St. Louis doesn’t turn up on lists of America’s most innovative cities. But when it comes to plants, the city matters, thanks in part to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. And if you care about sustainability, you’ve got to care about plants and plant science.
How are we going to feed the hungry? How are we going to create the low-carbon, renewable fuels of the future?
Almost surely, with new and improved plants.
Founded in 1998, the Danforth Center has grown to become the world’s largest independent research institute devoted to plant science. About 200 people work there, most of them scientists, without the distractions of university life. (“We don’t have to worry about 35,000 students,” an executive says.) It’s also one of the hubs of a growing bio-based economy around St. Louis. Nearby are more than 400 plant and life science companies, including Monsanto, Bunge and Solae, as well as Washington University, and the offices of the National Corn Growers Association and the American Soybean Association. Half of the nation’s agricultural production is grown within 500 miles.
“We think we’re addressing the most important problems on the planet,” says Jim Carrington, a leading plant scientist who is the Danforth Center’s president. “Plants, in the broadest sense–as sources of food and as growing sources of energy–will be a big part of addressing these grand challenges that we face.”
I visited the Danforth Center yesterday to lead a dialogue about corporate sustainability with Andy Taylor, the chairman and CEO of Enterprise Holdings, the rental-car giant that owns Enterprise, National and Alamo, and Mark Reuss, the president of General Motors North America. [Disclosure: I was paid to moderate the event.] We talked about the future of transportation fuels, and while both of them were bullish about the prospects for electric cars–as you’d expect, Mark raved about the Chevy Volt that his daughter drives–they also agreed that advanced biofuels will play an important role in transportation. They also told me that they’re concerned that the U.S. is falling behind both Europe and Asia when it comes to putting the right policies in place to promote sustainable transportation. Both said that the US needs to reduce its dependence on imported oil. [click to continue…]