Strategic pillars
Cost leadership – Egypt
Asset light – Mexico
Sustainability – Malawi
Commercial transformation – Philippines / USA
Lilongwe, Malawi

Brick by Brick
The recipe for affordable housing and environmental preservation in Malawi.


“The way to go now is SSBs,” says Malawian contractor Benjamin Katola, Managing ­Director for Built Environs, speaking of soil stabilized bricks (SSB). Katola builds houses, schools, banks and hospitals in Central and Southern Malawi. In the past, common fired bricks were the norm for building. But that’s all changing with the optimization of SSBs, the technical term for bricks like DURABRIC, which offer a cost-effective, quality alternative with environmental benefits.

The search for a better brick

Like many other countries in Africa, Malawi is grappling with the effects of climate change caused, in part, by widespread deforestation. Deforestation is driven by demand for wood, some of which is used to fire the kilns to make common fired bricks. It wasn’t until recently that the soil stabilized brick became a superior alternative for construction in Malawi.

There won't be a need to use anything but SSBs like DURABRIC.

Benjamin Katola, Managing Director of Built Environs

Back in 2013, LafargeHolcim reacted to a nationwide call for a solution that would not only stem the tide of deforestation by not requiring the use of wood-fired kilns, but would also be affordable and locally made. The result is DURABRIC, a brick made with the perfect mixture of soil, sand, cement and water. It is compressed in a mold and left to cure naturally, without firing. As a result, it can save 14 trees for each house built, compared to fired bricks. DURABRICs are three times stronger than traditional bricks, result in one-tenth the CO2 emissions compared to common bricks, are 20 percent cheaper per square meter of wall, and are more resistant to heavy rainfall.

Katola is optimistic about the impact of DURABRIC: “Once we can start building with SSBs like DURABRIC throughout the country, we can preserve our natural resources, stop soil erosion and improve air quality.” And he thinks the time is right: “People are starting to see the benefits in the long run.”

Benjamin Katola, Managing Director of Built Environs
Benjamin Katola, Managing Director of Built Environs

14 trees can be saved for each house built with DURABRIC.

Benjamin Katola, Managing Director of Built Environs

The new DURABRIC factory was commissioned in September 2016 and employs 30 people

DURABRIC soil stabilized bricks are left to cure naturally, without firing

A nationwide advertising campaign for DURABRIC, "One Brick Saves More" was launched in Malawi in December 2016

A powerful collaboration

In order to scale up sustainable building and economic growth in the region, LafargeHolcim teamed up with CDC (the UK government development finance institution) in 2016 to create 14Trees, a joint venture company, named after one key benefit of DURABRIC. The partnership aims to accelerate the production and commercialization of DURABRIC in Sub-Saharan Africa. LafargeHolcim and CDC have jointly invested CHF 10 million into 14Trees operations and are eager to support the company’s future growth collaboratively. At the end of 2016, 14Trees opened a new brick factory in Lilongwe to provide Central Malawi with DURABRIC for a variety of building needs.



  • Our commitment to sustainability is a differentiating factor. We see it as a growing opportunity as well as a responsibility.
  • Our development of new products and services is driven by our commitment to sustainability.


  • We aim to reach a zero fatality target in Health & Safety.
  • We aim to generate one-third of our turnover from solutions with enhanced sustainability performance by 2030.
  • We are committed to leading the way on CO2 reduction through the way we do business.

We regard sustainability as both a responsibility and an opportunity. Concrete is the second most used material in the world after water. Where there is a need to build there is a need for concrete.

It is estimated that one-third of total worldwide greenhouse gas emissions is generated by buildings over the course of their life cycle. We already have many innovative solutions to address CO2 emissions in buildings and we need more. Building our business around sustainability will increasingly differentiate us in our sector, as future carbon pricing and cost of waste management become real issues for our customers.

An opportunity to lead the way

We’re already making great strides in developing innovative building products that promote sustainability. Responding to a request from the Malawi government, we developed DURABRIC, a building block technology that uses locally sourced earth combined with cement and prevents deforestation by avoiding the need for traditional wood-fired brick kilns. In 2016 we launched Airium, a high performance mineral foam insulation, that is fully recyclable and fire resistant, with a lower CO2 impact compared to other solutions.

Working in partnership with Solidia Technologies, we have developed a new binder that is produced at lower temperatures and through a chemical reaction that generates less CO2. Solidia CementTM hardens through the addition and abscotion of CO2 in a patented curing process that reduces the overall carbon footprint by up to 70 percent. Solidia Concrete reaches full strength in less than a day, offering considerable energy savings and cost reductions compared to precast concrete manufacturers.

Our worldwide waste management brand, Geocycle, is allowing us to step up our use of alternative fuels by utilizing processed municipal and industrial waste to fire our clinker kilns. This solution reduces CO2 emissions and cuts energy costs, while providing a sustainable solution to waste that would typically otherwise be disposed of in environmentally damaging landfill sites.

More broadly, in 2016 we launched our sustainability strategy which we call the 2030 Plan. The 2030 Plan is the most far-reaching sustainability roadmap in our sector. It sets targets for our operations and drives positive impacts beyond our fence line, while highlighting the difference we can make for customers with our innovative products and services. We have set ourselves a transformational overall target: we want to generate one-third of our turnover from solutions with enhanced sustainability performance by 2030.

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Daudi Lelijveld, Director and Head of the Impact Accele­rator at CDC sees three objectives to the partnership: First, the aim is to eliminate the use of trees for fired bricks in order to halt rapid deforestation. “There’s a huge environmental impact made by eliminating the use of wood-fired bricks,” notes Lelijveld, “and with that an improvement in the social environment.” Second, the goal is to bring a building material to the village level that is strong, durable and has an attractive finish without plastering, thereby making SSBs the aspirational brick of choice. Third, the project aims to create microeconomies and microentrepreneurs at the local level in the building industry and beyond.

What’s great about DURABRIC is that it can be made manually on any site, just like traditional clay bricks. Katola has been making SSBs for years. But having to make the bricks on site is not always an attractive option. “With the old methods of production you need a really big team on site to excavate the soil and use the manual molds,” says Katola. He’s looking forward to being able to purchase DURABRIC from the Lilongwe factory for building projects in Central Malawi. “By working with the company 14Trees, the bricks are already made.”

More than 3 million DURABRICs have already been produced in Malawi since 2013, and have been used in around 500 buildings. The opening of the Lilongwe factory should rapidly increase their use in Central Malawi. Katola says that there are many health centers and schools to be built in the region this year. “There won't be a need to use anything but SSBs. If they’re close to Lilongwe, they’ll probably get them from the factory rather than struggle to make them on site.”

A sustainably built future

LafargeHolcim is confident about the commercial prospects of ventures such as 14Trees, which accelerate its four affordable housing offers: microfinance, distribution solutions for slums, mass housing, and earth-cement building solu­tions. These offers are implemented in 25 countries and aim to positively impact up to 25 million people by 2030. DURABRIC is a cornerstone of ­LafargeHolcim’s earth­cement building solutions, particularly in Africa where 14Trees will enable DURABRIC to be commercialized in other countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. DURABRIC also hits many points of the 2030 Plan, LafargeHolcim’s sustainability strategy: its reduced CO2 impact supports a key climate target, and the way DURABRIC offers affordable housing while advancing business opportunities furthers the goal of positively impacting people and communities.