Hiwot Schulte, a revolutionary founder creating eco-friendly materials for the construction industry

Hiwot Schulte - cleanbuild

Hiwot Schulte, a revolutionary founder creating eco-friendly materials for the construction industry

Our 21st century is significantly characterized by rapid urbanization. With the current trajectory in population growth, it’s predicted that in the next 40 years, the world will need to construct 230 billion square meters of new buildings to keep up with the population explosion.

However, the projected exponential growth of the construction industry is likely to cause CO2 emissions to rise further in the future. Also, the sector has always had an issue with waste management.

While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all universal solution to solving the construction waste problem, innovators coming up with exciting new discoveries and ideas that can help players in the sector reduce their environmental footprint.

One of such innovators is Hiwot Schulte, the founder of Haile Hempress House Ltd.,  a startup that focuses on the sustainable use of industrial hemp in the construction industry.

In a chat with Climateaction.Africa (C.A), Hiwot explores industrial hemp and its many benefits towards ensuring a sustainable and pollution-free environment, particularly for the construction industry.

C.A: Can you tell us about yourself?

Hiwot Schulte: My name is Hiwot Schulte, the founder of Haile Hempress House Ltd. As an Ethiopian, I’ve always been fascinated by how ancient Ethiopians used local materials and plants to make products for construction. So I wanted to use that and thought we should continue this old knowledge of using what we have in the environment in a sustainable and pollution-free manner.

When I started, I concentrated on eco-friendly materials, which led me to industrial hemp. The reason is that hemp is a plant where you can use for various different industries. Initially, I launched Nature Friend which was only a research company, but now I have Haile Hempress House.

The issue of how we treat nature and how we are suffering from the consequences of climate change as a result becomes a more and more important subject. So I think focusing on that is the right way to go.

C.A: I’m curious, you mentioned that you focus on industrial hemp that can be used in the construction industry. So, here’s the thing. In this part of the world, when many hear hemp, what usually comes to mind are ruffians or people who smoke. So they probably don’t understand that there’s something called industrial hemp that can be used to make environmentally friendly products. Can you throw more light on this?

Hiwot Schulte: I always stress that I’m very much concentrated on industrial hemp only. And what we do at Haile Hempress is to create awareness and educate people on the differences.

Because most people, especially in Africa, associate industrial hemp with a small plant that has a lot of THC (the main psychoactive compound in cannabis) which people get high from smoking. Industrial hemp is very different.

It is a much higher plant and doesn’t have anything which makes you high or THC substance. Even then, its seeds can be used for CBDs, medical cream, wellness supplements.

Hemp Field

However, Haile Hempress House mainly concentrates on straws which can be used to make materials that can’t be eaten or put into the body. You can make textiles, furniture, wall but you can’t smoke what we produce.

C.A: Which part of the world is Haile Hempress House operating from?

Hiwot Schulte: We are a very young company. We have partners in France, Belgium, Poland, countries where they’re much more advanced in using industrial hemp.

We partnered with them to purchase construction materials, but my goal is to be in Africa. At end of 2020, I was invited to Ghana to speak at a big hemp tech conference. That was the beginning of my creating awareness across different African countries.

You should know that at the moment what Haile Hempress is doing is consultancy for people who want to go into the industrial hemp sector. Although we’ve tried to do certain construction growth projects, we’re still waiting for the license to allow us to build with industrial hemp.

Africa is new in that field and needs to be confident and comfortable using that material. Some Southern African countries are doing it already; so that’s good for us. Unfortunately, they often produce it for export. While a lot of countries are allowed to grow it, it is mostly exported. We are working on promoting its use for local markets as well.

C.A: Can you elaborate on how your company is contributing its quota to climate change mitigation goals?

Hiwot Schulte: First of all, we do this by creating awareness about the benefits of using plant-based materials for construction. We believe that if people can find out more about the benefits of industrial hemp, for our environment for our climate. Even at its finished product, it’s still co2 negative because it absorbs carbon emission.

Compared to bricks, I don’t know any other material, which at its final product is co2 negative. The more and more we use this material and go into production, or get other companies to use it, the better it is for the climate. I think that’s a very big contribution.

C.A: Have you faced challenges since you started along this path?

Hiwot Schulte: Yes, from policymakers first because they don’t we were not allowed to use our materials. I hoped there was more understanding and communication. When they came to our conferences they were very open and also even expressed the wish that there would be more communication and more education for policymakers in that field.

Policymakers need to open up and educate themselves to see what is available. They need to ask what they can do and they can support young startups, innovators, people who develop new progressive ideas. So I wish they would be cooperative and willing to be open-minded.

C.A: All right. Does that mean you haven’t faced any challenge as a woman entrepreneur?

Hiwot Schulte: Yes. Of course, I have, especially in construction. Because it’s a male-dominated field and I look very young, people are very surprised at what I do.

As a woman in the industry, you always have to prove yourself.  And then when you are in the Western world, as an African woman, again, there’s often a misunderstanding of our culture. Yes, I faced a lot of challenges.

I also remember when we gave our first workshop in Ethiopia for hoteliers who were mostly older men. They were very surprised that a young woman could tell them how they could improve their hotel, and why should they be more green and eco-friendly.

However, once they understood the economic benefit for them, and how it can even attract tourists, and make the environment even nicer, the feedback was amazing. That shows you that you should never be afraid as a woman. If you love what you do, just go for it and let your passion swap over to others.

C.A: I know that you’re a board member of the African Women in Agriculture Alliance. Can you tell us more about it, and how you’re impacting women in Africa?

Hiwot Schulte: As I said earlier, I was interested in the effects of materials on nature and what materials can be used for nature to make industrial products. And in my line of work, I’ve come across farmers from different African countries. I saw that they were facing similar challenges.

So, when I attended a conference in Ghana, I met some people who shared the same visions as I did. We thought of what could we do to support the farmers, bring them together, and find solutions to their issues.

This is especially important because agriculture is a booming sector that has a very high percentage of women operating in the field. Yet, they are mostly the ones who are not getting enough support, especially when it comes to knowledge, access to technology, and access to finance.

C.A: What advice do you have for young women who are looking to pursue entrepreneurship?

Hiwot Schulte: Stay motivated, even though there will be some challenges along the way that might test your courage. Work together with other people in your field because when you are in a group, you’re much stronger, and you can share and learn from one another.

And yes, I think with today’s internet, you have a lot of opportunities to also go international, either to seek knowledge, to share knowledge or to find partners in anything you may need. So use the modern tools that are available.

Featured Image: Hiwot Schulte, Founder, Haille Hempress House Ltd.

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