What’s on the roof of your house? How about on the rooftop of the building where you work or go to school?
If you’re like me (and much of the world), your answer is “nothing”. Your rooftop is largely unutilized space. But what if your rooftop heated and cooled your house? What if it did that for free, and collected your water and produced healthy, organic food for you and your family? In Jordan, buildings are steadily adopting a simple greenhouse unit that can do all of that, and more.
Bashar Humeid is the founder of Meezan, a nonprofit social enterprise in Amman using affordable technological innovations to address a lack of energy and water in Jordan.
From Environmental Journalist to Social Entrepreneur
Originally from Jordan, Bashar studied political science in Germany. He went on to work as an environmental and energy journalist in Germany for DW TV. From there, he moved to the UAE to continue his research on environmental issues with a think tank in Abu Dhabi.
Eventually, Bashar’s passion for the environment led him back home to Jordan, where lack of energy and water are both pressing issues. He decided that he needed to be part of the solution, and do something to enhance the efficiency of Jordan’s existing buildings. In 2011, he founded Meezan in Amman, Jordan as a nonprofit social start-up. Its mission is to design and develop regionally appropriate, sustainable agriculture, water-saving and energy-production solutions to address the food, water and energy crises affecting the Middle East.
Igniting Sustainability with the Freedom Machine Greenhouse
Meezan’s primary innovation is the Freedom Machine. It is a simple greenhouse unit designed for rooftops. The unit collects rainwater and converts solar rays into enough heat to warm a house. Using both thermal and hydraulic insulation, the rooftop unit keeps the building cooler in the summer months and warmer during winter months.
In addition, the greenhouse leverages aquaponics, a water-based production method that integrates fish, fruit and vegetable growth. The system cycles nutrient-rich water from the fish pond to irrigate crops, and then filters drainage water back to the fish. Through one enclosed system, a building gains access to organic, sustainable food production as well as an energy source for heating and cooling.
Once the first Freedom Machine was installed, Bashar started to receive inquiries for replicas elsewhere. Many requests originate from NGOs looking to fund Freedom Machines in underprivileged areas or for refugee populations. Already, Meezan has installed 9 Freedom Machines throughout Jordan, Switzerland and Palestine.
The use of the Freedom Machines in Palestine is truly ingenious. Bashar explained to me that NGOs financed Freedom Machines there to discourage military units from seizing residential buildings for their rooftop access. As it turns out, people are far less likely to take over a building, thereby pressuring residents to leave, if the rooftop is covered by a greenhouse unit.
If you can do it in Jordan, you can do it anywhere
As a founder, Bashar has already achieved a lot through his entrepreneurial ventures in Jordan. After launching Meezan and the Freedom Machine, he realized there was a significant need and demand for food that is safely and healthily produced. Bashar started Yanboot, a company that plants, markets, and prepares healthy, organic food. It is one of the first of its kind in Jordan.
All of Bashar’s work, from Meezan to Yanboot, took years of dedication and hard work to realize. “It is generally difficult to launch a start-up in Jordan,” Bashar explained. “The economic situation in Jordan is hard. People don’t have a lot of money to spend. It is often said that if you start a business in Jordan and succeed, you can start one anywhere.”
Impact Beacon is almost a year old now. I’ve interviewed social entrepreneurs from all over the world, from Uruguay to Indonesia. This wasn’t the first time someone told me about weak economies and entrepreneurial ecosystems, and the challenges they pose. But Bashar was the first to describe a link between immigration and an entrepreneurial spirit.
“My father is an immigrant from Palestine, and my mother is from Germany,” Bashar shared. “Many people here associate themselves with the immigrant community. We are Jordanians of course but, like in other countries, the immigrants here often start small businesses and other start-ups. Even now, we are seeing Syrians doing the same thing.” Bashar recognizes and appreciates the innovation that springs forth when immigrants face new and often resource-constrained circumstances–a perspective I hope more people will share in the future.
Words for the World
Protecting the environment and conserving the world’s critical natural resources is a complex and daunting global challenge. It is easy to feel like one person cannot make a difference, or to feel powerless to live sustainably and self-reliantly in your own home. Remember that your ability to take action may actually be very close. It may be right above your head.
“All over the world, people want the same thing. They want to be able to care for themselves and their families without reliance on factors that they can’t control. In other words, they want freedom. Remember that no matter who you vote for or who runs your country, you do have access to that self-sufficiency. Freedom to be more self-reliant is within reach. It is as close as your rooftop.”