Do gooders

An image from the book Principles of mining – valuation, organization and administration; copper, gold, lead, silver, tin and zinc (1909), by Herbert Hoover. Source:,_organization_and_administration;_copper,_gold,_lead,_silver,_tin_and_zinc_(1909)_(14589950418).jpg

What’s new?

CNN reported that Puerto Rican architect Gautier Castro has designed a home that can be built within a shipping container.

What does it mean?

In September 2017, category 5 hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, bringing high winds, storm surge, and enormous amounts of rain, causing destruction of buildings, gaps in utility services (transportation, electricity, cell phones, and water), and human death and injuries, as reported by NOAA. In addition, earthquakes in January 2020, the largest of magnitude 6.4, added to the destruction.

The AP reported in July of this year (2020) that “tens of thousands of homes in Puerto Rico remain uninhabitable by modern standards, with damage ranging from total destruction to missing roofs. In the central mountain town of Villalba alone, 43 families still live under blue tarps as roofs. Mayor Luis Javier Hernández said one family used theirs for so long that it wore out and he had to give them a new tarp.”

Working as a FEMA inspector after Hurricane Maria, Ms. Castro saw the devastation and heard the anguish of unhoused Puerto Ricans, but also learned that many of the houses that were destroyed had not been built to withstand such storms, because many were built informally and not to required standards. She created a company called KONTi to provide affordable, safe, and comfortable homes from shipping containers, which meet the International Building Code. Add-on systems include solar electricity and water recollection and treatment.

Affordable housing is worldwide problem. Headquartered in Caldwell, Idaho, and cofounded by an engineer, the certified B corporation IndieDwell recently opened a manufacturing facility in my home town, Pueblo, Colorado. Using similar methods as Ms. Castro, IndieDwell manufactures modular homes. A former student of mine created Sadie Shelter to manufacture homes from cardboard, with an emphasis on housing refugees and unsheltered people.

What does it mean for you?

President Herbert Hoover was a mining engineer and businessman before becoming head of an international food relief organization, US Secretary of Commerce for Presidents Harding and Coolidge, and then President. President Hoover said about profession of engineering: “It elevates the standards of living and adds to the comforts of life. That is the engineer’s high privilege. … To the engineer falls the job of clothing the bare bones of science with life, comfort and hope.”

My first point is that being an engineer gives one the opportunity to work on exciting challenges and to make a difference in people’s lives. Hoover’s statement continues: “He comes from the job at the end of the day resolved to calculate it again. He wakes in the night in a cold sweat and puts something on paper that looks silly in the morning. All day he shivers at the thought of the bugs which will inevitably appear to jolt his smooth consummation.” The challenges and the responsibilities of the engineering profession provide amazing mental stimulation forever – and the rewards of success are great: “But the engineer himself looks back at the unending stream of goodness that flows from his successes with satisfactions that few professions may know.”

My second point is that doing good can be part of a business model. The indieDwell Model states: “indieDwell manufactures healthy, durable, energy efficient, sustainable modular housing with a mission of solving the affordable housing crisis.  However, the way we implement our model is far different from most companies.  We don’t go it alone, we partner with like-minded organizations and people to accomplish our mission in local markets.”

Certified B Corporations “balance purpose and profit” and include Ben & Jerry’s, Eileen Fisher, and New Belgium Brewing; B Lab is the organization that provides the certification. Somewhat similarly, but as a legal structure, not a certification, “[a] benefit corporation is a traditional corporation with modified obligations committing it to higher standards of purpose, accountability and transparency.” My home state of Colorado passed legislation creating benefit corporations as a legal structure in 2014. Colorado benefit corporations include Mid-America Pool Renovation, Fire Arrest Systems Technology, Soil Health Services, Acme Hemp Co., and Goal International, an online high school in my home town of Pueblo.

Where can you learn more?

Thank you to my colleague Elliott Ring of EJB-Partners for pointing out the CNN report on Ms. Castro.

The engineering profession prides itself on its honesty, integrity, and contribution to the public well-being.  “Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.” The desire to make a difference drives many engineers, especially younger ones.

Certified B corporations and benefit corporations provide two ways to bake social responsibility into a company.

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