Biome: Nature for the Modern World
May 3, 2017
At the forefront of a new wave of entrepreneurs, whose technology and business attempt to solve global issues, are revolutionary startups like Biome. Headed by two childhood friends, Collin Cavert (CEO) and Erik Bolt, Biome is an Oakland-based startup, with the goal of creating clean air and making the world a more sustainable place.
Biome makes green walls that grow plants without any soil, using a charcoal substrate to grow the plants using hydroponics techniques. Microbes in the plant’s roots absorb harmful chemicals in the air, such as carbon dioxide and cleaning products.
Though customers will be relatively unaware of the short-term change in air quality, the Biome green wall actually reduces unhealthy carbon dioxide concentrations by 39 percent within hours of installation. Air quality is monitored using sensor technology and is relayed to the customer. However, despite the technological feats of the Biome product, the most appealing aspect of the green wall is how it adds a touch of green in a society that is so removed from nature.
Living their lives with great connection to nature, Cavert and Bolt are helping humankind to realize the great significance of the outdoors, our dependence on the environment, and the importance of preserving the environment for the future.
Cavert and Bolt grew up together in Allentown, Pennsylvania and split up when they went off to college. After embarking on their own journeys to reflect on life and their potentials to impact the future, Cavert started Biome and shortly after convened with Bolt.
Cavert realized his interest in sustainability after his studies in business school, as he realized the detrimental impact our current business practices have on the environment: “I was doing well in school, by all standards, but inside I really started to learn about how destructive and toxic business has become, in terms of what does externally, to people and the environment.” Cavert attributes the disruptive practices of modern business to current political and economic tensions, as major corporations have immense influence politically and environmentally.
New insight on the negative impact business has on the world, Cavert set out in a new direction, “I knew I couldn’t keep going in the direction I was going and I really just wanted to take some time to think about life and what was important to me. To facilitate this, I went on a few trips. I wanted to get so off the grid and [be] minimal with my impact; zero carbon emissions, no running water, and no technology.”
Cavert described his most impactful trip, which was a summer adventure to live on the San Juan archipelago for a summer, “I decided to go live with foragers, people who gather food off the land. I lived with them for a summer and it was my first true experience in an environment that embraced and relied on nature.”
This experience further demonstrated to Cavert the importance of nature to humankind, as well as our obligation to maintain the world that we depend on. Itching to make a significant impact, Cavert knew he’d have to venture back to the technical world of school and business.
He attended Drexel, taking classes in engineering, the art school, and in product design in order to create an impactful product based off of nature, “I ultimately decided that I just wanted to study nature and get college credit to study nature in a totally open-ended curriculum.”
Cavert set out to research one question he had in mind, “what would nature do to counteract climate change?” Cavert’s answer? “Nature would just grow more clean air for itself; that’s how all the oxygen today got here, so we can help nature do a better job and save ourselves.”
While at Drexel Cavert studied the school’s own five-story biowall, an experience which would greatly contribute to his effort to create the Biome green wall: “I got to study with the faculty there [the Drexel greenwall]. One professor from biology, one from chemistry, and one guy in mechanical engineering and I learned that green walls are really unreliable.”
With this knowledge, Cavert set out to create a green wall to help create clean air.
He received a $15,000 grant for his co-op to create Biome with the intention of “creating an organization that has a net benefit for the planet. I weaved my moral decisions and business decisions together.”
Cavert wisely created Biome to be a public benefit corporation, which can choose to make decisions that are based on morals rather than the obligation to create capital for the company and shareholders. By being a public benefit corporation, Cavert can protect the moral compass of Biome and follow his passion of creating clean air for the Earth.
His goal for Biome in the future is, “first and foremost for Biome to be an indoor and outdoor product line that creates healthier places to live.” Moreover, he wants Biome in the future to be more accessible to everybody, as he views having clean air as a public service.
Moreover, Cavert said although he doesn’t think Biome has reached financial success yet, he’s been happy with the reception of the product, “We’ve seen success in some of the early adopters, which have been some of the best companies in the world, who see the mission of Biome and want to support it and get it to the next level.”
A key attraction to the Biome green wall by some of their early customers is not only the clean air aspect but also how the presence of Biome has “humanized” the world of technology by adding a splash of nature. Performing Biome installments, servicing the green walls, and managing the plants for the green walls is Bolt’s job at Biome.
Bolt’s love for nature and plants was seen immediately, as when I called him a few minutes late, he replied “sorry I also got caught up in the garden.”
Throughout life, Bolt has stayed in contact with nature no matter the setting, whether it be a city, the middle of nowhere on a hike, or as part of a job, “I’ve worked at a lot of different nurseries, different farms, and I’ve always have had the need to put a lot of plants in my life.”
Prior to meeting up with Cavert again to work at Biome, Bolt attended and graduated from Temple University with a degree in communications. After graduation, Bolt embarked on a series of trips, one memorable journey was living in a cabin in the wilderness without the basic necessities we often take for granted: running water, heating, electricity, and of course wifi. Both Bolt’s trip paired with Calvert’s individual excursions have undeniably had an immense impact on Biome’s commitment to offering human society the often overlooked, but important sense of nature.
Bolt elaborated on this sentiment, stating, “I’ve always viewed society as a confusing thing, because in the last two hundred to one hundred years, how much society has changed and how a good percentage of people have forgotten our core as human beings.”
Modern society has connected smartphones and addictive technologies and sadly disconnected with nature, “In urban cities, people miss a lot of things. We’ve been pretty distant from what human beings are supposed to naturally to be.”
Bolt’s interest in replenishing society’s relationship with nature is what ultimately led him back to work on Biome with Cavert, “Collin and I have always been connected to want to bring more natural aspects to our lives.”
At Biome, Bolt’s interest in hydroponics (growing plants without soil), green walls, and nature fit right in with Cavert’s desire to create a product to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Moreover, Bolt is in charge of creating the Biome products and servicing the Biome installations.
Bolt described his perspective on Biome’s purpose and his purpose. “I see Biome as two aspects. One through the partnerships and relations that we are developing and what we want to do in terms of carbon dioxide emissions. And then secondly, my goal ultimately is that Biome is a consumer product that customers can use just like any other appliance. There should be no service required.”
Part of an underlying nuisance of Bolt’s job in relation to Biome’s current product is the product’s current need for him to regularly service the Biome units, whether that be repairs, replacing plants, or general maintenance.
While creating a new design for the Biome product, Bolt has found that his job is to find out how he can eliminate his job of servicing. Turning Biome into a self-servicing product is Bolt’s top priority, “I’d say the biggest goal is that in a year, Biome as sold and used as a common appliance.” Bolt expressed that achieving this goal will be necessary for Biome’s short-term and long-term goal.
Bolt’s goal to eliminate his role in servicing the Biome green walls and thus turn them into a self-sufficient appliance reflects his own sustainable and naturally in touch lifestyle. His love for nature is so deep that it’s strange for him to explain to people who don’t get that humans need nature. “For me, it’s really hard a lot of the time to go tell people that don’t know that nature is good for them because it’s just naturally in me.”
Though the world may be a few years away from recognizing the importance of preserving our environment and reliance on nature, both Bolt and Cavert are optimistic for future of Biome and the reception of the product by customers. Bolt says “the market is truly going to become big in the next two to three years, so we will just have to make the model of all models.”
Cavert, too, is eager for the future of Biome and has hopes to make larger scale green walls that can have outdoor application to combat air pollution on an even larger scale.