Uprise Talks | Episode Six |Humanity's impact on the planet with Paul Shapiro
Paul Shapiro is the author of Clean Meat: How Growing Meat Without Animals Will Revolutionize Dinner and the World. He's also the CEO and cofounder of The Better Meat Co. and the host of the Business for Good Podcast.
On what he defines as a “business for good”
So, there are some companies that have awesome sustainability initiatives, right, where they're trying to reduce their footprint, or maybe they're giving to charity, or they have some program as part of their company is doing good in the world, but that's really not so much what the business for good podcast is about.
What business the for good podcast is about is companies who, by the very nature of their business. Are doing good in the world.
That is to say that the more that they sell the better off the world is because they're what they're selling, has some solution to some social problems.
On some examples of companies that are doing “businesses for good”.
Recently we had on the show, a woman who started her own nuclear waste storage company. Called Deep Isolation. And what she's trying to do is create a way that you can permanently store nuclear waste safely for hundreds of thousands of years. And there's a big problem. We have huge amounts of nuclear waste is just sitting in temporary facilities across the world at hundreds of nuclear reactors.
And it's just sitting there. And what, no matter what you think about nuclear energy, The problem is this waste exists today and it's going to be dangerous for many, many millennials. We have to do something for it because in all certainty, it's going to outlast our civilization, let alone our government.
Another [example] would be companies that are, for example, Growing meat without having to raise animals because raising animals for food is a very resource intensive practice, lots of land, lots of water, lots of greenhouse gas emissions. Whereas if you could grow meat from animal cells without having to raise and slaughter the animals, you could reduce the footprint of the meat industry dramatically.
Or a company called Outlander materials, she's taking the brewery waste. She ends up fermenting it, like subjecting it to a fermentation step that transforms it into an alternative to plastic. So it's a natural biodegradable alternative to plastic. So you know, the point is that by the very nature of what these companies are doing, they're set up. To make money by solving a problem.
On the difference between a non-profit and entrepreneurial mindset.
I recently interviewed David Katz from Plastic bank. He put it this way.
Nonprofit organizations look at money and they think, how can I solve a social problem while depleting this resource as slowly as possible, right? How can we extend this money as long as possible to solve the problem?
Whereas entrepreneurs look at money and they say, How can I multiply this money as quickly as possible and solve this problem? And it's a different mindset. It's a paradigm shift in how you think about it. And it's not to knock nonprofits at all.
I'm very supportive of them, but it is to say that it's just a different way of looking at it. And when you are applying commerce and innovation to solving social problems, you can [lose sight of what’s important] really quickly because of that difference.
On business that are founded to solve problems.
So most of the people who I interact with who are doing this started their companies, not because they wanted to get rich. I started the company because they had a career in either working in public policy or then the nonprofit sector.
They were trying to solve some problem and then they thought maybe there's a business in trying to solve this.
Of course, look, these companies have to make money. In fact, John Mackey, the CEO of WholeFoods who was a guest on the show had a really good analogy on his episode.
He said, you know, your body. Makes red blood cells. If it doesn't make red blood cells, you die. But that doesn't mean that the purpose of your body is to make blood red blood cells. It just means that you have to do it. But the purpose of your body is whatever you deem it.
So whatever you decide, [that] is the purpose of your life. That's the purpose of your body.
Your business must make money. If it doesn’t make money it dies. But that doesn't mean that the purpose is for it to make money. The purposes is whatever you want.
For example, The goal of a company like impossible foods, which is a plant based meat maker, is to end the raising and slaughtering of animals for food.
There are goals that the founders of these companies have that far go beyond just the ability to make a profit.
Yeah, of course you have to make a profit and nobody's denying that, but you have a higher purpose and the companies that have higher purpose.
I think [they] are the ones that are going to do better because when you have those type of mission driven founders, they're willing to make even more sacrifices to make it work.
