Why Singapore won’t be going thirsty

TakePart/Participant Media | Nov. 5, 2015

Singapore's Marina Barrage reservoir

Singapore’s Marina Barrage reservoir. Photo credit: Public Utility Board, Singapore

In just 10 years, two out of three people will be living in a country that’s struggling to meet demand for water, according to the United Nations. But even though Singapore has no aquifers or lakes, it’s unlikely that nation’s 5.5 million residents will be among the world’s thirsty.

That’s because the small island nation, which consumes 400 million gallons daily, has a water strategy that is arguably one of the most successful in the world.

“We have four national taps,” George Madhavan, the spokesperson for Public Utility Board, Singapore’s government agency in charge of water quality, conservation, and supply, said during a recent Meeting of the Minds urban-sustainability conference in California.

The “taps” flow from desalinated seawater, recycled wastewater, water collected from rainfall, and an imported supply from neighboring Malaysia.

Having a reliable source of water has always been on the government’s agenda, Madhavan said.

“Without secure and reliable access to water in Singapore, business will not come,” he said. “So that’s a top priority to get a bigger piece of the pie.”

The push to develop a mostly self-sufficient water supply has been credited to Lee Kuan Kew, the country’s first prime minister, who took on the task in response to water shortages in the 1960s and ’70s.

It wasn’t a quick fix. It took 30 years to put the system in place.

Singapore NEWater visitor museum

The NEWater visitor museum in Singapore. (Photo credit: Public Utility Board, Singapore)

The PUB water agency says its “jewel” is the ability to recycle used water, or wastewater from sinks and toilets, into what it calls NEWater. The NEWater purification process, which Singapore launched in 2003 (after getting tips from the Orange County Water District’s wastewater-recycling plant in Southern California), meets 30 percent of daily water demand. While the recycled water is mainly used for industrial purposes, it also replenishes the country’s 17 reservoirs.

Recycled water can also supply water for drinking and cooking. According to PUB, NEWater has passed 130,000 scientific tests and exceeds the drinking water standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and guidelines issued by the World Health Organization.

Here’s what happens: The wastewater travels through a network of deep tunnel sewer pipes, then goes through conventional treatment at a sewage treatment plant. It’s then either returned to the sea or sent to one of the country’s four NEWater plants for further purification, depending on demand.

The NEWater plants follow a three-step process. First, membranes filter out small particles such as solids and bacteria. Next, reverse osmosis takes out larger contaminants. Last, the water is disinfected with ultraviolet light and hydrogen peroxide.

But Madhavan said the government knew a large part of successfully integrating recycled wastewater to its supply hinged on whether Singaporeans would want to drink it in the first place.

“The difficult part isn’t the technology,” he said. “It’s getting the community to embrace recycled water.”


Bottles of NEWater filled with Singapore’s purified wastewater. (Photo credit: Public Utility Board, Singapore)

To do that, the country had to get rid of the “yuck” factor. For its NEWater branding campaign, it bottled the recycled water with a label featuring a cartoon water drop with a gigantic grin—and constructed a slick visitor center showing how the purification process works via games and interactive exhibits. The water agency also brought reporters to the Orange County Water District’s water-recycling plant, as well as to one in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Another quarter of Singapore’s daily demand is met by its two desalinization plants, which together can process 100 million gallons a day. Because the plants are energy-intensive, the country is experimenting with electrodeionization, a process that consumes less power.

The third tap comes from rainwater collected from drains, canals, rivers, and storm water collection ponds. (Residents aren’t allowed to harvest water without the government’s permission.) In combination with water imports from Malaysia, the rainwater fulfills the remaining 45 percent of Singapore’s daily water needs.

PUB is preparing for a projected doubling in demand by 2060. (Singapore’s water agreement with Malaysia is set to expire in 2061.) The agency says it’s on track to triple its NEWater production and build two new desalinization plants that together will meet 80 percent of demand in 2060.

Madhavan said Singapore thinks about water in a different way.

