Mattie Mead: Sustainable construction with hemp-based building materials


From hempcrete to hemp wool and even hemp-based fiberglass, hemp-based building materials have been shown time and again to be a sustainable alternative to more commonly used building materials.

In this Q&A, we ask Hempimagecture CEO Mattie Mead talks about the nascent hemp industry and what it could mean for the future of construction and, ultimately, the health of our planet. This interview covers the founding of Hempitecture, the company’s status as a public benefit corporation, the differences between hemp-based building materials and more traditional products, efforts to train contractors in the use of hemp concrete, and more!

Find the full interview below:


Ganjapreneur: How did you meet co-founder Tommy Gibbons and what was the initial spark that led to the idea of ​​Hempitecture?

Mattie Mead: Tommy Gibbons and I went to high school together over 15 years ago. We shared some overlaps at school: classes together, sports teams, and even student council. After high school, we took very different paths. Tommy went to Princeton University and I went to Hobart College, a small liberal arts college in Geneva, NY. While he was studying public policy, I was studying architecture and environmental science.

After graduating from college, Tommy went into the world of institutional finance, working at companies like Goldman Sachs. After finding this job less than fulfilling, he turned to San Francisco’s startup scene. He last worked for an educational technology startup before joining Hempitecture.

I started Hempitecture, or at least the Hempitecture concept, as a student. This was part of my thesis study on sustainable construction methods. In 2012, I gave my first pitch in front of a packed room of 250 people. I had no idea where these pitch contests would take me, but it turned out that putting myself forward and bringing the Hempitecture concept to the stage attracted a modest press, articles were written and shared.

An article has traveled far and wide on social media, about a college student launching hemp homes.

This article came through to a nonprofit in Idaho who contacted me directly shortly after graduation. They asked me if I would build a hempcrete building in Idaho. This project brought me to ID for the first time, and Idaho is now my home. This project evolved into other projects.

As the Hempitecture concept started to grow, I knew that I needed others with different skill sets than mine to help Hempitecture grow. Tommy and I reconnected in 2017 while he was working in SF. Tommy took an interest in what Hempitecture was presenting, and as we started talking about it, it seemed more and more that Tommy would bring those essential skills to the business. In 2018 we became business partners and reincorporated hempitecture as a public benefit corporation.

Has the company always been a public utility company? Has this classification had an impact on certain aspects of the business?

It wasn’t until Tommy and I came together as business partners that we decided to grow Hempitecture from an LLC to a PBC or public benefit corporation.

It was a great moment for the company and our future trajectory.

This decision was made because we wanted to embody Hempitecture’s mission at the heart of everything we do and do. That’s the great thing about a PBC, it means you lead with a mission and declare your advantage to the public.

For Hempitecture, this means that we benefit both people and the planet through the creation of more sustainable building materials. Our materials benefit both people and the planet by capturing CO2, displacing unhealthy common materials and contributing to healthier, better performing homes and habitats.

How long did you research and develop the products before bringing them to market?

Hempitecture has been a constant evolution. The concept that was once presented on stage as an undergrad is very different from where we are today.

Starting a business is an iterative process. It’s not always “this is the concept, this is the business”.

In our case, it all started with a concept: building materials derived from sustainable raw materials and capturing carbon.

The shape that the company, as well as our products, has taken has changed considerably over the years. We started by focusing on hempcrete. We have built over a dozen hempcrete homes, while advising, consulting and supplying over a dozen more. Today hempcrete accounts for 20% of our business, we are now focusing on sustainable nonwovens, such as HempWool insulation. We are currently building a nonwoven manufacturing facility to produce this insulation on a large scale for the first time in the United States.

What technology do you use to create these products, and what are the benefits of installing Hempcrete and/or Hempwool?

For hempcrete, we’ve worked with Limestrong to formulate a specific lime binder that works to bind shredded hemp.

For HempWool, we have acquired a new European technology to produce hemp-based non-woven insulation. Our nonwovens factory is located in Twin Falls, ID.

Our materials are healthy, non-toxic and lend themselves to better built environments.

Where does Hempitecture’s plant material come from?

We have several partners. One of our main partners is IND Hemp, with whom we have a supply chain partnership.

What are the biggest challenges of working with hemp-based building materials?

Hemp-based materials present a few challenges compared to conventional materials. Conventional materials are generally accepted by building codes and authorities. Our materials are newer on the market and therefore have more difficulty in being adopted. We are currently working on a number of codes and acceptance criteria for hemp wool in commercial and residential construction projects in North America.

Organizations like the USHBA do a great job of bringing hempcrete up to code standards, through groups like the International Code Council. Hempitecture in 2019 was the first company to perform an ASTM e84 test on hempcrete, conclusively proving that it is a 100% flame retardant material.

How do hemp building materials compare to traditional building materials in terms of structural integrity and longevity?

They are comparable or superior.

Do entrepreneurs need to learn new skills to start working with these products?

The skills of contractors are the number one thing holding back the adoption of hempcrete in the United States. Hempcrete involves skill in carpentry, masonry and knowledge of how the material integrates, interacts and impacts the structural elements of construction. For this reason, cast-in-place hempcrete is a niche. Hempitecture has trained over 100 builders to learn hempcrete, with the goal of reducing this bottleneck.

Hemp wool, on the other hand, is simple to install. It’s a web of natural fibers, similar to fiberglass, but without the itchiness or abrasiveness. It can be adopted by any contractor or insulation contractor.

Does Hempitecture provide customer support for construction projects and the application of hemp building materials?

We offer consulting services to help customers with their hemp wool and hempcrete installations

How is switching from commonly used building materials to hemp wool and hempcrete the most sustainable option for the planet as a whole?

Using plant-based resources instead of carbon-intensive resources such as plastics, earth minerals, or synthetics means materials can have a lower carbon footprint. We must reconcile embodied carbon and operational carbon. This means we need to start prioritizing low embodied carbon materials, which help our buildings save energy.

Have you worked with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) or any other building code or government agency to reach more people who can use these products?

Our HempWool product is the only USDA bio-based insulation product in North America. This entitles it to LEED points.

What kind of reception do you receive from construction companies, architects and other concerned businesses when you are presented with hemp building options?

Overall, the reaction is positive, but there are always detractors.

I think the architect community is more inclined towards sustainable alternatives, while the construction communities are slightly more resilient, as it means less predictable costs, uncertain labor costs, etc.

The future of natural materials, however, is bright. We only have one direction we can go, and that’s towards sustainability, not far from it.


Thank you, Mattie, for answering these questions and sharing your expertise! Visit Hempitecture.com to learn more.