On his conversion from lobbyist to co-founder
I spent two decades working in the nonprofit sector, trying to advance animal welfare, especially the welfare of animals who were raised for food. And so I lobbied a lot to try to pass laws, to give better protections to farm animals.
However, if you look at animal welfare as one key demonstration. The animal welfare movement in the United States was largely founded by people in the 1860s and seventies who wanted to protect carriage horses.
These carriage horses were being savaged, treated horribly. And so they campaigned, they campaigned to get better working conditions, watering stations for the horses, resting hours for the horses, Sabbath days in which the horses couldn't be worked at all. And then Henry Ford comes along and does more for horses than those animal advocates would ever dreamt of doing.
And Henry Ford, wasn't doing it to protect horses. He was doing it because he wanted to make money and he was asked and he famously responded. If I had asked customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse, but instead he created something that was much better than a horse. That rendered the exploitation of horses pretty much obsolete.
Something that humanity had relied on for literally thousands and thousands of years. Our civilizations were really built on the backs of horses almost literally. And then a new technology comes along and within decades it renders course exploitation, virtually obsolete. Similarly, we used to hunt whales extensively.
We slaughtered them turning the blue oceans red with their blood. There are lots of concerns in the 19th century about the treatment of whales, but what ended up freeing the whales? It wasn't sustainability concerns. It wasn't humane sentiment. It was the invention of kerosene, which was a better way to light our homes than whale oil was it was cheaper and burned cleaner, and that decimated the whaling industry within decades.
And so my thinking on this as somebody who spent two decades working to improve the treatment of farm animals is not that we shouldn't be doing that.
In fact, I think we should be doing more of that, but it is that there is a greater efficiency that you could have in creating products that simply render the existing product archaic.
That is why I made that shift in my own career to, uh, to co-found my own company, the `better Meat Co. to focus on making alternatives to the standard animal proteins that are currently being consumed worldwide.
On how he built a purpose-driven career.
So first I grew up as an animal lover. I loved watching wildlife. I loved my family's dogs, and so I've always wanted to protect animals and it's always really bothered me when I see animals being taken advantage of, or being treated in some abusive manner at the same time.
I've also recognized that. The overconsumption of meat is at the heart of many of the most pressing problems that our planet and that our species faces. It's a weeding cause of animal cruelty. It's a leading cause of climate change. It's a leading cause of deforestation of antibiotic resistance of land and water use of oil use of greenhouse gas emissions and more.
And so it's very rare that you have one. Thing that is at the heart of so many of the problems that we face. And yet the simple solution, which would be to eat less meat is not a popular solution right now, meat consumption is going up, not down per person, meat consumption around the world is increasing.
It's increasing in Europe, it's increasing in the United States, but more importantly, it's increasing in places like China and India and Brazil and Mexico and all the places that are going to matter most in the future are increasing very rapidly, their per person, meat consumption and their per person of existence in their country as well.
And what that means is that, you know, barring some new innovation, like we're going to have to do something, right. Like the planet isn't getting any bigger. Humanity's footprint on the planet is getting bigger, but the planet is not getting any bigger. We're not going to start farming the moon or Mars anytime soon.
And so you can't add another couple of billion people under the planet in the next 30 years and have a higher per person consumption of meat without destroying the rest of the Amazon or destroying the rest of the forest elsewhere throughout our planet, because we don't have enough space to grow all these crops and have all these animals out there.
So you're gonna have to get a lot more efficient and there are several ways to do that. You could, for example, grow meat from animal cells, rather than having to raise and slaughter entire animals. You could grow meat products from plants so that you take plants and then you make them in such a way that they look and taste like meat.
Uh, you could blend animal and plant proteins together so that if you eat a burger, maybe it will be 50%. Plant-based 50%. Animal-based, um, there's lots of ways that you can. Uh, really like get the bite out of this Apple, so to speak. But one option that is not a possibility is the status quo. And so both my love for animals and wanting to protect them and my recognition that the current way that we feed ourselves is completely unsustainable.
And it's setting us up on a crash course with civilizational collapse. If we don't become a lot more innovative. Those things drive me to want to continue doing this work.
