Can Bugs, Toilets, and Mushrooms Change the World?

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When Buckminster Fuller died, he was buried under a gravestone with a very peculiar inscription: CALL ME TRIMTAB. Fuller had uttered those words to a Playboy reporter in 1972 (this kind of thing happened a lot in the 70s) to describe the kind of effect he wanted to have on the world. But what did it mean?

It was simple. Trimtabs are the part of a plane’s wing (or boat’s rudder) that control its movement. They’re small, but make a big overall change—as Bucky explained to Playboy:

It's a miniature rudder. Takes almost no effort at all. So I said that the little individual can be a trim tab… The fact is that you can just put your foot out like that and the whole big ship of state is going to go.


In other words, little ideas can have a major effect on society as a whole. According to the Buckminster Fuller Institute, that’s the basic essence of everything Fuller attempted to do in his life. And it’s also the main criteria in the Institute’s annual Buckminster Fuller Challenge, which selects the best ideas in design every year.

We've seen how socially responsible design can succeed, and also how it can backfire. In truth, it's difficult to gauge the success of a particular object or strategy before it's had time to go out an exist in the world at large. Which is exactly what makes the finalists of the Fuller Challenge—announced this week—so fun to debate. Let's take a look.


The British organization Ento is founded on a very simple idea: Bugs are a great, sustainable source of protein for humans. But they're suffering from a bad rap. Ento wants to perform a kind of cultural rebranding, whipping up tasty bug menus, staging haute insect dinners, and designing products like a clever bento box to fit their fare.


The Green Chemistry Commitment

Why are there so many toxic chemicals in our household products? The cynic would claim it's because of, well, money. But The Green Chemistry Commitment, a group of professors and professionals, argues that it's also because corporate chemists receive very little training about the hazards of the chemicals they produce as students—and seeks to increase that element of their education.


The Loowatt System

Loowatt—a company we've written about before—has invented a toilet system that is not only water-free, but generates energy and compost from human waste.


Voltree Acoustic Early Detection Sensor System

It's difficult to detect when a particular piece of land is being destroyed by insects—until it's too late. Voltree uses super-sensitive sensors to detect natural voltages present in trees and plants, letting us know when, say, the larvae of a hazardous insect is hatching nearby.


Build Change

How many people who have been injured or killed in earthquakes would've survived, had the structures around them withstood the seismic forces? Build Change seeks to educate carpenters, architects, and construction workers in developing countries about how to design buildings that can survive 'quakes.



Ecovative is a quickly-growing New York company—which we've also covered before—makes packaging out of an entirely organic, biodegradable source: Mushrooms. Or more specifically, mycelium, which are glue-like roots that can grow into any form factor within days.


There's a slew of other finalists, but those are the highlights. So you tell us: Which of these wildly optimistic, surprising, and often brilliant ideas deserves the $100k prize?