In addition to being one of 10 esteemed finalists in the Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Challenge, Ecovative Design — AKA the New York-based startup behind a game-changing bio-material that's “grown” from agricultural waste and mushroom mycelia and can be used for packaging, insulation, and more — has won the sixth annual Buckminster Fuller Challenge.

Last year, top honors went to the Living Building Institute.

Deemed as “Socially-Responsible Design’s Highest Award” by Metropolis magazine, the Buckminster Fuller Challenge aims to “support the development and implementation of a strategy that has significant potential to solve humanity's most pressing problems.” In this particular instance, the pressing problem at hand would be our reliance on highly polluting conventional plastics. With this big win, Ecovative Design has exemplified a famous quote from the late futurist, "gentle revolutionist," and father of the geodesic dome himself, Buckminster Fuller: “To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

At a ceremony to be held next month at Cooper Union in New York City, the Brooklyn-based Buckminster Fuller Institute will award Ecovative’s young co-founders, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute grads Gavin McIntyre and Eben Bayer, with a $100,00 cash prize that will further enable the duo and their team to further drive landfill-clogging, petrochemical-based foam materials (Styrofoam) into obsoletion with an innovative — and home compostable — alternative.

Explains McIntyre: "We answered the Buckminster Fuller Challenge because we believe in the power of our people to make a real, positive impact. Today, Ecovative looks forward to further answering Bucky's challenge, as we continue to innovate mycological biomaterials and reach an ideal state, with social and environmental considered equally with economics."

Reads a statement released by the Buckminster Fuller Institute and the 2013 jury:

Finding new models for manufacturing that don't diminish, and can actually restore, Earth's natural resources is an urgent priority. Ecovative, a six-year-old socially responsible materials business and initiative, has disrupted the materials industry with an innovative and cost-competitive natural alternative to petrochemical based plastics and other hazardous materials widely used daily across the world. 

Their ‘mushroom material’, grown from living organisms, can be used in everything from protective packaging and furniture to insulation, footwear, even surfboards (and soon some electric car components). Ecovative’s vision is to become the first industrial age company with a net positive impact on the planet’s ecosystem, and they are well on their way. This means eliminating the negative environmental impacts of production associated with the plastics industry, producing a material that sequesters carbon, and delivers nutrients back to Earth.

Their approach, from inception to production, is an extraordinary example of the core tenets of The Buckminster Fuller Challenge’s entry criteria, which require the winning solution to be comprehensive, anticipatory, ecologically responsible, feasible, replicable, and verifiable.
Whittled down from a pool of 19 semi-finalists, other finalists in the 2013 Buckminster Fuller Challenge include the Green Chemistry Commitment and the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science along with Echale a Tu Casa, a sustainable housing development scheme from Mexico. Waterbank Schools, a school building/community reservoir concept for H2O-deprived, rural areas of Africa, also made the cut. An official runner-up and honorable mention recipient will be announced next week.

A huge congrats to the Ecovative Design team and all of the 2013 Buckminster Fuller Challenge finalists. You’re all doing Bucky — he's no doubt watching down from a Mensa meeting in the sky — proud.

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Fungi-based plastic alternative wins Buckminster Fuller Challenge
Another huge honor for the mushroom insulation wizards at Ecovative Design: Scoring the top prize in the 2013 Buckminster Fuller Challenge.