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Chemistry, Materials & Packaging
One Company May Just Solve Some of Our Most Material Issues

Bio-design tech company Modern Meadow develops circular and regenerative approaches to creating a wide range of versatile materials, with no loss of performance or quality, that can be quickly scaled and brought to market.

We live on a planet in crisis, and the choices we make today will impact the world we and our children inherit tomorrow. Consumers are well aware of the threats to our planet and are increasingly demanding sustainable alternatives to conventional products; but they aren’t willing to sacrifice quality.

That’s where Modern Meadow comes in: The bio-design technology company is working to reinvent how society uses resources and ingredients to support the world’s transition to circularity and a regenerative economy.

Founded with the mission to reimagine how the world approaches materials, sustainability and consumption, Modern Meadow’s approach, expertise and technologies have evolved and expanded significantly in the past 10 years; but its goal to develop alternative, nature-inspired materials to replace animal-derived and petrochemical-based materials has been steadfast. While it is just getting started on this journey, its impact so far is a testament to what it could achieve in the future.

The company’s ethos is well articulated in its inaugural impact report. By embracing three key principles — take urgent climate action, maintain a balanced ecosystem, promote circularity and responsible end of life — Modern Meadow’s technology platform allows its business partners to create high-quality, high-performance materials that promote environmental benefits and can be quickly scaled and brought to market.

Modern Meadow’s potential lies in its ability to change the way materials and products are made with circularity and regenerative approaches at their core, with no loss of performance or quality. Its expertise spans the selection, design, engineering and production of proteins (via precision fermentation as needed). With its drop-in technology platforms, companies in the textiles, materials, personal care and biomedical industries no longer have to compromise between sustainability and performance.

The first of these tech-application platforms, Bio-F@rm™, produces tailormade proteins through a yeast-fermentation process. From this, vegan Bio-Coll@gen™ proteins are harvested that can stimulate the production of various proteins including Collagen type III — known as the ‘youth collagen’ — in human skin cells. Ideal for beauty and skincare products, it also claims to offer many sustainability benefits over animal-extracted collagen.

“Collagen type III is notoriously difficult to extract from animals and very costly,” explains Ann Lee-Jeffs, Modern Meadow’s senior director of corporate sustainability. “The process we use to create Bio-Coll@gen from yeast is far simpler in terms of the number of manufacturing steps used. Our process is also free from issues such as animal welfare, unsustainable land use and biodiversity loss.”

Plant-based proteins such as those sourced from North American soy are combined with bio-based polymers such as bio-polyurethane to create more durable materials through the company’s Bio-Alloy™ platform. These bio-fabricated materials are typically suited for textiles either in the consumer goods market (for example, handbags, shoes and outdoor apparel) or the manufacturing industries (for example, car seat covers).

One of the first product applications for Bio-Alloy is BioFabbrica Bio-Tex™ — a coated textile that claims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 90 percent and water consumption by over 80 percent compared to traditional, chrome-tanned leather. The built-in flexibility of these platforms also renders them very scalable and applicable in the real world.

“Our platforms have been designed to fit seamlessly into existing manufacturing processes and infrastructure for easy adoption. This gives brands the freedom to create appealing products while providing a more sustainable option,” CEO says Catherine Roggero-Lovisi.

The company’s approach — of helping brands reduce their sustainability impacts while meeting growing consumer demand for ethically made materials and products — is underpinned by a nonfinancial, ESG materiality assessment to determine where its solutions can make the greatest impact across the value chain.

By focusing on three key priorities — driving change through technology commercialisation; exceeding stakeholder expectations by highlighting the wider benefits of its products and technologies; and advancing the fundamentals in environmental stewardship, transparency and governance — the company believes it can become a powerful force for good.

“We envision that the materials we create will become the preferred solution across a variety of uses as we move from ‘bio-replacement’ to ‘bio-better’ to ‘bio-best,’” Roggero-Lovisi says.

The interchangeability of these materials with their traditional precursors can also help companies stay abreast of changing regulation — a case in point being the prospect of worldwide restrictions on "forever chemicals" or PFAS (per- or poly-fluorinated alkyl substances). As apparel brands look to phase out the use of PFAS on, for example, waterproof garments, Modern Meadow believes it is perfectly placed to offer safer alternatives.

The company says it has also taken great lengths to build full traceability into its products from Lab-to-Brand™ while ensuring any performance or environmental claims are based on sound evidence and independently verified. Its BioFabbrica Bio-Tex product, for example, has been certified under the USDA BioPreferred Program; while Bio-Coll@gen is certified as GMO-Free, Halal and Vegan.

Several manufacturers are already collaborating with Modern Meadow to utilize and mainstream its technology. In 2021, BioFabbrica — a partnership between Modern Meadow and Italian textile and materials supplier Limonta — was established to develop bio-based coated materials for various applications including leather goods, footwear and clothing. Earlier this year, Modern Meadow also partnered with SINGTEX — a global textiles supplier to leading brands — to develop new bio-materials including a waterproof, membrane-based material for outdoor gear.

Both ventures are supported by Modern Meadow’s innovation-to-market process, which involves identifying unmet needs in the market for the types of products it can offer. During product development, potential solutions are rigorously tested against a set of sustainability criteria including material input, composition, end-of-life attributes, performance and scalability. From this, a scorecard is created; and a ‘hot spot’ analysis is undertaken to improve the product’s sustainability profile before it undergoes a full life-cycle assessment (LCA).

“Ultimately, every product we develop goes through an LCA as a family,” Lee-Jeffs explains. “This information becomes part of the product dossier that we provide to our partners to support their own product claims.

“Sustainability currently tends to come at the expense of quality, performance or cost — there is a need for solutions that address all three of those factors,” she adds. “No matter how much consumers want to do what’s right for the environment — if the quality and performance are not on par or it is too expensive, behavioral shift is very difficult.”

It’s an approach that has paid off — as companies including SENREVE, Tory Burch and Everlane have begun to incorporate Modern Meadow’s materials into their brand portfolios. Bringing the value chain together to offer consumers alternatives to unsustainable materials is what the company feels it can do well; and it is eager to work with more partners — whether it be material innovators, manufacturers or brands — to co-create the types of solutions that will be needed going forward.

“Creating innovation and sustainable solutions is a challenging task — and we cannot build a bioeconomy alone,” Roggero-Lovisi says. “We are collaborating with partners including brands to developed bio-based supply chains that design for sustainability from the start. Together, we can create environmentally conscious alternatives for the betterment of people and the planet.”