Even with a demanding schedule as a successful businessman, Mahboob Rahman Ruhel, chairman of Star Cineplex and managing director of GasMin Ltd, manages to find time to engage in environmental programmes. An active advocate for the protection of the environment for years, Mahboob likes to think of himself as an environmental activist.
It is from that sense of personal responsibility that he set up Green Block, a company that produces environment-friendly concrete blocks and tiles with stone, sand and cement.
Established in 2016 in Chattogram's Mirsarai, Green Block currently manufactures some 30,000 blocks (22 different sizes) every day. However, company officials have said they have a daily demand for 50,000 blocks from buyers.
At present, blocks manufactured by Green Block are being used in various construction projects, including different government projects of LGED, PWD, Payra Seaport, factories at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Industrial City. Using blocks in big projects like these can cut the cost by 20%-30%, according to people linked with the production of eco-friendly blocks.
Company officials said the factory was constructed on three acres of land in Dhumghat, Mirsarai, with an initial investment of Tk7 crore. Current investment in the two units of the factory stands at Tk15.50 crore.
Green Block, which currently employs 46 people, logs an annual turnover of Tk22-24 crore.
In the next two years, Green Block, a subsidiary of GasMin Limited, has plans to launch two more units at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Industrial City in Mirsarai with an investment of Tk20 crore. Each of the new units is estimated to have the capacity to produce 50,000 to 70,000 blocks per day.
"We have taken an initiative to create eco-friendly blocks to maintain the balance of the environment and prevent wastage of topsoil. We are currently constructing a green factory at Bangabandhu Industrial City," Mahboob Rahman said.
"As the concrete blocks are more cost effective than bricks, the Peninsula Airport Garden Hotel saved Tk1.2 crore by using blocks," he said, citing one of many projects that chose eco-friendly blocks over bricks.
"To protect the balance of the environment, more investments are required. We need facilities, including low tariff rate on raw materials import and low interest rates for bank loans," he added.
According to the Housing and Building Research Institute (HBRI), the government has issued instructions on using eco-friendly blocks as an alternative to burnt bricks, the production of which is not environment friendly. The Ministry of Environment has directed that 100% use of blocks be assured as an alternative to bricks in all government works.
The government is providing all kinds of assistance in investing in the concrete block construction sector, including VAT rebate facility, according to HBRI officials.
"Using the blocks is not only eco-friendly, but also reduces construction cost by 10%-25%, depending on the size of the project," said Nafizur Rahman, principal research officer of HBRI.
According to the officials, soil is not needed in manufacturing these blocks. They are manufactured by using stone, cement, sand and chemicals. The Green Block factory uses German technology in manufacturing concrete hollow blocks, universal paving blocks, erosion control blocks, edging blocks, kerb stone, parking pavement and roof tiles.
They said blocks are more durable as these are earthquake, heat and salinity resistant as well as absorb less water.
Md Enamul Haque, factory manager of Green Block, said, "The weight of a 400 by 200-millimetre block is 16 kg. Nine ordinary bricks are needed to fill the same amount of space, the weight of which would be 27kg. On the other hand, the price of a block is Tk60 while the price of nine bricks is around Tk90."
Bahar Uddin, mechanical helper of Green Block factory, said, "The factory authorities provide all kinds of safety equipment. Since everything is automated, both the risk and the effort are minimal."