‘Green’ bricks let Nepalis rebuild safely and cheaply while creating work at home

Build Up Nepal, a social enterprise that has won both an Ashden Award and a United Nations sustainability award for introducing eco-friendly, disaster resistant building technology to the poor, earthquake-prone country, is dramatically changing the face of home construction there after the disastrous 2015 earthquake.

Ashden Awards, Jul. 2, 2020 on YouTube

Millions of families in Nepal live in substandard housing and shelters and poverty, making people vulnerable to disasters and especially in rural communities, unable to build earthquake-resilient homes because they lack income, skills and appropriate technology. Additionally, lack of reliable employment in rural areas causes many people to go abroad to seek work.

Build Up Nepal, which was created following the 2015 Nepal earthquake during which more than 800,000 buildings collapsed across 15 districts, addresses all of these issues in a holistic and locally-sustainable, locally-driven way. Not only has it helped women learn building skills and create businesses, it has made it possible for small rural communities in particular to rebuild and reduced the number of people who migrate abroad for work by creating work in building, masonry and brick-making..

Its key innovation is Compressed Stabilised Earth Bricks (CSEB), made from sand, clay and cement mixed 5:4:1, which cuts construction costs by 25% because the bricks use materials that are available locally, making it easier for poor families to build a home.

The bricks interlock much like children’s plastic blocks and when they are reinforced with iron rods, they make houses earthquake-resistant. Not only are the bricks stronger than bricks baked in a kiln, they make the air cleaner, too. The fired brick industry is responsible for 37% of CO2 emissions from combustion in Nepal, causes vast air pollution, and is a major source of black carbon. Building a conventional house from fired bricks and cement generates anywhere between 10 and 100 tons of CO2 emissions. The current per capita CO2-footprint in Nepal is only 0,3 tons, according to the World Bank.

“Earth Bricks are the long-term solution to Kathmandu’s pollution, and they can also improve earthquake safety, making it a sustainable and appropriate technology,” Aashish Shrivasta, an engineer at Build Up Nepal, told the Nepali Times. “These green bricks are also the right technology for residential buildings to reduce the Valley’s worsening air pollution,” says Padma Sundar Joshi at UN Habitat.

Compressed bricks are preferred as reconstruction material in earthquake districts because they are three times stronger than fired bricks and provide better insulation. The construction time is much shorter and much less mortar is needed because the blocks are self-aligning. This reduces total building cost by up to 40%. 

The statistics are compelling. As of 2020, 202 micro-entrepreneurs (34 women, 26 couples, 142 men) have built 4,500 homes in 150 villages, creating 2,500 jobs and saving 20,610 tonnes of CO2. Now 14,296 people (8,579 of them women and girls) are living in safe, earthquake-resistant and sustainable homes; 1,690 people have improved incomes as micro-entrepreneurs, brick-makers and masons; and 6,760 people are benefiting from improved income of family members.

“We believe the most effective way to build in rural Nepal is by empowering local people and using local materials,” says Build Up Nepal. “We support rural entrepreneurs and communities to make their own eco-friendly Interlocking Bricks and build earthquake resistant.”

Update: Bina Shresthra, co-founder and director of Build Up Nepal, has won the Waislitz Global Citizen Award for 2021 for her work in helping to create the organizatiion.


Build Up Nepal website.

Building the way out of poverty. Ashden Awards.

Saving the earth with earth bricks. Nepali Times, Jan. 26, 2018.

Nepali company wins global environment awards. Nepali Times, Jul. 11, 2020.