“You don’t want to drain it—you want to collect it,” he said.


Using nature’s designs to transform agriculture

The Guardian US/UK | Oct. 30, 2015

Jube insect catcher

A team of Thai designers developed Jube, an insect catcher that mimics the structure of the carnivorous pitcher plant. Photo credit: Pat Pataranutaporn/courtesy of the Biomimicry Institute.

From lab-grown burgers to farms monitored by sensors and drones, technology lies at the heart of many of today’s sustainable food solutions. Now, the Biomimicry Institute, a Montana-based nonprofit, is taking the trend a step further with its new Food Systems Design Challenge, encouraging a cadre of entrepreneurs to improve the food production system by emulating techniques and processes found in nature.

At the SXSW Eco conference earlier this month, the institute announced the eight finalists in the challenge. “We want to help foster bringing more biomimetic designs to market … to show that biomimicry is a viable and essential design methodology to create a more regenerative and sustainable world,” said Megan Schuknect, the institute’s director of design challenges.

Just as natural processes often benefit multiple stakeholders, many competitors in the challenge are seeking to solve multiple problems. BioX, a finalist team from Bangkok, hopes to increase food security while helping users secure a steady source of income.

On the outside, BioX’s product, Jube, looks like a decorative hanging vase. Inside, it’s a bug trap that catches protein-rich edible insects. Lined with inward-pointing hairs that move insects downward and keep them from escaping, it mimics the structure of a pitcher plant.

“The product is designed to be artistic and crafted so that people in any community can make it and sell it to other people as an alternative source of revenue,” said Pat Pataranutaporn at the SXSW Eco Conference. Each vase is decorated with multicolored patterns designed to copy the plants’ mix of mottled colors. “We believe that we can spread biomimicry through culture and art,” Pataranutaporn said.

Easing into commercialization

By 2030, bioinspired innovations could generate $1.6tn of GDP worldwide, according to a 2013 report from Point Loma University’s Fermanian Business and Economic Institute. Another report from sustainable design firm Terrapin Bright Green, found companies that use biomimicry can reap greater revenues and have lower costs than those that don’t.

For years, large companies have increasingly employed biomimicry to solve difficult engineering challenges. Qualcomm’s Mirasol electronic device display imitates the light-reflective structure of a butterfly wing and uses a tenth of the power of an LCD reader, while Sprint worked with the San Diego Zoo’s Center for Bioinspiration to design more environmentally friendly packaging.

But developing biomimetic designs could be a steeper challenge for smaller companies. Tech startups have an estimated 90% fail rate, and biomimetic companies are no exception.

“Bioinspired innovation faces the same challenges as other forms of innovation – years of research, design and development, financial risk and market acceptance,” Terrapin Bright Green spokesperson Allison Bernett told the Guardian. “As they face increasingly rigorous testing and financial constraints, fewer technologies progress into the prototype and development stages, a typical pattern in product development.”

However, Bernett added, biomimetics can reduce the costs and difficulties of development. “Extensive prior research, a thorough understanding and a functioning model – with the living organism providing the ‘blueprint’ – can benefit a technology’s development costs by speeding up the R&D process,” she said.

The lessons of biomimicry could even extend to market politics. Portland-based business advisor Faye Yoshihara said that the disruptive nature of bioinspired products can be seen as a threat to entrenched competitors’ interests. “Market entrants need to identify mutually beneficial ways of working with industry players and points of entry into an ecosystem,” she told the Guardian.

Alternately, Yoshihara suggested, biomimetic firms could imitate the protected environments that encourage weaker species. “Innovators must sometimes create their own ecosystems to get their product or service to market,” she said.

With that in mind, the Biomimicry Institute has developed a business accelerator to help the competition’s finalists move their designs from the concept phase to the pre-commercialization stage. Over six to nine months, the program will give qualifying companies training and mentorship from experts such as Yoshihara.

