Global Trade Magazine: May/June 2014 Issue
Robert Noble shares his vision for using ECOR to create low-cost, sustainable housing as the solution to the challenges of global population surge, widespread deforestation and waste disposal. Read the full article here, starting on page 46: http://epagepub.com/publication/?i=207813
ROBERT NOBLE IS AN ENVIRONMENTALIST, ARCHITECT, INVENTOR, ARTIST AND INTERNATIONAL BUSINESSMAN. SOON, THE WORLD WILL NOT ONLY SEE AND TOUCH HIS VISION, THEY’LL LIVE INSIDE IT. [By Patrick Dooley]
Robert Noble can see the future.
No, he doesn’t have a crystal ball, peyote or rapport with a higher power. He sees tomorrow through cellulose fiber, the “golden key” to housing the world’s population. His vision is so powerful it has drafted a former IKEA chief executive as investor and partner. So powerful that its has reshaped the way his logistics firm will do business. Robert Noble sees this future because he’s spent 35 years creating it and is finally at the last stop on the road to realization, a road that, for now, runs through Serbia.
“The mission of the company is a global mission,” he says of his latest venture, Noble Environmental Technologies (NET), a smallish San Diego outfit borne out of a partnership with the USDA’s Forest Products Laboratory. Noble’s work through this lab achieves the dreams of medieval alchemists who sought to turn the worthless into gold.
Those alchemists failed. But by using cellulose fiber as the molecular building block of what he calls a Universal Construction Panel (UCP), Robert Noble will turn trash into homes.
“If you look at the markets that will be most dramatically affected,” he says, “it’s Southeast Asia, Indonesia, China, Brazil, India, Sri Lanka, African countries, you go on and on. They really need to find solutions to massive pollution and environmental devastation. They have deforestation going on at a scale that can’t even be imagined, so from a mission point of view, we not only have to be global, we have to look to those markets as soon as it is commercially viable.”
The roots of Noble’s environmentalism reach down to the bedrock of his architecture career, one that has helped shape San Diego’s skyline and isn’t unlike a plant itself, experiencing alternating seasons of bloom and bust. His start came at the University of California, Berkeley’s ahead-of-its-time College of Environmental Design architecture program, on to Harvard, “where designers learn to be architects,” to positions at architecture practices and then a succession of private companies concentrated on developing the UCP and, ultimately, sheltering every human on Earth.
Most notably there was the PyraMOD system, a wheat-straw panel-based system made by Mansion Industries, Noble’s first invention out of architecture school that reached the pages of USA Today and attracted green-minded dreamers from everywhere before losing funding support; then GridCORE, Noble’s pet project that had $15 million raised, a great team, and a product that wasn’t quite there. It, too, fell just short, shoved toward its fate by forces mostly outside Noble’s control. Running parallel to these disappointments were his highly successful careers as architect and green-tech inventor, punctuated by his takeover and revitilization of Tucker Sadler Architects and breakthrough environmental inventions such as Solar Trees and Life Villages—both projects of his other company, Envision Solar, launched the same day as NET.
Noble Environmental Technologies is the enterprise that is at last going global, the culmination of all previous companies that wouldn’t exist without them, and the one he’s wanted all along. NET manufactures one thing, cellulose fiber panels, but versions range dozens of fiber types—white office paper, newspaper, denim, eucalyptus, even cow patties—and distinct finished products number in the hundreds: designer bowls, all types of furniture, hangers, garbage bins, customizable packaging, sculptures, signs, eyewear, designer wall tiles, trade show booths, much more and, of course, the UCP.
Why is it different and why does it matter? The basic panel, which is called ECOR and can be shaped into alternate configurations such as those termed FlatCOR, WavCOR and HoneyCOR, is significantly lighter than like materials such as medium-density fiberboard, particle board and plywood, stronger, and soon-to-be cheaper. You have to take a moment to appreciate what Noble has done: He’s created the 21st century brick out of ubiquitous low- or zero-cost recycled waste materials and offered the world a very real solution to global deforestation. Housing, waste reduction, forest conservation—three birds with one very stylish stone…