Interview with Joanne Rodriguez, Mycocycle

Introduction to the interview with Joanne Rodriguez of Mycocycle

Can you tell us a little bit about your background/history that has led you to this point? 

I’ve spent the last 30 years in the construction products industry with a heavy emphasis on sustainability. Having spent 16 years at a manufacturer of commercial roofing and waterproofing products, 5 of these as Director of Sustainable & Strategic Initiatives, I realized that our industry and the clients we served could not achieve zero-waste because the products we manufactured were ultimately contaminated with asphalt. Those products had to be landfilled or incinerated — both are not environmentally sustaining. I felt like I had the opportunity in current time to try to change the dynamic on not only how we could treat materials when we were done with them, but to find value in reusing them in the manufacture of new products.

Tell us about your product/brand and the inspiration behind it? 

In researching what technologies could effectively clean up materials containing asphalt, which also houses a carcinogen called PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), we discovered that fungi—mushrooms—were the only known remediator of this constituent. Mushrooms could also help to break down other chemicals like phthalates (which are on the Red List) as well as to sequester toxic heavy metals like zinc, lead, arsenic, and cadmium, to name a few. So, I decided to explore the power of mushrooms and start testing on materials to see if we could start to solve this issue. And we could!  

Not only could we clean the constituents, but we could then offer a biobased, mycobased, material for use in the manufacture of new materials. Mycocycle exists to develop and commercialize technologies utilizing mycology to transform how we treat waste and develop new material streams. I was truly inspired by the power of nature.

How does sustainability play a role in your brand/product development? How important has this been to consumers?

Sustainability has played a very large role in our development. We are aligning with the OECD Sustainability Framework for our processes. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development groups 34 member countries committed to democratic government and the market economy. The principle aim of the OECD is to promote policies for sustainable economic growth and employment, a rising standard of living and equity.  

It is important for us to consider these frameworks, and others like B Corp for instance, as we build the technology and the organization because there is an inherent efficiency in running a sustainable company: a better ROI. The cost to consumers is easier to moderate, the cost of our operations are equalized, and we realize that by organizing as a lean startup we can do more with less. We can proof out concepts quicker, we can fail quicker, we can win quicker, and we can be more nimble in considering which projects we will take on next because our investments—time and money—are leaner.

What are your thoughts on the future role sustainability plays both professionally in business and in our everyday lifestyle choices, in regards to the future health of our planet?

As I alluded to in the prior question—it is more financially rewarding to operate a sustainable business. Many funds investing in corporations with fully embedded CSR’s are realizing higher rates of return for their funds. This has been a trend for well over 10 years. It is inherent in the “sustainability” model that we are more holistic and thoughtful in our approach. So, in our everyday lifestyle choices, I believe consumers are investing everyday in brands that invest in them because a win for the planet is a win for all of us.

The future health of our planet, this is the tough and terrifying part of the question. As a trained Climate Reality leader, mentor, and advocate—our planet is in crisis TODAY. We need to reach scale impact to try to slow the harm climate change is having on the health of our planet. This single issue will impact everything now and in the future. Access to resources: money, housing, health, energy, food, water, security…all of this is impacted. We have to adopt to new carbon cleaning technologies quicker. We have to fund and scale them now. I believe the majority of humans on this planet would agree.

The Mycocycle closed loop cycle explained and mushrooms

How does technology and innovation play a role in your business?

Both technology and innovation are drivers in my business. Mycocycle is disrupting an entire industry with its patent-pending service. Working to innovate how we view waste and shifting the paradigm to understand that we can harness nature as a technology and commercialize it to scale are cornerstones of our business.

What does wilderness mean to you?

To borrow from E.O. Wilson, “Humanity is part of nature, a species that evolved among other species. The more closely we identify ourselves with the rest of life, the more quickly we will be able to discover the sources of human sensibility and acquire the knowledge on which an enduring ethic, a sense of preferred direction, can be built.” Wilderness is life.

Do you have a favorite item, it may be an heirloom handed down from a grandparent, friend or relative of some kind, that has great meaning to you?

I have a picture collage that my daughters made for me that sits on my desk. Every time I’m feeling overwhelmed because I’m behind or not feeling “it” that day—I look at that and smile.

If you had to choose one place to live with only the basics available to you where would it be and what would you take with you apart from the obvious survival gear?

Tough question. I’m not sure I could live in only one place, but it sure would be fun trying to live in France with a wine opener handy…just kidding, I’d take my family too.

Mushrooms for Mycocycle

Imagine that 25 years from now you are looking back on your life, what would be the legacy that you would hope for your brand to leave behind?

In 25 years, I hope the legacy I leave behind through Mycocycle would be that we changed how we view and treat trash—as an opportunity not a liability; and that we embraced and mimicked nature’s technology inspiring others—particularly women—to develop out a crazy idea and build it to success.  

What message do you have for those starting their own business in regards to sustainability and innovation?

If you believe it, they will believe it. Solve for one problem and then think of all the ways it impacts other issues. 

Do you have a quote, saying or poem you find inspirational and what is it?

“No one is ever satisfied where he is.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

What brands do you admire? 

LOOP by Terracycle and the companies embracing the “milkman” packaging concept. It is a huge feat to take this on and bring it to success but I think Terracycle can do it. 

Interface they have been influencers and leaders in recognizing the need to operationalize greenhouse gas offsets. By operationalizing reductions of GHG, they give ownership to everyone within their organization to be as efficient as possible. 

A collage of photos from Joanne's life, including a photo of her and Al Gore, her speaking at a climate rally and the giraffe she mentions

How important do you think transparency and authenticity in brands is to consumers

100% important. There is too much greenwashing. 

Can you tell us something about your personal journey that might surprise us to know? 

I am scared to death everyday that I will let people down, but that acts as a driver too. So many have embraced the concept and the technology around Mycocycle, I’m honored, but it carries a huge responsibility to make sure we do what we say we’re going to do as well.

What is your favorite animal and why? 

The giraffe. Giraffes are big and a little awkward, but when they move they are very graceful.  I’ve always liked them and when I was in the second grade I made a statue of one in art class that I still have. (picture included)

What is one thing you would be willing to or have already given up with the health of the planet in mind?

Single-use plastic items. So much easier said than done, but I’m working on it.