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Episode 54 – Organoid Surfaces: the ultimate biophilic design material


Discover how you can green your life, by building a knowledge base of current sustainable and eco-savvy trends. In this series, we'll delve into hot topics. Current standards and practices. Ways to design better spaces. And specify materials to benefit not only us as consumers but the world as a whole. Members of CaraGreen, a sustainable materials distributor, and other industry leaders weigh in throughout the series. This is Build Green Live Green. 


Jessica: Hi, this is Jessica with, Build Green Live Green. And today we are speaking with Hans Peter Forester from Organoid Technologies. We call him HP. So welcome HP. 


HP: Hello Jessica. I am very excited to be here.


Jessica: Yes. Good to have you here today. So Organoid Technologies is the company. And it's a brand that we've recently started carrying at CaraGreen. And it is bio-based organic materials that are used for all sorts of different purposes. And with Biophilic Design becoming so prominent in design these days. It's just such a beautiful and great way to get natural elements into any space. Can you talk a little bit about how Organoid was founded, and what kind of premise was behind it, and when it was founded? 


HP: Yeah. I'll be happy to. Organoid was founded in 2012, not so long ago. By our CEO, Martin. Martin was just always looking for sustainable solutions for buildings and for construction. And he had this idea of having some kind of spray-on concrete made from wooden-fibers. And he developed this binding resin. Which is still used today, to make those 3d shapes, from wood or plant fibers. The idea was basically to have a wood that you could mold into place. He did develop the process for that. But it turns out that there's just no market for this kind of product. Nobody needs 3d woods, because you can cut the wood into any kind of shape. They started to look for another application and this was making surfaces. So, from 3d to 2d, if you want to make surfaces made from natural materials. From leaves, from plants, from whatever you can think of. This was the start of Organoid more or less. From a failed product to something very successful and useful.


Jessica: Some of the materials that you guys use. And you mentioned some of them, are Moss, Alpine Hay, Rose Petals, Cornflower, and Sunflower. All these beautiful materials. And you're essentially laying them up on sheets. And they can be used for a bunch of different applications. But those source materials. Before we get into the application. Can you talk a little bit about where those source materials come from? And also touch on, the sustainability profile of the company as well?

HP: We try to be as sustainable as can be. That's why we're trying to source the materials around the factory, more or less. Right now we have 13 farmers who harvest the hay for us. And the hay grows just above the company on the “L” path slopes of the Wildspitze. Wildspitze is one of the tallest mountains in Tyrol, Austria. That's why our hay surface is called the Wildspitze. Hay comes from literally around the factory. We have petals and stems. Whatever that we source locally in Austria and in Germany. And we also use lots of material that other people waste. For example, there are peppermint and lavender, which are waste materials from tea products.  For the lavender, they only use the petals and the blossoms; they don't use the stems. Peppermint is just material that has been in storage for too long. Coffee the same thing. Vanilla is a waste product from pudding production. And we even recycle the Swarovski Crystals that they don't need anymore. And we add them to our natural surfaces.

Jessica: A lot of these products. It's so hard to just describe the beauty of them. I think people really have to see them. But there these bright greens, yellows, purples, and all these beautiful colors. And you're describing all these things that actually have an aroma to them. And the materials themselves have that aroma too. And it's pretty persistent. Don't you agree?

HP: We do. Yes. Because our production process preserves the natural scent of the material. Coffee will smell like coffee. Lavender will smell like lavender. And hay will smell like hay. 


Jessica: One of the questions that we often get asked is. People see these materials and the first question is always, “What is the binder that's used?” You've got these sheet goods. They're either laid upon a non-woven backer, a self-adhesive, or an HPL. But can you talk a little bit about what the binding agent is that holds all that organic material together?


HP: The binding agent is a company secret, Jessica. I can't tell you everything. But I can tell you this much. The binding resin is also based on food. This is why you could eat all our surfaces if you wanted to. You can scratch off the coffee and brew a cup. And you can use the vanilla to make pudding if you wanted to. It wouldn't taste very good. But you could. It would be no problem. Most people think it's either starch or sugar, but it's not. It's something I can tell you this much, it's related to the glue in chewing gum. But I can't tell you more. I'm sorry about that.

