Building with eco-friendly bricks

A sustainable livelihood for rural communities

Environment, livelihood

Marakkanam block in Viluppuram district in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu

01.05.2021 to 30.04.2023

60.110 €, thereof 50.000 € grant from the Schöck-Familien-Stiftung.

Target group reached:
120 people, of whom 60 are women and 60 men, and their families, a total of around 480 people


Das Satellitenfoto zeigt das Ausmaß der Umwelt­zerstörung durch die konventio­nelle Ziegel­produk­tion südlich unseres Projekt­gebiets: Immer mehr landwirt­schaft­liche Flächen fallen der Gewinnung von Lehmerde für die Ziegel­herstellung zum Opfer (Quelle: Google, © 2021 CNES / Airbus, Maxar Technologies).

In some parts of India, there is hardly any other way for many people to earn some money for their family's livelihood than working in brick factories. People from disadvantaged communities, such as the Dalits, are particularly dependent on this. They spend the whole day, from sunrise to sunset, making mud bricks. Except in the rainy season, because the bricks have to dry in the sun for four weeks. The managers of the brick factories, seemingly generous, offer them a loan to tide them over this time. But after the rainy season, the workers are forced to work off the loan. In addition, interest rates are usually very high. Because after deducting the loan instalments and the interest there is not enough money left to survive, the whole family has to work, including the children, who therefore cannot go to school.1 The families have fallen into wage bondage, modern slavery.

Huge areas of land fall victim to clay mining for the conventional production of bricks.

Apart from the exploitation of people, brick kilns are also a major burden on the environment. The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) puts the number of brick kilns in India at 140 to 210 thousand (2017) and the amount of mined clay at 700 to 750 million tonnes.2 To procure the clay for the bricks, large areas of land, some arable, some forested, are destroyed. Existing laws that require the complete renaturation of such areas are largely ignored.

Almost all brick kilns in India are coal-fired.

Firing the kilns to burn the bricks causes high emissions of soot, flue gas and CO2. ICIMOD, in its fact sheet on the burnt clay brick sector in India, cites coal consumption in this sector of 29 to 35 million tonnes and CO2 emissions of 60 to 65 million tonnes (both in 2017).‍2 According to dailyO, this makes brick production the third largest air polluter after thermal power plants and the iron and steel industry.‍3

1 According to a study conducted in 2016 by Kaarak Enterprises Ltd for Anti-Slavery International, in the states of Chhattisgarh, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, 80 % of 5–13 year old children work in brick factories, of which 12 % work as labourers and 68 % as unskilled workers, and more than three quarters of them are not attending school.

2 International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD): Burnt clay brick sector in India – Fact sheet. Kathmandu, Nepal, 2019 — https://​www.​ccacoalition.​org/sites/​default/​files/​resources/​Fact%20sheet%20​brick%20​sector​%20​India.pdf

3 Arsalan Ali Farooquee: How India’s brick industry is a major cause of pollution – Almost all brick kilns in the country run on coal. Online article from 16.04.2018 — (accessed 16.05.2021)

Project Goal

The project creates income opportunities for 120 people, of whom one half women and one half men, through the production of bricks. By setting up ten production sites, each with one brick press, unemployed and day labourers are given a perspective for their lives and for the well-being of their families. Overall, the project will contribute to the rural development of a region that is severely affected by poverty and marginalisation of individual communities.

Before use, the clay soil must be sieved to remove larger stones. The soil comes from the nutrient-poor subsoil so that the humus-rich topsoil can still be used for agriculture.

The project exclusively supports the production of CSEB (compressed stabilised earth blocks), which are pressed clay bricks with 5 to 10 % OPC (ordinary Portland cement) added to improve strength, depending on the local clay composition. Because the bricks are not fired, they emit significantly less CO2 than the fired bricks commonly produced in India, despite the cement they contain (see “Environmental friendliness and sustainability of CSEB compared to other building materials”).

A project worker explains the function of the new hand-operated clay brick press.

Main activities

The project includes training on the production and marketing of the CSEB bricks. The ten small groups produce the bricks together and register as a cooperative or joint venture. Finally, the bricks are sold to small and medium sized construction companies nearby. Once the groups have consolidated and are making a profit, they will save part of the profit to buy more machinery and include more people in need.

The Tamil Nadu government has already constructed many buildings in the villages with CSEB bricks, including this new office building.

Environmental friendliness and sustainability of CSEB compared to other building materials

“In comparison with another building material, CSEB offered numbers of advantages. It increases the utilization of local material and reduces the transportation cost as the production is in situ, makes quality housing available to more people, and generates local economy rather than spending for import materials. Faster and easier construction method resulted in less skilled labor required, good strength, insulation and thermal properties, less carbon emission and embodied energy in the production phase, create extremely low level of waste and easily dispose off, cause no direct environmental pollution during the whole life cycle. Earth brick also have the ability to absorb atmospheric moisture which resulted create healthy environment inside a building for its occupant. The earth used is generally subsoil, thus the topsoil can be used for agriculture. Building with local materials can employ local people, and is more sustainable in crisis.”

(Riza, F. V.; Rahman, I. A.; Zaidi, A. M. A.: A Brief Review of Compressed Stabilized Earth Brick (CSEB). In: 2010 International Conference on Science and Social Research (CSSR 2010), December 5–7, 2010, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

For more detailed information on the environmental friendliness and characteristics of CSEB please visit the website of the Auroville Earth Institute.

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