Last updated: Sep 22, 2010
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Paul Stamets, one of the worlds leading mushroom experts, has just reinvented the cardboard box. He says his new creation is nothing short of a “shovel-ready solution” to ending climate change, and hes named it The Life Box. I think its one of the smartest, most amazing concepts Ive ever seen.

On the outside, it looks just like the corrugated box your or any other shipment comes in. But its beauty lies under its plain-Jane exterior—the Life Boxs cardboard skin is impregnated with tree seeds and thousands of mycorrhizal fungi spores. After you receive an item shipped in a Life Box, you tear up the box, plant it outside, and voila! Tree seedlings emerge.

The fungi are essential to the concept because they enjoy an elegant, symbiotic relationship with trees and other forest dwellers. They nourish each other and depend on each other for survival—and support countless other ecosystem denizens. Each Life Box can sprout a mini-forest of evergreen and deciduous (leaf-shedding) trees, including various spruce, cedar, pine, alder, birch, ash, elm, and redwood species. Plus a dozen or so friendly fungi. At least 25% of the seeds in any given box will grow anywhere in the continental United States.

Stamets is on a mission to inspire companies to start using Life Boxes (which could also be fashioned into pizza boxes, shoe boxes, sleeves for hot beverage cups, or pretty much anything else made out of cardboard). The beauty of the Life Box, says Stamets, is that it can be used anywhere by anyone, and that it allows people to help offset climate change simply by ripping up some cardboard and sticking it in the ground.

Doing the math is a mind-blowing exercise. Say just one or two percent of the companies who use cardboard boxes use Life Boxes instead. That could cover up to 25,000 acres of land per week with impregnated cardboard. After year two, everyone who planted a box moves their tree seedlings about 30 feet apart. Of the hundreds of tree seeds in each box, if just one tree survives for 30 years, youve sequestered about a ton of carbon. Use Life Boxes, reverse deforestation. Its as simple as that.

So if youre someone whose company uses cardboard boxes in any way—or even if you know someone who knows someone, become part of a grand experiment in saving the planet. Just visit the Life Box Company and see how easy it can be.

A Mushroom visionary
Not to gush, but Stamets is one of my personal heroes. Listen to him talk about the relationship mushrooms have to the planet, and I guarantee hell inspire you too. (Click here to see one of his presentations.) He probably knows more about mushrooms than anyone on the planet. Hes dedicated his life to their study, has pioneered the cultivation of medicinal mushrooms, and has written books about them. In Mycellium Running: How Mushrooms Can Save the World, Stamets outlines his philosophy about why we humans should care about mushrooms and about how their survival impacts ours.

Consider their impact on human health, for example. Many species are medicinal in ways few substances are: Some mushrooms enhance your energy, others strengthen your immunity and protect against viral infections, some have blood-sugar balancing effects, and still others have the potential to fight cancer. Stamets has developed ways to cultivate some of the rarer mushrooms so that we can all benefit. Take cordyceps. This amazing fungus, a powerful energy enhancer, grows naturally out of the head of a caterpillar in the Himalayan highlands. Not an easy find. But Stamets has figured out how to grow cordyceps sans caterpillar, making it available to all. Hes also just created a new line of mushroom supplements, called Host Defense, to be sold in health-food stores. Learn more about mushroom medicine.