Six-sided efficiency

Hexagro, another challenge finalist, has combined agriculture with the design genius of one of nature’s most famous structures. A modular aeroponic home-growing system, it is made up of individual hexagon-shaped bins that are inspired by bees’ honeycombs.

Designer Felipe Hernandez Villa-Roel wanted his product to circumvent some of the environmental problems associated with large scale agriculture, such as carbon emissions, pesticide use and fertilizer runoff. His solution was to make it easier for people living in small urban spaces to grow pesticide-free food at home.

“I wanted to solve this problem as efficiently as possible,” he said. “And since many people can’t spend the time to garden, it needed to be something that wouldn’t take up a lot of personal time.”

The bins – which can grow lettuce, carrots, cilantro, spinach, herbs and even potatoes – evoke the resource efficiency of a beehive. They can be stacked to fit any available space. And, because the plants’ roots are in the air, they can be misted with a nutrient solution placed on an automatic cycle. Hernandez Villa-Roel claims that his pods can cut down water use by 90% compared to traditional farming.

The designer hopes that Hexagro could help decentralize food production and provide an economic opportunity for growers, who can sell their excess produce. He envisions a community of growers and distributors bringing locally grown produce to market, cutting down on the CO2 emissions commonly associated with food transportation.

“This system could also be used in Syrian refugee camps to grow food, or with the disabled or elderly,” he said. “The social consequences of this project are much greater than the project itself.”

Taking it underground

A team of students from the landscape architecture department at the University of Oregon in Eugene designed the Living Filtration System, an agricultural tool that imitates filtration processes used throughout nature. Designed to reduce fertilizer and chemical runoff from farms, the system is a new spin on traditional tile drainage systems designed to remove excess moisture from the surface of the soil.

“A [drainage] pipe made out of renewable material that mimics an earthworm’s villi to slow down runoff is one of the major components,” said Wade Hanson, a member of the team.

The students say that their drainage system also incorporates the mechanism used by wetlands to filter pollutants from water. Next fall, they will join the seven other finalists when presenting their prototype to judges in a final round. Teams will be evaluated based on a number of criteria, including proof that their technology works, the feasibility of bringing their product to market and validation that it provides a solution that customers will use.

The winner will take home $100,000 in prize money provided by the Ray C Anderson Foundation. It’s not clear if that will be an adequate sum for the winning team to develop their concept, considering the several years it usually takes to get a product on the market.

Still, Schuknect is optimistic. “Looking to nature for inspiration on how we live on this planet is essential to our future,” she said.

“The more we can expose both professionals and young people to the power of looking to nature and the power of biomimetic design, the sooner we’re going to get to a place where we are all working towards developing elegant solutions that support the needs of all life on the planet.”

How one company is feeding farms with food waste

Civil Eats | Sept. 21, 2015

California Safe Soil takes supermarket food waste and turns it into farm fertilizer. (Photo credit: California Safe Soil).

California Safe Soil takes supermarket food waste and turns it into farm fertilizer. (Photo credit: California Safe Soil).

You don’t have to dumpster dive to know that supermarkets send a steady stream of uneaten food to landfills.

Once there, the waste does more than smell bad. It also contributes to climate change by emitting methane, a greenhouse gas that is around 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. In fact, landfills are the third largest source of methane emissions in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency (one reason the USDA recently pledged to reduce food waste 50 percent nationally by 2030).

But when a new California state law [PDF] goes into effect this April, large grocery stores in the state will be required to ditch the landfill and compost or recycle their food waste instead.

In order for supermarkets to comply with the impending law, they’ll need more places to put the waste—and one Sacramento-based company appears to be well positioned to respond to this problem. California Safe Soil has developed a process that transforms truckloads of supermarket food waste into farm-ready fertilizer it calls Harvest to Harvest, or H2H.

“This was something that made perfect sense to me,” says CEO Dan Morash, who founded the startup in 2012, after leaving a career as an investment banker in the energy sector. “There’s this huge stream of waste from the supermarkets that is no longer safe to eat as it gets to the end of its shelf life, but it still has a lot of nutrients.”