Jessica: No, it's okay. It's, it's great to have proprietary information. That's really what helps make your product unique. I will push you no further on that topic. What can be done? When you look at these materials and we out samples? And people get this piece of material that can either be semi-flexible. Or if it's laid upon HPL for furniture. Those are not the only applications though. There are also flooring options as well. And that introduces a different question about durability. So how is that treated differently to make these beautiful surfaces into flooring?

HP: Well, since our materials are 100% natural, they are not waterproof. If you want to make them water-proof, you have to put a protective coating over it. We always recommend using a transparent lacquer, with a matte finish, on a glossy one to make them water-proof. In case you want to install them behind the kitchen sink or similar applications. In the case of the flooring, we had to make a compromise. On the one hand, we want to be as sustainable as, as can be. But on the other hand, we also need to make our materials usable. That's why, when it comes to the flooring, there is a layer of polyurethane on top of our material to make it stress-proof and water-proof.

Jessica: Jessica: Yeah. I think we're well-versed at CaraGreen, with all the products that we carry. There are often trade-offs. So, if you want that biophilic design element, but you want it on a floor. Or you want a very unique floor. You may have to use a coating to get that durability. But you're achieving other things on the sustainability side. We're used to products, making trade-offs with one another. Another application for these surfaces. Which again, you get the beauty of it. But you get this added performance feature is acoustics. Can you talk a little bit about the acoustic products and which materials can be used in acoustics? Is it everything?


HP: Yeah. We can just use pretty much any surface and make them in an acoustic version. The advantage is, that you have the natural design combined with the functionality of an acoustic panel. We do this a lot in areas with big office spaces and in restaurants. Wherever people talk a lot and it becomes noisy, it makes sense to install those acoustic panels. And we can produce them. Just our natural material on the nonwoven backing. You can apply that to your own acoustic panel. Or we can provide the ready-made acoustic panel, which you install on the wall or the ceiling. And we also can give you, what we call, 'the picture of solvers.' They're called 'picture of solvers' because you hang them on the wall like a picture. It's a very decorative and very useful way to eliminate noise in the room. And it can be installed afterward. Because in a lot of cases the building or the office space is finished and then people realize it's too noisy in there. And then they don't want the installers to come back and make a big fuss, and a big noise. So, they just use those 'pictures of solvers', to solve this problem in a very easy and very decorative way.

Jessica: With the Organoid, there are so many uses for the material. We are actually designing some furniture pieces that I've spoken to you about. You could use it literally like a piece of art on the wall. Acoustics as you're describing here and flooring. It's great that the applications here are just kind of limitless. Without getting into anything proprietary, can you talk about some of the products that you've made? Because I've seen a lot of retail fixtures and consumer items that are actually starting to, have incorporated Organoid into their design. Where people are trying to integrate that, organic look into, retail items or consumer goods. Can you talk a little bit about those? I know one of them is phone cases with the coffee or with the, with the alpine hay backer. But what are some of the other retail items that you guys have worked on?

HP: When we started Organoid. We were more thinking about decorative interiors: flooring, wall, ceiling, and that stuff. But there are many applications. And most of them, we have not thought about. It's our clients who have those ideas. And our clients are very good when it comes to thinking out of the box. And using our materials in very different ways. They use them as packaging. There are the phone covers, you mentioned. There are frames for eyeglasses. There are shoes and handbags. We recently had a project where the client made baseball caps, made from hop, and sold that to a brewery. There are book covers and we are very curious about what our clients will come up with next. To give us the challenge and decide on even more products with our material.

Jessica: Well, we are excited about that too. You touched on the baseball caps made out of hops. I think one of the really interesting things that Organoid does for some of its customers is. If you have a source of organic material that you want to be laid up into Organoid panels. Obviously, there would be some volume required. But that's something that you guys do. If someone says, “Hey, I have these hops, can we do this with them?” You will use other organic material as well. Right?


