Earth Talks with Ben Scales

Terra Nova Earth Talks with Rose Challies

In this episode with Ben Scales we consider is ‘natural’ good and ‘synthetic’ bad and investigate the role of natural fibre from the Harakeke plant in Aotearoa New Zealand with start-up entrepreneur Ben Scales, KiwiFibre.

Podcast Introduction

Welcome to Terra Nova Earth Talks – today we go up close and personal with natural fibres. We look at what is natural… and what is synthetic…

I was asked earlier in the year at an international speakers event… please comment on natural vs synthetic.  It was a wonderful question as it made me stop and think on the spot – how do I answer this?  Many things darted through my brain in that hundredth of a second… there were so many ways to answer this – do I start talking about clothes, interiors, industrial products, packaging… there were so many options… but I landed on the most significant that came to mind… the consequences of when we choose one or other, the impact that extracting, making, using and getting rid of each had.

Overall we of course urgently need to make less, need I mention the overshoot day and massive over-consumerism across many countries in the world, including here in Aotearoa NZ.  But when we do make something it is utterly critical we choose carefully how we make a product. We have decades and centuries worth of redress already required from making badly… so today’s products have to be different.  Or maybe we ought to be reflective and look to the past to see how we fared without synthetics?

The word natural has been masterfully smudged by many companies… green washing their way into our shops, including the beauty industry, the health supplement industry, interiors and so on… where products are promoted as being ‘natural’.  So let’s be clear now, in this podcast we are talking ‘natural’ as in ‘from our Mother Earth’, produced by nature without any human intervention.

By contrast ‘synthetic’ we are referring to those not extracted from Mother Earth but made by alternative means… made by humans using methods different than those nature uses – sometimes mimicking nature, sometimes manipulating or altering nature or with little or no reference to nature at all. Synthetics can also be called artificial.

It can be said… that synthetics allow for us to live comfortably, cheaply and conveniently… at the price of pollution, ecosystem collapse, centuries of poisoned earth.  That naturals are not good unless they are given nurture, ecosystem strengthening, regenerative attention and have people that value them enough that they will pay more and have less… Or is it that simple?

I’ve dived into paper after paper, report after report on this topic over the years and most point out that it’s a grey area, that not all synthetic materials are bad and not all natural materials are good… but I think often the overarching, bigger picture issues are not weighted well in such reports – We are making products we simply do not need at the price of this earth.  If we continue to do this… and worse still… with products that are highly likely to harm our earth… or we don’t know the full extent of their harm… we are in for big big trouble in the immediate future. Like many of the issues affecting humankind right now we often makes things overly complex to avoid our more fundamental responsibilities… If Earth could Talk what would she say?


Interviewee Ben Scales

Ben is an industrial designer and startup founder, striving to make positive change by solving problems through combining nature, business and design.

CEO of KiwiFibre, a company born, out of a love for creating things, and a desire to solve problems for Aotearoa New Zealand and the world.



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