Who: Tim Smit
Affiliation: Cofounder and chief executive, the Eden Project
Location: St. Austell, Cornwall, England
The next great force for business transformation won't be digital, argues Tim Smit; it will be horticultural. Smit is an archaeologist turned musician turned botanist who is planting the seeds of change at the Eden Project, his awe-inspiring, $120 million facility in Cornwall, England. Eden is the world's largest greenhouse, containing 250,000 plants in two giant, enclosed biomes.
But Eden is about more than watching a garden grow. Smit believes that over the next 20 years, in-depth research on plants will result in new materials of unprecedented strength and flexibility, new sources of food and medicine, and new approaches to renewable energy. "We are on the verge of a revolution that is greater than any in the 20th century," says Smit. "There are now composite materials that you can make from plants that are stronger than steel and Kevlar. The implications are phenomenal. Every country in the world could have access to advanced materials created from their own plants."
Barely a year after it opened, the 34-acre facility has become one of Europe's most popular and celebrated tourist attractions. Meanwhile, Smit is hard at work on his next big project: a campus where business leaders, artists, scientists, engineers, and bureaucrats will commit to spending five days a year sharing their knowledge. "Tithing College is central to my manifesto," Smit explains. "It will attract those who want to imagine a new beginning and contribute to the debate, What does 'great' look like, and how do we get there?"
Visit the Eden Project on the Web (www.edenproject.com).
A version of this article appeared in the June 2002 issue of Fast Company magazine.