Launching a Collaboration to Grow a More Sustainable Economy

Ecovative Materials

Photographer: Ben Mund, courtesy of LAUNCH.

The fundamentally fascinating thing, the core novel idea that led to the creation of Ecovative is that one can take a mixture of agricultural products (corn stover, rice husks, hemp, for example), add in mycelium (mushroom root strucuture), mix it together, and, in time, the mycelium will grow around the varied agricultural components binding them together—acting as what we call “nature’s glue”—to make something new, interesting, environmentally safe, and sustainable.

Launch Tables

Photographer: Ben Mund, courtesy of LAUNCH.

As I sat recently with a group of people who work in the bio & chemical, textiles & apparel, and furniture industries, it occurred to me that those of us around those tables—though seemingly disparate—were the equivalent of the “mixture of agriculture components” and that our common belief in the need to expand the circular economy—the topic on the table that day—was the “nature’s glue” that had the potential to grow and bind these unconnected organizations together.

Launch Stage

Photographer: Ben Mund, courtesy of LAUNCH.

The gathering was convened by LAUNCH, an organization founded by NASA, the US Agency for International Development, the U.S. Department of State, and Nike, on the belief that sustainability is the biggest challenge and opportunity of our time and that collaboration is the key to successfully accelerate innovative solutions to create a more circular economy.  LAUNCH’s mission is to “build and nurture a community of innovators, thought leaders and decision makers across value chains to collectively understand, articulate and scale solutions for positive systems change leading to a more sustainable society.”

Ecovative Speaking

Photographer: Ben Mund, courtesy of LAUNCH.

My general purpose in being there was to spark a broader conversation about the impressive technologies that can be found growing in nature and the potential for expanding the use of biofabriated materials—such as Ecovative’s packaging and BioMason’s bricks—that are safer to manufacture, use, and dispose of.  I was particularly interested in finding avenues to connect larger brands who have the inclination and resources, with entrepreneurs who are exploring the use of biofabriated materials in production, including mycelium.

Fostering these collaborations is an essential next step in Ecovative’s role as the leader in the field of biomaterial manufacturing. As the pioneer and world leader in mycelium-based biomaterials, successfully using biology to grow materials at scale with exceptional properties unattainable through conventional chemistry, we consider it an opportunity and obligation to foster the next generation of innovators in this field.

Many of these major brands have an existing commitment to STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education, and they support a range of programs and competitions to inspire students (K-12 and college/university) to pursue STEM fields.  I can imagine, for example, a national competition that challenges middle or high school students, or perhaps even college students to see what they can grow, build, and design with Ecovative’s GIY (grow it yourself) materials.  In doing so, it would engage a new generation of future designers, architects, and builders in the use of more sustainable building materials.

Launch Photo

Photographer: Ben Mund, courtesy of LAUNCH.

We do not yet know what will come from these discussions started around those tables at LAUNCH, but I do know that we have come together, we are all in the mix now, and it is likely that we will be bound closer together because of our common commitment to a more eco-friendly future.  Something interesting and more sustainable will certainly emerge.

-Jeff Betts