Heineken Wobo Bottle: A Solution To Sustainable Housing Before its Time

wobo bottles
The TriplePundit European tour had an interesting break today at the Heineken Brewery in Amsterdam. Easily one of the world’s most recognizable brands, Heineken’s brewery tour itself was an impressive, if somewhat over-the-top exploration of marketing saavy. Somewhere on the tour they may have mentioned brewing beer.

With an eye for sustainability, I would not have been particularly impressed if not for a small display explaining what can only be described as a genius Triple Bottom Line idea way before its time – the Wobo bottle of the early 1960s.

wobo-bottle-heineken

Let me explain…


Apparently, while on tour in Curacao, Alfred Heineken was troubled at the substandard, and in some cases, non-existent dwellings of the impoverished residents on the Dutch island. He decided to design a beer bottle – a “a brick that holds beer” – that could actually be used to build the walls of homes after being emptied. He went so far as to hire a renowned Dutch architect, John Habraken, to design a new bottle specifically designed to interconnect with other bottles, as well as masonry so that large numbers of them (about 1000 for a 10×10 foot room) could easily be fitted together to create a functional and attractive structure.

Unfortunately, though the design apparently worked, the project never took off and no buildings survive.

I’d be curious to know exactly why this project didn’t take off, but even more curious to know why other brewers, or Coca-Cola for that matter, haven’t thought of something like this. Certainly there are shipping efficiencies to packaging square bottles, and there’s no cost to the company if people decide to build things out of them. Re-use is always better than recycling, and if properly done, this could result in a virtually waste-free product.

Perhaps this was something the world was just not ready for. Perhaps Heineken didn’t see the benefit in it for them at the time. I’m not sure we’ll soon know the answer, but what’s commendable about this idea is that it’s very rare to see something so “outside the, ahem, bottle” coming from a colossal global brand like Heineken, and when we find things like this, even if they are 40 years old, they’re worth bringing up to show people and companies what could have been.

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Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of TriplePundit.com

TriplePundit.com has since grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He was instrumental in the creation of TreeHugger.com, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years as well as an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.