Grow A Surfboard With Ecovative’s Mushroom Material
It all started with the innate superpower of billion-year-old fungi and an idea about how to grow molded materials in a more sustainable way. Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, co-founders of Ecovative Design, began experimenting with bio-based materials like cornstalk and mycelium (the root structure of mushrooms) when they were students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Over the course of a few days, the roots of the mushroom mycelium had formed a matrix around the agricultural waste products that Bayer and McIntyre had sourced from local farmers for their experiment– material that was composed mostly of stalks and seed husks. Once the product had grown to the desired size, it was heat-treated to inhibit further growth and prevent allergens and spores from forming. Soon, they were pioneering a new form of sustainable technology with a wide array of practical applications in building materials and beyond.
Bayer has expressed that while he didn’t know it at the time, growing up on a small farm in Vermont helped shepherd his sustainable ideologies as he only had wood heat, so his family harvested all their own fire wood. “We used a homemade solar collector to heat the hot water in summer; no backup hot water heater on the farm, so if it wasn’t sunny you took a cold shower,” he claims. “It was a great place to learn problem-solving skills and of course get exposed to biology. I took many of these lessons with me to college and they certainly influenced my thinking in founding Ecovative with Gavin.”
Ecovative’s mushroom technology not only created a sustainable alternative to EPS (insulated plasterboard) and other plastic foam packaging, but it also had the potential to match the quality and price of products that already existed on the market.
Ecovative’s material could replace formaldehyde-filled insulation, landfill-destined packaging, and even automotive and structural bio-composites. It could be used in conventionally-engineered wood furniture and in hand plane surfboards that glide you through the perfect wave (see above). Best of all: Ecovative materials can be composted at the end of their lifecycle, meaning the products are both sustainably-sourced and low-impact.
The company first gained momentum in 2007 when they won the prized Change The World Challenge, which granted them five thousand dollars to further finance their ideas. The following year they won the world’s largest prize for solutions addressing climate change, the PICNIC Green Challenge, which granted them a 500,000 euro, life changing, check. This afforded the sustainable entrepreneurs the ability to move out of their college basement and into a warehouse in Green Island, New York. By 2011, furniture companies like Steel Case and Fortune 500’s such as Crate & Barrel and Dell were now their clientele. The following year, their product was licensed to sell throughout North America and Europe, and in 2013 they built the world’s first Mushroom House with their own mushroom insulation (see below).
Amidst this growth, Bayer and McIntyre still find time to center themselves with annual retreats involving forest bathing. “Retreats started off as a way for the company to come together and explore nature for new species that we could incorporate into our products,” said Bayer. “When we were a smaller team, we would have overnight trips that reminded you a bit of summer camp… bonfire and all.” Now that they’re a team of around 65, they have one day a year dedicated to relaxation and realignment. Ecovative continues to grow by expanding their engineered alternative, Myco Board, and they recently launched their Grow It Yourself program, enabling anyone to grow their own sustainable products and ideas through the use of raw material– just like they did.