It was a revolutionary move to introduce bamboo-based homes as an eco-friendly solution to the housing crisis in Rosita following Hurricane Felix’s destructive tear across the RAAN in September, 2007.
Until recently, the options available for reconstruction were either concrete blocks or timber. So we at CO2 Bambu proposed an innovative, yet obvious solution: to use the local, native guadua bamboo—a sustainable material that is plentiful in the region—as the core building material.
There is often institutional resistance to introducing new solutions, even ones that makes sense due to their low carbon footprint. But the environmental advantage of bamboo, as well as the opportunity to create local “green” jobs in local indigenous communities where bamboo can be harvested and processed, were overwhelmingly convincing.
In 2011, CO2 Bambu was awarded an historic contract to build 82 homes in five Mayagna and Miskito communities ravaged by the hurricane. A year later, not only did we deliver all 82 houses, but we also built the largest bamboo-processing factory in Central America, trained a cadre of builders, technical supervisors and civil engineers, and achieved formal recognition for Guadua-bamboo construction from the Nicaraguan Government’s Ministry of Transport and Industry.
Based on this experience of using bamboo to build fully functioning homes in Nicaragua, the World Bank opted to throw its weight behind CO2 Bambu’s eco-friendly solution for low-cost housing in Nicaragua. Last month, CO2 Bambu was awarded another contract, administered regional council of the RAAN to provide more dignified ecological housing for victims of Hurricane Felix.
Five indigenous communities in the region of Puerto Cabezas will receive a total of 60 houses. These 42 square-meter homes are similar in construction to the eco-homes CO2 Bambu built in Rosita, only larger (the homes in Rosita houses were 34 square meters).
“In order to build these homes, we will field some 15 teams of builders, each team comprised of skilled CO2 Bambu workers and local workers,” says Julio Rizo, technical director for CO2 Bambu and a native of the of RAAN. “By maximizing the number of local workers, the company continues to demonstrate that bamboo construction allows not only the delivery of high quality homes, but also to create revenue for local communities. Given the extremely high level of unemployment in the Bilwi region, CO2 Bambu’s commitment to local social impact is a valuable side benefit.”
The environmental benefits are significant as well, as the construction of Guadua bamboo-based homes reduces the pressure on local timber forests. Considering the need for these homes stems from the destruction of houses from the hurricane, and that the link between climate change and increased hurricane activity has been amply demonstrated, it is encouraging to CO2 Bambu that the World Bank took notice and supports an initiative to deploy low-carbon footprint housing solutions.
CO2 Bambu’s attempt to launch a robust bamboo economy in Nicaragua has been a classic story of entrepreneurial determination and perseverance. In order to navigate the challenging few years as a start up, CO2 Bambu turned to European leaders in impact investing. In December 2011, the company received a strategic investment by Europe’s LGT Venture Philanthropy, the impact investing arm of LGT Bank, the largest private asset management bank in Europe, headed by the Princely Family of Liechtenstein. Also supporting CO2 Bambu’s vision came France’s leading impact investment group, Groupe SOS and Nicaragua’s incubator for impact entrepreneurs—Agora Partnerships.
“Impact investing” is a relatively new phenomenon in the world of finance. It brings patient capital that shares in our vision and mission of maximizing impact, both social and environmental impact, in the regions where we work. Decisions, such as the World Bank’s decision to award CO2 Bambu this housing contract, goes a long way toward signaling that there is a space in the economy for impact entrepreneurs and their financial backers, impact investors.
Ben Sandzer-Bell is a French-US national who left a 20 year career in the aerospace industry to launch a bamboo economy in Nicaragua in 2008. Together with his wife and partner, Peta Kaplan, they decided to become an “impact entrepreneurs”. Through CO2 Bambu, they seek to demonstrate, along with their European impact investors LGT Venture Philanthropy from Liechtenstein, French impact investment fund Groupe SOS and Nicaragua’s Agora Partnerships, all shareholders in CO2 Bambu, that social impact businesses can generate adequate financial returns for investors, while generating social and environmental impact that is sustainable.