In 2020, a Kickstarter campaign for a company called NetZero went viral. The pitch was simple and delightfully appealing: Throw a bath bomb-like ball of mycelium into your yard, water it like any other plant, and enjoy the CO2-sequestering power of mushrooms. The project received favorable coverage from Forbes, Inhabitat, and even from Fast Company. The company, launched by a man named Joseph Kelly, has raised more than $150,000 dollars to date.
New reporting from BuzzFeed News, however, suggests that NetZero was a scam. In a sprawling investigation, reporter Zahra Hirji alleges that Kelly lied about the company’s partnerships and third-party verification, misinterpreted research, and threatened critics who raised questions about NetZero’s scientific claims.
The trouble began when mycelium experts and former employees, taking note of NetZero’s success, began to voice questions about the incredible claims behind the project. Christian Schwarz, a research associate at the University of California, Santa Cruz, wrote a blog post detailing his concerns, arguing that mycelium orbs couldn’t capture as much carbon as NetZero claimed, and might even increase the amount of carbon emissions produced by a customer’s lawn.