Using fertilizer made from food waste also cuts down on the need for synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, he adds, which can reduce the amount of nitrate runoff into local rivers and streams, which often lead to dead zones.

The company claims that since its launch in 2012, it has diverted over 2.2 million pounds of food waste from the landfill, preventing the emissions of 3.2 million pounds of greenhouse gases and preventing the need for over 1.1 million pounds of nitrogen fertilizers.

Final Liquid Fertilizer ProductHow is Morash’s product different from standard compost? He worked with soil and fertilizer specialist Mark LeJeune to develop a method that fast forwards the composting process (which is fueled by aerobic digestion, or bacteria fed by oxygen that breaks down organic matter). The process turns food waste into liquid fertilizer in three hours.

First, the food is ground down into a liquid, then treated with enzymes to break down the protein, fat, and carbohydrates into the amino acids, fatty acids, and simple sugars. Then, it’s pasteurized (that is, heated at high temperatures) to kill any pathogens that might be present.

“The average particle size is very small—26 microns,” Morash says. “This [enables it to] mix easily with water.”

There’s a separate stream for organic and conventional food, as California Safe Soil sells an all-organic version. Both are applied to the crops via drip irrigation.

In 2012, Morash and LeJeune opened a pilot plant in Sacramento to develop the technology. The product was commercialized in 2013 and is regulated by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

“The California Department of Food and Agriculture is concerned about food safety, so we had to prove that [the fertilizer production process] eliminates pathogens,” Morash says. “So we did a research project called a challenge test at the University of California, Davis.”

To show that the product was effective, the company conducted additional experiments with researchers, including one at U.C. Davis and a strawberry expert at U.C. Cooperative Extension.

Morash claims that use of his fertilizer on tomatoes has upped the rate of food production by between 10 to 15 percent.

California Safe Soil’s target market is mainly large farms that grow crops like strawberries, tomatoes, leafy greens, almonds, and wine grapes. Several of the berry growers that he works with supply for Driscoll’s, Morash says.

Broccoli TrialBut orchard crops like fruit and nuts are especially well suited for this liquid fertilizer. Traditionally, orchard-based farmers “need to till the soil to get organic matter in without cutting up the roots,” he says. “So the ability to deliver organic matter to the soil in liquid form is a big positive.”

At the moment, the company processes food waste from 15 stores across five supermarket chains (Grocery Outlet, Nugget, Safeway, SaveMart, and Whole Foods) in Sacramento. Six days a week, the plant processes about 3,750 pounds of food from between seven to eight markets a day (each brings in an average of about 500 pounds daily).

The Sacramento facility is operating at capacity, but he hopes to build others in the coming years. The idea is to locate plants, like the one Sacramento, near grocery distribution centers. This way, after delivering goods to the stores, the centers’ trucks can fill up with food waste for the trip home, Morash says.

There are additional economic and environmental benefits to locating California Safe Soil plants near distribution centers, he adds. Turning food waste into fertilizer not only saves grocery stores the fees associated with sending it to a landfill, but it also prevents the greenhouse gas emissions and extra transportation costs often needed to deliver it there.

“This has a very positive environmental impact across the board,” Morash says. “It’s going to increase the sustainability of agriculture starting right here in California.”

Photos, from the top: Employees moving wasted produce into the processing machine; the final liquid fertilizer product; broccoli from a farm trial with the control on the left and the H2H produced product on the right. All courtesy of California Safe Soil.

Are small farms in India the key to taking tea organic?

The Guardian US/UK | Feb. 5, 2015

EcoTeas organic tea plantation

Ramesh Babu’s EcoTeas organic tea plantation in Kotagiri, Tamil Nadu, India. Photo credit: Ramesh Babu/EcoTeas

When fourth-generation tea planter Ramesh Babu decided to leave his family’s plantation in the southeast Indian state of Tamil Nadu to start his own organic operation, people called him crazy.

