventions, SBP develops and scales upstream solutions to catalyze systems-level change by working directly with state and local governments to streamline recovery processes, effectively maximizing impact and speeding recovery for marginalized communities.
Finally, SBP understands that all disasters are local. Our team looks to form public-private-partnerships to blend our industry knowledge and technical expertise with local actors who represent their communities and people. This approach allows SBP to not only promote inclusiveness, but to foster a space where both staff and stakeholders can learn and grow from solving complex problems together.
What is your business model?
SBP is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that leverages philanthropic dollars to support long-term recovery in disaster-impacted communities. This solution relies on public-private partnerships to secure government support, humanitarian aid and philanthropic investment to design disaster response and reconstruction efforts in a way that maximizes all resources to provide more cost effective, low carbon building materials that can be used to support the rebuilding of homes, healthcare facilities and schools.
While there are many nonprofits that support immediate response needs after disaster - such as providing meals, temporary shelter and rescue operations - SBP stands among very few other long-term home rebuilding organizations. SBP is almost always the last remaining rebuilding group working in disaster-impacted areas, serving hundreds of marginalized families each year. This work requires a deep investment into each disaster-impacted community, but also leads to healing and long-term resilience in a way that otherwise is not realized in the immediate response phase.
Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?Individual consumers or stakeholders (B2C)
What is your plan for becoming financially sustainable?
SBP plans to develop all future projects in disaster-impacted communities to take advantage of carbon offsets to help provide additional financial support. Using our open-sourced how to guide, SBP can work with philanthropic investors and humanitarian agencies to quickly implement this project, while working with host nations to create a business plan to access capital from the World Bank, Caribbean Development Bank and Inter-American Development Bank to support scale production and impact.
An an organizational level, SBP’s ultimate goal is to reduce the need for rebuilding in the first place, and SBP’s other interventions are producing diverse sources of earned income. Specifically, as SBP is successful in:
causing more families to have resilient homes, fewer people will need rebuilding services after disaster;
helping more families understand and access flood insurance, fewer families will need rebuilding services after disaster; and
getting the federal government to structure funding systems so that they are more easily (and quickly) accessible to states and cities, fewer vulnerable families will struggle for years to rebuild their homes and recapture economic losses.