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Innovation Meets Economic Mutuality

In a previous blogpost, I discussed how so many people are squeezed out of home ownership. One of the wonderful traits of the USA is the ability of its thinkers and doers to innovate when the need arises, and the current housing crisis is no exception. There are a number of models that are currently being explored, such as tiny home communities and repurposed shipping container homes.

The following abridged article from the Reasons to be Cheerful website features a community in the Northeast that is using another innovate method of building, 3D printing. By combining this technique with recycled materials, the University of Maine and a local non-profit, Penquis, have created beautiful, efficient, and sustainable homes (read the full article here).

A project in Maine has set its sights on a neighborhood of 600-square-foot, 3D-printed, bio-based houses crafted from materials like wood fibers and bio-resins. The aim: a complex of 100-percent recyclable buildings that will provide homes to those experiencing houselessness.

In late 2022, an initiative including the University of Maine unveiled its prototype — BioHome3D, the first 100-percent recyclable house. It is fully bio-based, meaning all materials will be derived from living organisms such as plants and other renewable agricultural, marine, and forestry materials.

Once the pilot project is completed and the team reaches full commercial capacity, the team will be able to print a home in as little as two days - that is, the shell of the house: the roof, walls, floors system - but could extend in the long term to include cabinets, countertops, bath fixtures, etc. The materials are also all renewable. And thanks to its natural composition, the home acts as a carbon sink, sequestering 46 tons of carbon dioxide per 600-square-foot unit. 

The materials for this project mainly come from wood left over by local mills. This is usually put to landfill, discarded, or set off to the side and left to rot. Each 600-square-foot unit requires approximately 10 tons of wood residuals.

And after enduring a year of extreme weather in Maine, with sensors reporting temperatures ranging from -17C to 41C, BioHome3D met all sustainability, strength, and durability requirements for US building codes, as well as the design requirements of the International Code Council code.

Initial printing speeds of 20 pounds per hour have since ramped up to nearly 500 pounds per hour, significantly reducing construction costs. This efficiency, combined with local materials, makes the process more sustainable and resilient to global supply chain disruptions.

3D-printed houses produce significantly less waste than conventional construction, as builders are able to print exactly the amount of material they need for a given project and minimal space is needed for storage materials. And with the ability to store all materials in the same space, the energy otherwise required to transport materials between sites is eradicated.

At Better Capitalism, we teach that economic mutuality can be found in many forms, one of which is the development of new products that meet needs for which the marketplace currently doesn't provide. Brilliant solutions to problems not only help the people who are in need, it rewards innovators who contribute the time, talent, money, and effort to achieve those goals.

Alternatively, notice that so-called 'disruptive technologies' - or an approach of 'move fast and break things' or a mindset of 'deconstruct' with little or no thought of how to intelligently 'reconstruct' - are technologies, approaches, and mindsets that tend to benefit a narrow class of marketers who are first to market with shiny products or services that seek to fill a consumer desire - a desire that the marketers themselves first created (e.g., Amazon, Meta, etc.), rather than products or services that seek to fill a consumer need. Those technologies, approaches, and mindsets are not typically examples of economic mutuality in the Better Capitalism sense because they're primarily designed to simply separate us from our money or use us as the product (e.g., online shopping for instant gratification; eyeballs on screens are sold to advertisers).

3D-printed houses that are affordable for a greater percentage of the population address a need and are a particularly satisfying example of economic mutuality in the Better Capitalism sense. By providing shelter for those squeezed out of the housing market as it is currently structured, utilizing otherwise wasted materials, reducing the carbon footprint, and rewarding the inventors for their work; this technology, approach, and mindset is a model for innovative and better capitalism.

Though this article focuses on the housing market, there are other areas where this kind of innovation is being pursued. The USA is a great economic nation in large part because we encourage and support the development of new ideas and products. Better Capitalism will continue to feature technologies, approaches, and mindsets that encourage and inform about what is being done and what can be done to make our economic system more mutually beneficial. We encourage you to read and share these posts with your networks!

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