On the impact of purpose on competitor behavior
I get the sense that people feel that they are collaborators, not competitors. And a lot of that is because many of the people running these companies come out of the same movements they're coming out of the environmental and animal welfare and public health communities.
And so they have a sense that, Hey, look, we're all on the same team.
If I hear about another protein company that's doing well. I'm thrilled. I'm thrilled, not only for the world, but I'm also thrilled because it probably means that the investment climate is going to be better for the rest of us, you know, beyond meat, having such dramatic success upon its IPO was a rising tide for all of the companies in the plant protein space, because it brought more investment into the community as a whole.
Cause everybody wants to bet on that next beyond meat. Additionally, um, I would also just say, you know, plant based meat is still a tiny, tiny little fraction of the total meat industry, you know, less than 1% of meat that is sawed is plant-based 99 plus percent is animal based. And so, you know, it's different in the daily industry where 13% of the fluid milk sales in America are now plant-based and.
But still 87% of fluid milk sales or, or cow based. However, in meat, you know, it's such a tiny little thing that I think most of the companies in this space recognize that there's, the pie can expand dramatically bigger for all of us that it's not like we're all going after this one slice, we can create a society where demand for these products is dramatically higher and that will build a bigger pie for all of us.
On his advice for aspiring mission-driven founders.
There's one very simple one syllable word that I always recommend. And it's the most important thing that they can do. And that is simply: start.
People are held back because they have these psychological limitations and they think, Oh, I could never do this. Those people were doing it, but I couldn't do it.
The reality is that many people are less qualified than you to be doing what they're doing and you may think, Oh, why would I [start a business] I don't have an MBA.
Look at Josh Tetrick the CEO of Just Inc. There's a company. It's a unicorn they're worth over a billion dollars. Right? They make lots of great plant-based products.
What business did he have starting his own company” He had no food industry experience, essentially no business experience. And yet he started a company that now is worth over a billion dollars and is doing really great things, making plant-based alternatives to eggs.
When I interviewed him, I asked him what was his experience prior to starting Just Inc.? And he said that I had no re I had no experience whatsoever. There's just a, I think a fallacy in, in people's minds that they need some type of experience.
Look, if you have an MBA from Harvard, that's awesome. You are even better suited to go out and raise some money probably. But I would encourage people simply to start
There's such a massive difference between thinking about things and actually going and doing them.
On overcoming a fear of failure
I wasn't that fearful because I believed that we had a really good idea. What we're doing is basically creating plant protein ingredients for blending into meat, and nobody else is doing that in the United States.
I felt confident that we would have a big market, that meat companies would want to work with us so they could use fewer animals and have better products. And so far that has been true.
I had experience in nonprofit management, but I didn't have any experience running a business. In fact, my co founder, Joanna Bromley, who incidentally. does have an MBA from Hartford. I remember, I've never publicly admitted this, but I'll say it here. In the very early days before we had even named the company, she was talking about COGS and anybody involved in a rudimentary way in business knows that it's Cost Of Goods Sold.
I had no idea what it meant.
And she said this to me and I looked at her and she looked back at me and I remember she must be thinking I'm a complete idiot, but I didn't even know what that was.
I don't think I really was that qualified to start a company. But I did it.
Each one of us can do a lot more than we believe that we can. And the best way to find out what you can achieve is simply to get in the game and do it.
On what inspires and motivates his mission-driven career
All of us are going to die very soon. So stop wasting the time.
I figure my life is maybe about half over right now, and I can assure you to me, that is a great catalyst for me to want to. Quickly move to try to solve the problem and achieve what I want to achieve in my life, which is to make the world a better place by reducing humanity's footprint on the planet.
I mean, for me, I want the earth to look different from space because of what we are doing, that there'll be more forest, less land that had to be queered to grow crops for farm animals or to wet farm animals. Gray is have more forest, more room for wild animals and, and less room taken up for the animals who are owned by humanity.