“It was unheard of in our part of the country,” the 54-year-old said of his decision in 2006 to take on 10 acres surrounded by forest in the hill town of Kotagiri nearby. “Initially, when you stop using [chemical] fertilizer you have a big fall in your production, so that’s one major factor which keeps other tea growers from going organic.”

Though rewarding, establishing an organic tea plantation has been challenging, Babu admits. There weren’t any other organic tea planters nearby, so he had to learn everything from vegetable farmers before launching his EcoTeas estate. And because there aren’t many small tea factories in India, he had to design his own processing machinery – a costly undertaking that took seven years. Selling the tea leaves he and his family can’t process or hand-roll on their own was also tough, Babu says, as tea companies pay the same going rate for organic leaves as for conventionally produced leaves.

It’s a lonely road that has left the family-run operation in the red to this day, but it could be an important one. A Greenpeace India report – which has been challenged as “pseudo-scientific” by the tea industry – released in August found that more than 90 percent of the domestic packaged and produced tea contained pesticide residues (pdf).

Yet despite the roadblocks, organic tea production could be moving closer to the norm in a country that produces more tea than any other except China. In the past few months, the two largest tea companies in India – Tata Global Beverages and Hindustan Unilever, which together comprise over 50 percent of the domestic market – announced it would set up pilot studies with the government to test how their growers can phase out pesticide use.

In a statement, Hindustan Unilever said it plans to work with nonprofit agricultural advisor Cabi on the feasibility study and source all of its agricultural raw materials using sustainable crop practices by 2020. The company aims to launch the pilot in April, according to Greenpeace India campaigner Neha Saigal, but it’s not clear when Tata – the second largest tea company in the world (hit in recent years with reports that female workers had been trafficked into domestic slavery from a plantation in Assam) – plans to kick off its program, which also has a goal to achieve sustainable sourcing by 2020.

More details about the pilots aren’t clear, as the companies have remained tight-lipped. (Both declined to comment). But when the largest players in any industry take their first steps towards sustainability, it raises the question: could this pave the way for smaller producers to shift to organic cultivation too?

There’s a huge need to bring down barriers that make it harder for growers to go organic, according to Saigal, whose organization pushed for the pesticide-free commitment, and is now keeping an eye on the companies to implement the pilots. India’s regulations for pesticide use in tea aren’t straightforward or consistent from one jurisdiction to another, nor comprehensive, she says.

“Pesticide regulation in India is in shambles,” Saigal said. “What this shows is that you need a policy level change.”

“Growers aren’t aware of what they are using and what they aren’t using,” she added. “It’s the government’s job to make these small growers aware of what’s toxic and what’s not. It’s their job to create those support systems creating a knowledge base and having a system to transform that knowledge to use ecological alternatives.”

Greenpeace India is in talks with the Tea Board of India – the government-run body with the authority to crack down on these regulatory problems – about setting up a support system for small tea growers so they can move away from pesticides.

In September, the Tea Board (which did not respond to interview requests) issued the second version of its Plant Protection Code that listed the approximately three dozen pesticides approved for use in tea. Yet maximum residue levels had been set for just 10 of them, according to the document.

Government support is needed for organic tea production to thrive in India, Babu says.

“The government of India and the Tea Board have got to come up with a very supportive package for small tea growers,” he said. “This would mean giving subsidies to help small tea growers convert to organic.”

EcoTeas plantation, Kotagiri, Tamil Nadu, India

In direct opposition to the monoculture standard, Babu has not removed the trees that have taken root throughout his EcoTeas plantation. Photo credit: Ramesh Babu/EcoTeas

Babu has his own plan to jumpstart a new generation of organic tea growers in India. He expects his factory to be fully up and running in the next few months, which he believes will improve his financial position, since he’ll be able to produce up to 30 times more tea. Once that happens, he wants to teach other growers how convert to organic growing so he can process their leaves in his factory and start an organic growers association that could foster mutual support and push for higher payments for their leaves.

