Advancing Solutions for a Safer World for Children: Zirconia’s CEO Story

Looking at the path of Benjamin Cook’s academic and professional career, one can see clear patterns emerge. Specifically, the passion, motivation, and commitment to a set of core values that drives him every day, and have served as a roadmap throughout his life. Benjamin touches upon key areas of this path below.

When I first applied to college, I had originally wanted to be a Pediatric Doctor. Then, I made it into UC Berkeley’s Environmental program where I began studying environmental science and researching environment problems around the world. This is when my inspiration to become a doctor changed.

The more I studied about environmental pollution and toxicity generated from industry and agriculture, the more I saw how these issues affected children, leading to a variety of illnesses, making children sick on a local and global scale.

One summer, I worked at Oakland Children’s Hospital as an Emergency Room volunteer. A major concern then and now, was toxic lead contamination from leaded paint, gasoline, and industrial sources that had poisoned soils around many older family homes where children played. As I comforted the children that lay sick in their bed, many of them children of color, and from poor backgrounds, I always wondered why adults allowed these children to be poisoned by their immediate environment.

At Berkeley, I worked on reducing “Dirty Dozen” pesticide exposures in agriculture, developing antibody tests for pesticides that prevented migrant women and children from entering farm fields with high levels of toxic pesticides. The stories of children exposed to these toxins were brutal. 

I also researched how toxic industrial chemicals in construction materials lead to cancer and other health problems for workers and occupants alike.  And, I took classes in Ecology, which included studies of industrial pollution, including greenhouse gas emissions which were creating climate change, and the environmental and human health costs it would eventually bring. 

Overall, I wondered how the government and industry had become so insanely disrespectful of the lives of children, and our shared environment. In my mind at that time, it didn’t make sense to see kids get exposed to all the sources of pollution and toxicity, then treat them after they were already sick. Why not eliminate the toxins in the first place, and keep children safe?

At this same time, “green” industrial technologies began to emerge, greener chemistries and processes that substituted for the older more toxic ones. It was the beginning of a steady green-tech revolution that would only grow. I realized this process of green technology “substitution” could be used to reduce industrial toxicity. And, I realized more education was needed to change minds.

I also realized that many farmers and construction folks were doing their best, inside the system of tools and technologies they were accustomed to.  Sure, better solutions needed to be created, but to be effective, they also needed to be introduced in a manner industry understood.

At this time, I think I became a “green-technologist” and decided to leverage technology and science education to reduce toxicity and solve ecological problems, rather than enter the medical field. Also, at this time, I became a serial entrepreneur in order to create new businesses to push green technology into the market, and push toxic products out. In the process, I also earned an MBA in this nation’s first Sustainable Business program at Pinchot University. 

I have been building green tech businesses ever since graduating UC Berkeley in 1993. I built an environmental laboratory to prevent contamination and worker exposure in construction, and I built the Seattle areas’ largest green building program at a local hardware chain. I also built an infrastructure restoration company, GeoTree Technologies, that created a new green cement and process that restores water and sewer infrastructure underground, without digging up the road, generating only half the CO2 of conventional repair. And, I continue to work in green Ag tech, to promote more restorative agriculture, and reduce the use of toxic pesticides.

My latest business, Zirconia Inc., is leading the charge for more sustainable infrastructure, with green tech advances in industrial coatings which directly target the elimination of volatile organics and toxic products like epoxies, with a new green tech nano-ceramic coating technology.

At Zirconia we are making special water-borne ceramic coatings, like CeramycGuardTM, that dramatically increases the durability of concrete infrastructure, while lowering the financial and ecological costs of current infrastructure on future generations, including dramatically reducing greenhouse gasses.

I have chosen to lead the charge in green technology in infrastructure because Infrastructure affects all our lives, and our shared environment in a big way. Yet, there are too few advocates that focus on materials science, which is critical to making any real global scale change.

Please join me in supporting revolutionary green tech at Zirconia that will preserve our infrastructure, as well as our health, quality of life and the quality of our shared environment.