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Simple Solutions: New Floors, Fewer Germs

By Mallory Reardon

simple solutions banner FINALA key component of Maser Consulting’s corporate culture supports individuals who use their training and skills in charitable endeavors to improve the lives and communities around them. Our Simple Solutions blog series shines the spotlight on people who share this passion for using their talents to discover easy innovations that positively impact the world.

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Imagine if one of the most important tools for improving human health was right underneath your feet?When Stanford University student Gayatri Datar visited in Rwanda as part of a Stanford University Design School field trip, she discovered that 80% of residents could afford to have only dirt floors in their homes. Dirt floors can harbor pathogens, parasites, and bacteria, causing diseases such as diarrhea, malnutrition, and pneumonia, but studies have proven that putting down a hard, impermeable substance like concrete significantly reduces the parasites and bacteria that build up in open soil. Obtaining such huge health benefits from a material like concrete that is plentiful in most places seemed like a no-brainer to Ms. Datar.

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She quickly realized, however, that concrete was expensive in this East African nation. Covering an entire floor in a home could cost up to $500–roughly two months’ salary for the average Rwandan family. When she returned to California, she began working on cheaper alternatives and discovered the solution and the problem were one and the same.

Nothing is cheaper than dirt, so Ms. Datar and her colleagues created a mixture of dirt, clay, sand, gravel, and fiber to create a modern version of the ancient earthen building material adobe. By taking dirt from under Rwandan homes and transforming it into this durable material, they were able to make something structurally sound but also75% cheaper than concrete. Although adobe is typically sealed off with multiple layers of linseed oil, this product is not available in Rwanda. Ms. Datar and her team collaborated with Rick Zuzow, a PhD-candidate biochemist at Stanford University, who developed a new process to polymerize a combination of soybean and sunflower seed oil. The substance was a successful floor sealant substitute for linseed oil and, more importantly, it is much cheaper and more obtainable.

Ms. Datar and her team’s innovative work culminated in the creation of EarthEnable, a company through which they plan to raise funds to support their efforts and launch pilot programs in Rwanda. The company has completed 101 floors so far and is just getting started. The team has also developed a cheap lab to manufacture the oil. EarthEnable hopes to make its programs self-sustaining by “micro-franchising” its technology and training local masons to install the floors and buy oil from the company. According to Datar, “The dream is to have this copied all over the world and have more sustainable development.”

If you are interested in finding out more information about this initiative, please visit Earth Enable.

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