As mentioned in an earlier post, this year’s TEDxToronto saw an impressive group of speakers working to achieve Alchemy. In their effort to “bring ordinary elements together to make something extraordinary,” SEE Change was especially intrigued with pioneer Jon Dwyer, chairman and CEO of the ever-innovative, Flax Energy. We caught up with Dwyer to learn more about what inspired his business, and why he believes flax is the answer to the food versus fuel dilemma, and that environmentalists like David Suzuki need to stop playing the “oil blame-game”.
How did you fall upon flax? What introduced you to it?
We initially began manufacturing biodiesel from coffee grounds, however, we began to examine the dynamic of the economics of oil and realized we needed a product that replicated the economics of oil. Oil yields gas and diesel, but also plastics, rubber, epoxy, synthetics, cosmetics, jewelry etc. The idea [was to find] a single input (oil) yielding multiple outputs. Coffee grounds didn’t provide that so we looked to agriculture and after a lot of R&D arrived at the flax seed, as it yields food, fuel, feed. One input equals multiple outputs.
How does flax replicate the qualities of oil in ways that other attempts/products couldn’t?
We cannot cook with flax oil; once it is heated, it becomes rancid and is thus inedible. Henceforth, it doesn’t threaten the food-staple model like ethanol-derived corn does. Flax, like crude-oil, yields multiple outputs that operate in non-interlinked markets. This provides for a very unique marketplace, since, if the equilibrium price of a certain product drops, it doesn’t have a drag affect on other products, i.e. the plastic market isn’t linked to the adhesive or vitamin market (oil comprises a lot of the casings around multi-vitamins/antibiotics…sounds strange I know). So if plastics experiences a drop in price/cost, it isn’t felt by other markets that utilize oil. Flax, via the food, fuel, feed model, operates in the same framework.
“We need to move away from the emotional roller coaster, the blame game puppeteered by folks like David Suzuki, and become pragmatic business practitioners that work toward the collective goal of health and prosperity…”
Why do people’s consumption habits play such an important role in sustainability and finding a model that works?
People buy products based on the utility that product provides and the price of that utility. We don’t throw our money in the garbage, because the act of putting money in the garbage has a negative outcome. Henceforth, when we buy gas, diesel, cosmetics, jewelry etc., we do it because we utilize the product to reach a specific goal, a specific outcome based on value; whether that be travel, health, vanity etc. So, really, sustainability isn’t any different than any other product in the market place; consumption habits play a role in everything we do.
If sustainable products wish to replace non-sustainable products, they have to serve a similar utility and price…or they won’t replace them. It’s important to note that the sustainability market is predicated on the notion of replacing core, which are unsustainable goods that have allowed our generation to become the most successful generation in the history of mankind…that’s a serious obligation! Consequently, sustainable products have to operate in the marketplace with greater efficiency than any grouping of products in history.
What’s your long-term goal with Flax Energy?
To find global applicability for our products, techniques, technology and processes, all of which seek to create inclusive access to food, fuel and feed, and work to eliminate class disparity by virtue of the fact that sustainable, healthy products cost more. Oil made for an era of accessibility to goods and services in virtually all industries; if we wish to replace oil, we have to be a lot smarter and more compassionate than we currently are. It’s interesting to note that sustainability has eliminated the most thankless component of crude-oil – the fact that it made products affordable. Sustainability is an exclusive grouping of products that has served to make the poor poorer, and the financially comfortable more despondent and unaware of poverty. We have to change that!
It is incumbent on companies such as Flax Energy to operate in a competitive market place, provide high quality, inexpensive goods that work to eliminate oil, all the while knowing that we work against an industry that is subsidized by not only government, but the collective psychology that oil is a damning product of the modern age that has provided nothing but harm. Nothing is further from the truth. To replace oil, we must understand it, realize how positive it has been for humanity, and find products that act like it without the negative connotations.
We need to move away from the emotional roller coaster, the blame game puppeteered by folks like David Suzuki, and become pragmatic business practitioners that work toward the collective goal of health and prosperity, not striking down the leaps and bounds we have achieved with oil, but rather learning from both the positive and negative elements, and ultimately creating a better habitat for life and business to interact.
Check out TedxToronto: Alchemy in Action for a synopsis of all the speakers at TedxToronto this year.