HP: We can use anything that the client wants. Anything that's a natural fiber. We did some very nice projects in the past. And I always love storytelling. Using our client's material in their own interiors. As you said, we use the hop for the baseball caps, for the brewery. Hop and brewery definitely go together. We have done a hotel project where we used the reefs. The hotel was at the lake. We used the reef from the lake in the interior of the hotel. The hotel owner can tell its guests, “Hey, look outside. The reef that you see at the lake is right here in your room, at the reception counter,” or whatever. We are just about to do a project with a tobacco manufacturer. He's building a new convention center and new training center for his employees and clients. And we make the acoustic panels from his own tobacco. Looks great, smells great, and it's a very nice way of using the client's product to design his own interior. I love that.


Jessica: Yeah. And I think the unique thing about your process technology is that it's preserving the organic material, in a way that it can be used. It's the process that you use that allows it to be put in a functional way. So, that it can be used in those applications. Can you talk a little bit about, you've recently introduced the Light Collection? Most of the Organoid products are dense. If you have that alpine hay, you have a uniform density of the alpine hay. But you've recently come out with a light collection, which uses less of the organic material. What was the impetus behind that? And what different applications do you see for Organoid Light Collection.


HP: We developed the light collection because some clients said that with some applications, it was too much nature for them. Its design was too heavy if you want to use that word. So, we said we were going to work with the color of the panels. For example, the color of nature on a backing, that contrasts those colors. For example, for the light collection, the petals that we use for the alpine meadow, we have that on white wallpaper. The contrast is very bright, so that there are those panels, with lots of colors and the white wallpaper. Some clients said, “Okay, I want natural design, but I don't want to spend that much money.” It's also a way to have a product that's a little bit cheaper and more affordable to our clients. And there's a third thing, which we're doing a lot now. It's packaging with those light materials. The packaging industry is also trying to have a more sustainable and natural design. And that's where we come in. And put the natural fibers, whatever this may be, on a paper that they use for packing shoes, for packing cosmetics, or whatever. The idea is to make the box so nice that it doesn't get thrown away. That the people want to reuse the box to store something in it.

Jessica: That's great. So that again plays into that sustainability story. Well, I love both the Organoid Standard Collection and the Organoid Light Collection. And I'm really excited to be launching both of those with you on Material Bank. Given the Post or Intra COVID Era that we're in right now. We've seen a lot of designers here get away from their design libraries. They're either working from home. There was a shift away from Design Libraries but now there's this work from home. And a lot of people started going to Material Bank to get their samples. As you know, Material Bank is basically like a huge online library. Where you can overnight get your samples, the next day. And it's free to designers. So Organoid is now on Material Bank or will be. Hopefully when this podcast goes live. But are you seeing that same trend in Europe where people are starting? Are people still working remotely?

HP: Yes, definitely. This is not just a trend. I think this is going to be a new way of working. That you're going to be in the office for a couple of days and then spend the rest of your work time at home. This is the way it's going to be in the future. I think that for us, it has always been a problem to get the samples to the client. Especially to the clients in the US. Because shipping is so expensive and it takes a lot of time. Material Bank gives us the opportunity to get the samples to the client way faster. The main thing with Organoid is you have to feel it. You have to touch it. You have to smell it. You can't just sell it over the phone or on the computer with some pictures. You really have to hold it in your hands. And Material Bank gives us a great opportunity to get the samples to the clients much faster.

Jessica: I agree. And one of the other things that I think is a real touchpoint for Material Bank. We have our brands, Direct Solid Surface and Elemental, both on Material Bank. And they're very visually appealing. And what I've seen are products that are very visually appealing, do very well on there. Whereas some of these, marble, or tile, and porcelain, may not get as much pickup as something that's visually appealing. And I think touching, smelling, and feeling Organoid are very important. That initial impact is a visual one and Material Bank will give you that visual impact right away. I'm really excited to see how Organoid does on Material Bank. 

HP: Me too 

Jessica: Great. Well, thank you, HP. It's been great hearing about Organoid. And we're excited to see what the rest of 2020 brings. Hopefully, we can quickly get to 2021. And have a great year with Organoid and CaraGreen.

HP: Thank you, Jessica. It was great having you, having me, on the podcast. And looking forward to everything that lays ahead of us.

Jessica: This is Build Green Live Green. This is Jessica with CaraGreen.

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