November 30, 2021

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10+ questions with Asheville entrepreneur Josh Dorfman

5 min read

Fun Fact: Hemp biomass can be harvested every 90-120 days. | Photo courtesy of Josh Dorfman 

This is a part of our Q+A series. Know someone we should interview? Nominate them here. 

For those familiar with Josh Dorfman, the real question is what doesn’t he do? An Asheville-based author, investor, environmental entrepreneur, brand builder, and founder of The Lazy Environmentalist, Josh has long been a leader in our community, helping pave the way for sustainable business models and economic growth in Asheville and beyond.

Most recently, Josh co-founded Plantd, a building materials company that creates strong, durable + carbon-negative materials from plant fibers. He also joined Gov. Cooper’s Entrepreneurship Council in 2019. 

What are 3-5 things you want people to know about you?

  • I can swim 2 lengths of a swimming pool underwater while holding my breath.
  • My Chinese name, Du Shun Hua, translates as “smooth China man.” I spent some very formidable years in my twenties living in Nanjing.
  • I hold the New York State high school football record for the longest run from scrimmage – 99 yards. I later played college football at the University of Pennsylvania where, during my sophomore year, I was the third string wide receiver on what was the worst team in all of NCAA Division 1 football, which by the transitive property, means I was the worst college football player in the country. It’s a badge I wear proudly.

Do you have a favorite local + environmentally-conscious brand? 

Can you tell us more about why you launched Plantd? 

  • Humanity is imperiled by climate change. We’re building a company that aims to remove millions of tons of atmospheric carbon from the atmosphere and put it to use in the form of super-durable building materials. If we succeed, we’ll help solve climate change and ensure that homes are built to withstand the increasingly extreme weather conditions.

What are 3 simple things that Ashevillians could do to live a more sustainable life?

  1. Plant food. Nothing is more local than your own garden.
  2. Take staycations to cut your carbon footprint since this is the best place in the Southeast to vacation.
  3. Support or better yet join one of our amazing local environmental nonprofits like The Collider, Greenworks, MountainTrue, Food Connection, or the Green Built Alliance

Fill in the blank: The coolest person I’ve met in Asheville is ___________. 

  • Clark Duncan. The man oozes cool, which is why it’s usually standing room only at the monthly board meetings of the Economic Development Coalition for Asheville-Buncombe County.

What do you hope Asheville is like in 10 years? 20 years?

  • I hope Asheville becomes a vibrant urban laboratory for sustainable living. I hope we embrace the future and build up, meaning high-rises that vastly increase urban density. I hope we, as a community, recognize that thousands of people are going to move to Asheville over the next 20 years and that the time is now to take proactive measures to prepare for and accommodate that growth. We’re currently on a default trajectory to manifest things we don’t want as our population size increases – like traffic congestion, sprawl, and increased carbon emissions. If we could muster the will to rethink how we view ourselves, we might dream bigger, and serve our local citizens and the world better.

What were the last 3 things you did downtown? 

  1. Had an impromptu dance party at Sunshine Sammies. 
  2. Met with a potential investor at Summit Coffee.
  3. Played pickup soccer with my kids at Memorial Stadium.

What 3 people (living or dead) would you invite to an imaginary dinner party?

  1. Muhammad Ali. He was fearless inside and outside the boxing ring. Went to jail for his principles. Came back to reclaim his titles. He was and remains the Greatest.
  2. Deng Xiaoping, the leader who jump started the Chinese economic miracle over 40 years ago. Perhaps the great pragmatist in the history of the world.
  3. Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell To Arms are the reasons I spent so much time in my twenties living overseas (and ran with the bulls in Pamplona twice).

For folks who may not be in the know, can you tell us more about your book, brand, and television series, The Lazy Environmentalist

  • The goal of The Lazy Environmentalist is to present sustainable living choices that are so clever, convenient, and cool that people can’t help but choose to reduce their environmental impact. There’s a lot of doom and gloom messaging these days. It’s completely warranted, but also completely unhelpful in moving people to action. I’m excited about communication strategies that shift people’s behavior in a positive environmental direction. That’s what the Lazy E brand is all about.

In addition to being the founder of several startups, you also spearheaded the growth of Ventue Asheville. What excites you about the entrepreneurial culture in Asheville?

  • I love the welcoming and supportive spirit of Asheville’s startup community. They say it takes a village to raise a kid. The same holds for a startup. Being surrounded by other founders and business leaders who are enthusiastic and giving of their time and resources to help nurture a young startup on its journey vastly increases the odds of success. Plus, no startup idea is too weird for Asheville’s startup community, and that’s hugely important. Because weird ideas are much more likely to turn into huge startup successes than easily understandable ones.

How are you able to harness carbon as a building material? How about hemp? 

  • Hemp grows so quickly and densely that it captures vastly more carbon per acre than trees. And unlike trees – that are harvested every 12 – 15 years, hemp is harvested every 90 – 120 days. All of that hemp biomass pulls carbon out of the atmosphere at an accelerated rate. The carbon is stored in the hemp stalk. We take the stalks at harvest and manufacture them into building materials for residential construction. 

What’s it like serving as a member for Gov. Roy Cooper’s Entrepreneurship Council? 

  • While he was still Attorney General, Governor Cooper came to visit with Asheville Angels, our city’s angel investment group. His interest in supporting high-growth entrepreneurship is genuine, so being part of the Council feels like a genuine opportunity to effect positive change. Plus, being in a room full of thoughtful leaders who care deeply about North Carolina’s future and have valuable ideas on how to make it more conducive to entrepreneurship is an immensely gratifying way to contribute. 

What else would you like Ashevillians to know about you? 

  • I can do you every song Hank Williams ever wrote.

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