Evoco is an innovative cleantech company. Its CEO, Jason Robinson, talks to Il Bioeconomista. “We’re focused on developing and producing renewable, sustainable and plant-based chemistry as alternatives to petroleum-based materials and products”, he tells us.
Interview by Mario Bonaccorso
Mr Robinson, what is the main business of Evoco?
Evoco is an innovative cleantech company. We’re focused on developing and producing renewable, sustainable and plant-based chemistry as alternatives to petroleum-based materials and products.
Our initial focus is on bio-based foams for footwear where we have commercialised insole and midsole components.We’ve designed an eco-foam that is more durable than conventional foams, is made almost exclusively from biomaterials and that biodegrades with minimal impact on the environment at the end of its life. We can easily adapt our materials and production processes to other products, such as yoga mats, mattresses or furniture. We invest heavily in R&D, innovating new green and plant-based chemistries and products, including developing bio-based thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU’s) and plant-based chemistry for 3D printing.
There is a lot of excitement in the world of sportswear to be more and more sustainable. Is it just an issue of marketing?
There’s no denying that there’s an element of marketing involved and the fashion and footwear industry has had significant issues with greenwashing. But there’s also a growing awareness that the clothing and footwear industry needs to take a long, hard look at how they produce and dispose of their goods, especially when it comes to the material supply chain. The growing awareness with both producers and consumers slowly starts to shift the scale. As a result, there is a demand for green solutions – and we’re here to deliver those.
That being said, many products have a rather low bar when it comes to labelling themselves green. We ensure our promises are kept to those who are buying our materials and products by using third party certification to identify our plant-based content throughout our entire supply chain.
At Evoco, our take is a circular one, natural circularity designed in from the ground up. We consider environmental impact at every stage of a product’s life cycle including carbon and toxicity. Where is the material sourced from? Does it have enduring and lasting performance? What will happen to it once it’s no longer in use?
Can you explain to us in detail how your technology works? What are its main strengths?
Conventional foams used in shoes are not designed for durability. They can quickly fall apart when exposed to humidity and air. As they are made from materials that are not biodegradable, they will pollute the environment much longer than their effective lifetime. Our challenge was to reverse that: to design a product that was more durable during its use, and which can decompose relatively quickly afterwards into its bio-natural components.
So we start out with a biological feedstock – currently mostly industrial corn. With a sustainable, low-energy process, we transform this feedstock into biochemical intermediates and plant-based monomers. The polyols we use in the formula for our foams are 100% bio-based. Next, we use natural or plant-based additives in our formula, working diligently to remove any petroleum-based materials and replacing them with less toxic or benign alternatives. This not only gives our foam outstanding performance but we can be confident that at end-of-life there will be minimal effect on the environment. Last, we add our patented Cleansport NXTTM to the formulation for natural probiotic-based odour control. Throughout the whole process, we take great care to minimise CO2 emissions and we also avoid the use of artificial, harmful production chemicals, such as tin-based catalysts and solvent-based blowing agents which are standard in the industry today.
Our foams have 70 to 78% plant-based content (certified 72% by GreenCircle) with the material make-up derived from the carbon of today and not the carbon of 250 million years ago. We are currently developing technology to take the plant-based content to over 90% in the next two years. The formulation has been carefully tuned so that at the end of a product’s life, our foams will biodegrade, returning to the earth to start the cycle again in what we call ‘natural circularity’.
We are still experiencing a very tough period all over the world, due to the spread of Covid19. How is the pandemic affecting your business?
Obviously, the pandemic has been challenging for everyone,including Evoco. However, we are fortunate that our business has continued to grow in these times. For many people, the pandemic was a wake-up call about how we’re living and the way we are treating the planet and each other. Companies worldwide, also those active in footwear, have accelerated their search for sustainable solutions. That’s where Evoco comes in. So yes, we’ve expanded our business and continueto grow our team with great people who are committed to the Evoco cause and reducing the impact of materials on the environment across many different industries and applications. We’ve just announced a successful $5 million CAD Series A fundraising in September 2021 which will not only support our growth but allow us to continue to push innovation boundaries with plant-based technologies and materials.
What are your next steps to grow the business?
At this time, our plan is to grow the business to allow ourproducts to become mainstream in the market. We are attracting the investment necessary to do so. And in the coming years we will launch new products and engage in new partnerships.
Our first focus is on footwear, replacing conventional foamwith our own eco-foams. We are working closely with a number of leading brands to get our foams into their products. A further focus area will be yoga mats – another market with an urgent demand for more sustainable solutionswith many more advanced plant-based materials and concepts coming online over the next two years.
As far as you’re concerned, what is the bioeconomy?
Our current industrial system has the tendency to deplete and destroy the natural ecosystem. So we need to replace iturgently with a system which is much more aligned with nature. A system that doesn’t replete natural resources but returns what it takes out of the ecosystem. A system that doesn’t require materials that are not found in nature, or at least doesn’t dump harmful materials into the ecosystem causing the massive damage we are seeing today. A system that doesn’t emit more carbon into the atmosphere than it takes out. As far as I am concerned, that should be the fundamental goal of the bioeconomy.