Existing Technologies Can Play a Role in Our Climate Challenge

The “T” part of the CLIMATE model stands for technology and design.  Redesigning the way we work can have profound impacts on how effective we are at confronting the climate change impacts we are experiencing. Our goals are simple: to slow down the impacts of climate change and to build resiliency.

To be resilient we need to achieve five outcomes:

  1. Absorptive capacity refers to the ability to resist disruption and remain relatively stable without loss of function. This outcome may involve new technologies to warn us of impending impacts and to help keep us functioning during natural disasters, for example.
  2. Redundancy is the degree to which other units or elements in systems can be substituted for those that are lost or disrupted when disaster strikes. Redundancy promotes diversity and considers the interconnected nature of elements so that if one fails, such as communication systems, others can still function. This redundancy often flies in the face of efficiency.
  3. Resourcefulness is the ability to identify problems and subsequently mobilize material, information, and other resources to address problems.
  4. Rapidity refers to the time it takes for us to respond to the level of functionality that existed prior to a disaster or impact. The speed of recovery is critical to a functioning system.
  5. Bounce-back, or regrouping, refers to restoring the activities prior to the disruption.

Technologies play a role in establishing resiliency. Humanity already possesses the fundamental scientific, technical, and industrial know-how to solve the carbon and climate problem for the next half-century. Two researchers, Pacala and Socolow, make a compelling case to use a portfolio of technologies to meet the world’s energy needs over the next 50 years and to limit atmospheric carbon dioxide to a trajectory that voids a doubling of the pre-industrial concentrations. Every element they suggest is already available.

For example, economy-wide carbon intensity reduction can be achieved by using efficient transportation, efficient buildings, and efficient base-load generation plants. Other examples are the use of carbon sequestration through natural and man-made syncs, like wind power and conservation tillage. I’ll also add adopting regenerative agricultural practices, advocated by companies such as Patagonia and VF.

In an earlier newsletter I mentioned Drawdown, a project that catalogues a large number of technologies that can slow the speed of climate change and increase the resiliency of communities. Drawdown maps, measures, models, and describes the 100 most substantive solutions to global warming. For each solution, the authors describe its history, the carbon impact it provides, the relative cost and savings, the path to adoption, and how it works. The research goal is to determine if we can reverse the buildup of atmospheric carbon within a thirty year time frame. All solutions modeled are already in place, well understood, analyzed based on peer-reviewed science, and are expanding around the world.

In two earlier blogs, I spoke on design thinking. Here, I’ll provide an example of how effective redesign of traditional products and changing the way we work can have a large impact on our ability to meet environmental challenges.

Imagine a chair made from mushrooms. Manufactured by Gunlocke and designed by Alyssa Coletti of Nonfiction Creative, LLC, this chair, called the Savor, was introduced in 2014 [i]. The Savor chair contains MycoBoard which is made from corn stocks (roughly 2.3 pounds per chair), mycelium, and hemp (from Canada). The chair is also Biodegradable Products Institute-certified for industrial compost. Additionally, 86 percent of the chair is renewable content. It takes about 80 minutes to make a chair which makes it an efficient chair to manufacture.

Roy Green, Director of Stewardship and Sustainability at Gunlocke explained the challenges making such as a chair. “The outside back of the chair, which would typically be made from a type of plywood, was very expensive because the back’s shape was prone to cracking or splitting.” The company solved this problem by using solutions from a company called Ecovative Design. In the end, the design firm came up with MycoBoard which is grown, not glued, with natural, rapidly renewable mycelium technology.

Mycelium is a natural, self-assembling glue, that digests crop waste to produce cost-competitive and environmentally responsible materials. Mycelium is an extension of the hyphae of fungi. A hyphae is a thread-like, branching structure formed by fungi. As the hyphae grows, it becomes longer and branches off, forming a mycelium network visually reminiscent of the branches of tree. The mycelium is the most important and permanent part of a fungus. The mycelia network that emanates from a fungal spore can extend over and into the soil in search of nutrients. The ends of some mycelia terminate as mushrooms and toadstools. These mycelium features make it ideal for use in all sorts of products and applications.

Mushroom Materials from Ecovative Designs are Cradle to Cradle CertifiedCM Gold. Cradle to Cradle CertifiedCM is a certification mark licensed by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute. Ecovative uses the material for packaging, insulation, automotive applications, and even surf boards.

One author coined new terms using mycelium as the basis, such as (1) mycorestoration through bio-transforming stripped land, (2) mycofiltration by creating habitat buffers, (3) myco-remediation by healing chemically harmed environments, and (4) mycoforestry by creating truly sustainable forests.

The use of mycelium is a perfect illustration of using life forms and biomimicry to design products.

[i] Adapted from Daniel S. Fogel (2016).  Strategic Sustainability: A Natural Environmental Lens in Organizations and Management. New York, New York: Routledge:  221


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