And. That is a lofty vision and one that I know we have to really work hard to do. And so I am really eager to not waste any time.
There is a natural progression that is occurring in human civilization.
It doesn't mean it just happens inevitably, but we've gone from a society in which we pretty much only cared about like our family or clan or tribe to then thinking, well, maybe we should care about people of other races or people of other nations or people of other religions.
And these are all pretty new, you know, the idea of a hundred years ago that you should care as much about people of a, of another religion than your own religion. Would have been not a mainstream view at all. And so if you look back, let's just say 150 years ago, like the legitimate social debate was whether one person should be able to earn another person or not a hundred years ago in America, we were debating whether half of us women ought to be able to vote or not.
Uh, 50 years ago, it was a matter of social controversy as to whether black Americans should be able to drink out of the same water fountains as white Americans. And you look at all these positions and we all know what's like the right side of history was on them, but at the time it was totally is socially normal.
So hold the wrong view on these at the time, it was, you would not be honest with us, you know, today, if you were to say, Oh, I don't think women should be out of the, or I don't think blacks and whites should be able to share water fountains, or I think some humans ought to be held in bondage. Like you would be ostracized from your community for espousing view that a blink of an eye go.
Historically speaking was totally normal to hold and. You look at them today and you think, well, what may be normal views for us to hold today that our descendants are going to think of as really morally bankrupt. And I would pause it that among those is going to be our view that other animals are just commodities for us to explore it and do whatever we want with them as if they're just.
You know, inanimate pieces of property. And, uh, I don't think it's that unlikely that our descendants are gonna have not too kind of a view of what we did to animals in our era. And I imagine that they're going to be thinking to themselves. I am so glad that we no longer do to animals. What our ancestors did.
Because they're going to see it as something that's really ethically questionable and, you know, we are so it's so easy for us to look back and say, Oh, how could anybody I've supported, denying people the right to vote or integration, or, you know, the end of slavery and so on. And it's not to suggest these are all morally equivalent.
It's not to say these are the same thing, but it's only to suggest that. There are views that are normal and acceptable socially speaking to hold at that time that today we consider completely socially acceptable to the point where if you publicly espoused them, you would be ostracized and lose your friends.
And so I think that how we treat animals is one of those issues.
We should think seriously about how we want to be remembered.
On the risk of profitability diluting the problem solving nature of his business.
Maybe it's self serving of me to say this, but I don't think that there is a risk that I'm ever going to lose sight of what the mission of our company is. It's very simple, our mission is to reduce the number of animals who have to be raised for food. For a whole variety of reasons that it would be beneficial to do that.
There's lots of ways that we could go out and change what we're doing. You know, as an example, we can use some of the ingredients and some of our formulas for non-meat purposes. We can do things like use some of them for making higher protein bread or higher protein bars and things like that.
But it's not really the mission of the company and so we're not doing it.
I do think that the person that asked the question is right to ask about it. Because you could have that type of a creeping change. Especially as you become more and more invested in, you really want to feel like you're going to do anything to make the business succeed.
All I can say is that in my case, I don't fear that because it is such an overwhelming driving cause of my life to solve this problem.
On taking the first steps toward founding the Better Meat Co.
I did talk to a lot of people who I respected, to get their thoughts on what we could or should do.
It wasn't so much about the idea of protein-blending, which I was always confident in. It was more about whether this was the right time or was the right place or is the right way to do it. I talked with a number of people who had already founded their own companies. I also talked to people who might be interested in investing.
If I did start a company, I wanted to make sure that we would have the funding available to us. And I also utilized resources from the good food Institute, which is a nonprofit organization that helps to advance the field of alternative protein.
I did read some books as well on business, but they were, and they were useful, but not nearly as useful as talking to people who were actually in the space.
On what he’s working on next
I actually have written another book and I haven't published it yet. It's a novel though. Ironically enough takes place in a post pandemic world. It's a novel that explores humanity's relationship with other animals.
You can connect with Paul on Twitter.