Plant Based Leaders | Evoco

Jason Robinson, the CEO of PBPC member Evoco
Jason Robinson, CEO, Evoco

For this edition of Plant Based Leaders, we interviewed Jason Robinson, the CEO of PBPC member Evoco, which seeks innovative solutions for consumer goods and industrial markets, utilizing sustainable plants and biomass.

Jason, tell us about your background.

I started as a chemical engineer working in the climate tech sector, but throughout my career, I’ve always had at least one eye on the use of plant-based technology to address climate change and toxicity in the environment.

Today, Evoco has a plant-based chemistry lab, how does that support the company’s innovation and speed to market?

At our heart, we’re innovators. Our company is driven by our scientists, engineers, and Ph.Ds.

We started at an incubator at the University of Toronto, working to build a chemistry platform for durable goods and materials. We made some early progress in foam and found an opportunity in the footwear market.

Now we’re located in MaRS Discovery District, which is a growth incubator and wet lab facility. Here, we can actually integrate our people, our resources, and our equipment into an existing lab, really fueling our technology innovation.

Pictured is Nina Heidarzadeh, Senior Materials Scientist & Sustainability Lead at Evoco

Give us a brief overview of your technologies and their range of applications.

We have three main technologies – low-density and medium-density foam that you would see in footwear, but which can also be found in mattresses or furniture like a couch cushion.

Evoco’s bio-foam

We also have bio leather which can be applied to any seating category, or handbag, or upper on a shoe, or even something like an iPhone case cover.

Evoco’s bio-leather

We also have a thermoplastic. It can be made into a variety of different molded, hard products. The innovations have come quickly, and our challenge has been finding the right time to launch them. This year we’re launching the bio leather and then moving into other applications, unveiling them for the market next year.

Who are some of your downstream customers?

We’re working with well over 20 footwear customers today, including Vans and Timberland, and we’ve produced millions and millions of units for that industry. Beyond footwear, we have a number of letters of intent, and through those we are developing applications in the automotive sector and in women’s intimates, for example. So our customers span a wide variety of industrial and consumer goods.

VANS featuring FATES insole

Can you talk to us a little bit about the sustainability benefits to your clients?

Right now, we’re between 60-80% bio in our foam technologies, and even higher in some of our other technologies. When we look at measurable, sustainable metrics like life cycle analysis, carbon reduction, and detoxification, combined with our production capacity, our customers can reduce carbon relative to their current value chain.

We’re also partnership driven. We tailor our technology toward clients’ standard off-the-shelf equipment, ensuring our technology can be applied to many industries around the world.

Earlier, you mentioned the term detoxification, can you explain what you mean?

That’s a part of our overall framework called defossilization of the global material value chain. We use four metrics to measure our progress.

One is building technology for decarbonization – reducing client’s carbon footprint.

The second is performance, so that our technology has applications and scalability for multiple industries.

The third is detoxification. We remove a lot of hazardous materials found in products: no phthalates, no heavy metal catalysts, no solvents. We want to be sure that when these products are at their end of life, if they accidentally leach out into the environment, they do not create further toxicity in the ecosystem.

And fourth is end-of-life. Our materials are meant to biodegrade under composting conditions and can biodegrade under landfilling.

Defossilization is about progress over perfection. Today, we do not have technology that is 100% bio. But we are rapidly working towards 100% bio in our labs with the goal of making it both scalable and commercial.

Let’s dig a little bit more into your current product line. Talk to us about Fates.

Fates is our feedstock agnostic, plant-based material technology in footwear. Our applications within the footwear industry started with insoles and we’re now moving out to midsole technology and even outsole technology.

Our Fates materials perform the same and often better than incumbent materials, which are made from oil or petrochemistry. This allows us to talk not just about sustainability, but also how we can design plant-based materials that exceed client’s performance expectations – while also being durable and long lasting. And I think that’s where we’ve won over people.

FATES bio-based insoles

You mentioned that you’re launching a plant-based leather alternative later this year. What are the properties of the leather alternative, both environmental and performance related?

Our new plant-based leather alternative is a technology that has absolute tunability. The product can be calibrated to meet a client’s needs and specific application and works across multiple industries.

Do clients need it for fashion-related or footwear-related products or for upholstery grade or automotive products? Our mechanical testing and durability testing of the product allows us to fine-tune it for their application. And it’s a plug-and-play, drop-in technology, working seamlessly within a client’s existing infrastructure.

On top of that, we offer measurable sustainability with the new plant-based leather. We saw a little bit of a gap in the marketplace for truly scalable, measurable technologies that meet durability and performance standards. We also created what we call waterborne dispersion. By utilizing water systems rather than solvent systems to create the material, we significantly reduce the carbon footprint and detoxify the material.

You work closely with the Circular Innovation Fund. How does it support your company?

We consider the Circular Innovation Fund our partners in business, supporting the work that we’re doing in the industry.

CIF was particularly supportive leading up to our series B, which helped move the company into a commercialization phase. We were able to start up operations in Asia, particularly Vietnam, and build our own factory there. During that time, we were in the initial stages of development on a variety of new applications and new technologies. Next, we are looking to raise a series C with the help of CIF, which will support our launch of new technologies globally and help to build out our team.

You won the Drapers Most Sustainable Initiative Award.

Yes, it’s a recognition of our technology and its ability to scale within the footwear industry. We didn’t expect it and we’re very appreciative because we were up against much larger companies. It’s also exciting because companies are not allowed to apply, instead the competition organizers seek out companies, and they found us.

It goes to show we are bringing new products into the marketplace that are measurably sustainable, while growing as a company. These awards are better than any kind of paid PR or marketing campaign.

Evoco wins Drapers Footwear Awards Best Sustainable Initiative 2022

Explain your feedstock selection process.

We are feedstock agnostic. And we take a diverse approach. When we look at feedstocks, we could be utilizing waste starch materials from industrial corn or waste oils that are not in the food chain. We also look at food waste and other waste byproducts from the agriculture industry.

Let’s touch on public policy. Should there be policy prescriptions around sustainable agriculture?

Customers want transparency, explaining where the sustainable content is coming from. That requires transparency in our supply chain, all the way back to the feedstock itself. And so we’re proponents of regenerative agricultural practices.

In my engagement with farmers, they want to do right. They want farming practices that are long-term sustainable, because for them it’s not just this year’s crop, it’s next year’s and well beyond. Policymakers should consider offering incentives for introducing more regenerative practices. These practices could increase farmer profitability and improve land use.

You recently joined PBPC and now sit on the board. Congratulations. Tell us about it.

PBPC offers the bioeconomy, including plant-based products and technologies, a voice at the table when it comes to existing regulation and future regulation.

Through PBPC, we’re learning from our peers who are working in this space as well. And more importantly, we’re understanding how to work with officials to help integrate regulation or adapt regulation to help build the bioeconomy.

Plant-based technologies offer incredible economic benefits, especially to rural America. PBPC is excellent at communicating the opportunity and promise of the industry, both from a sustainability and an economic perspective.

Join our growing group of plant-based leaders working toward a more sustainable economy. Learn more about the benefits of PBPC membership.