At 21, Joseph Michael Daniels felt like he had hit a wall. He was with without qualifications, a place to call home and a purpose in life. He’d been living on the streets since the age of 15 and was seeking the stability that escaped him throughout his childhood. He tried to join the army, started building websites and then studied architecture online after experiencing an epiphany – “Why aren’t we using electrically powered systems that drive renewables to build homes?”
He discovered at a young age that he could learn things incredibly quickly and at 23, homed in on this skill and launched Project Etopia – connecting energy, construction and intelligent technologies to revolutionise the built environment and shape a sustainable future.
Daniels has now accrued over 2 million in investment, established a partnership with Samsung, travelled to Africa and built renewable homes and is a multi-award winner both individually and company-wide, including the accolade of Forbes 30 under 30 in the manufacturing and industry category, as well as a feature in the United Nations 75th anniversary book for his contribution to climate change.
A Project Etopia facility is being set up in the United States, major Middle Eastern countries have signed up to ‘greenify’ the continent and the UK business is in hyper expansion mode, with more clients and more developments underway and upon the horizon. And they’re “not stopping there”.
You can scale this to save the planetDavid Reuben, 2020
What is your main driver – affordable housing, connectivity, or sustainability?
The entire process of living is fundamentally flawed – you have an iPhone, an electric Tesla that drives itself and then live in a box of bricks that uses gas. Everywhere you go around the world has different building regulations yet we’re all suffering the same problem. It’s only now we’re realizing that climate change is making us all exposed to those challenges.
Kuwait has been hitting 50 degrees for many years, Japan has experienced forest fires for the last 10 years, and global warming has been happening for 30 years. We’re saying it’s only an issue now because the three countries who didn’t sign up before have now obliged and social media provides a platform to expose a natural crisis instantly to millions of people.
And the fact that we can’t house everyone is not good enough. Every family in the UK has access to a mobile or a car, but not everyone has a home. We have to, as a society and as a community unite. If there is one fortunate thing that climate change has finally done it’s brought us together as a species and go: we’re all in this together.
It’s very hard to disconnect your brain when you’re experiencing hyper realism. Especially as we live in a digital world.joseph michael daniels, 2021
What are your biggest challenges, what holds you back in terms of pace and progress?
Mindset, but again I think the major thing that is holding us back as an organisation is acceptability – people fear new concepts. It’s the acceptability and the adoptability of the mass market that make that very hard.
Trendsetters are usually people that act outside of that economic norm. So, people apply these products in their day-to-day life, set the example, document and data it or socialise it, and then that becomes the norm and that’s how new, affordable products can be passed down. I do think the blocker is acceptability in the industry.
How much does money matter to you in this plan?
It’s not money, it’s economics. I come from an impoverished background, if anyone understands how money gives you life, it’s me. Money makes the world go around; it drives a focus, but that focus shouldn’t be just about the money. We have to realise the value of ourselves, the value of a good economy and the value of great sustainability.
There is an economic impact to quality sustainability, you can’t just go and say, ‘oh, we’re going to do everything for the right reasons’, all of the time. Because if you did that, there wouldn’t be evolution in product, there wouldn’t be innovation, there wouldn’t be an economic system which people can rely and fall back on. Economics is highly important; making sure the product is feasible, making sure it works, making sure it drives the train, because you’re going to need this knowledge to power growth.
So, let’s talk about tech – your other massive, sweet spot.
Ironically, the frequency and the waves of the things we don’t see are all around us. If you think about particle physics, and you think about everything that moves – our senses limit us. Sensor technology can visualise and bring to life things we don’t see. We’ve been working on a sensor technology that works with our gaming technology, so when you look at a house that’s built with the sense of running in real life, you can see blue particles in the air, you can see purple ones for sound, you can see how the true environment surrounding you acts. You can see what is being sensed beyond your knowledge.
I think people get scared that 5g chips are being forced into in our minds but it’s just an evolution of society. It’s not that we’re trying to infiltrate and control, these sensors will help make decisions.
And why do you need that? Your house might be leaking heavily at 12 o’clock in the daytime, the sun comes in and overheats each room, and it makes you uncomfortable. You then use air conditioner to keep cool all the time but you’re churning through gas and energy but you’re happy as long as your house is the right temperature 24 hours a day. But it does matter because you pay for it in bills, but also will pay for it in co2. These sensors will enable the consumer to just fix the parts that are broken (the leaky part of the window) rather than replace whole objects (the entire window).
Listen to the full interview where Andrew Deverell-Smith questions the sustainability powerhouse that is Joseph Michael Daniels on where Project Etopia will be in 5 years (and it includes more than four continents), how he plans to continue to lead by example, innovation, mental health, his fast growing non-profit and where he would invest one million pounds right now.