But Hope Lee, a business analyst who specializes in the hot beverages market for intelligence research firm Euromonitor International, says that small tea growers in India and other developing markets – such as Argentina, the Middle East, China and Kenya – face other challenges beyond their borders.

“They find it hard to export their product to developed markets because they don’t meet strict standards in developed countries,” she said. “Some companies in developing countries don’t have money to hire these expensive services [to test for pesticide levels] and they don’t see the short-term profit from it if they pay a lot of money for testing.”

But it also depends on how serious the national government is in promoting their tea exporting business and how they set their standards, she added.

“So this issue comes to the question [of] if Unilever or Tata have the resources to solve this problem,” Lee said. “Big companies like Twinings or Unilever or Tata – they can influence the government and they have the resources to train their suppliers and make their tea grow in a more sustainable way, but they need the cooperation of the local government,” she said.

Fair-trade and certification programs are used as additional strategies to move industries towards more sustainable practices. Yet Daan de Vries, the markets director at UTZ Certified, an Amsterdam-based organization, says that certification alone is not enough.

“In some places there’s value but it’s not the way to go to change markets,” he said. “Consistently, you’ll see no more than maybe 5% of people who would want to change their buying behavior based on sustainability claims or labels.”

Tea 2030 is an initiative that appears to be taking on a more comprehensive approach. Organized by UK-based nonprofit Forum for the Future, industry heavyweights like Unilever, Tata and Twinings have joined with the Ethical Tea Partnership, Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance to identify challenges facing the tea industry, such as competition for land, climate change, natural resource constraints and living wage issues. (Starbucks also joined late last year).

A report released by the initiative last year lays out these challenges, along with principles for a sustainable value chain, which the alliance would like to see in action by 2030.

“Of course the individual companies are pursuing their own sustainability [initiatives], such as Unilever and Tata on pesticides,” said Ann-Marie Brouder, Tea 2030’s coordinator. “But there are some problems too big for individual companies to tackle…. We believe that if we’re going to make change, it needs to be owned by the tea sector.”

In the meantime, Babu continues to quietly push forward, all the while tending his tea plants and the trees he’s allowed to intersperse among the crop in direct opposition to the monoculture plantation standard.

“It’s something that cannot be approached in terms of a business,” he said. “It’s a change of the mindset.”

View the original story here.

Does fake meat have legs? The case for alt-proteins

GreenBiz | November 27, 2013

Beyond Eggs and real eggs

Hampton Creek Foods’ Beyond Eggs is one of the new protein substitutes that has hit the national marketplace.

Recently, two American chefs were asked to cook a meal of steak and potatoes. But when they got to the supermarket, none were in sight.

Sound implausible? True, the barren aisles were staged by Food Network TV producers. And the shortage had little consequence. No beef? They cooked habanero chicken sausages instead.

Less than 40 years from now, however, food shortages could become serious. By 2050, the world’s population could reach 9 billion. Environmental pressures will put a squeeze on farmland, water and fisheries, making it harder to feed everyone using current practices, according to a June report by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

This means bad news for those who count on resource-intensive protein such as beef.

Instead of cuing in the doom and gloom, however, a swell of entrepreneurs have captured the public’s attention with alternative protein offerings that appear to be more sustainable. On the menu are edible insects, plant-based imitation eggs, fake meat and “schmeat” – that is, in vitro meat as found in Mark Post’s cow stem cell hamburger.

Go ahead and giggle at the term “schmeat” — yet, as Oxford Dictionary’s runner-up word of the year, the concept has legs. Will the emerging industry have a market for mainstream growth?

Is that a cricket you’re eating? I’ll take two

Edible insects are low cost, low-carbon emitting and full of protein, vitamins, fiber, minerals and fat, according to the FAO report. Its researchers also concluded that boosting insect populations by raising them for food would provide ecological benefits such as helping with plant pollination, improving soil fertility and controlling harmful pests.

“There’s an industry that wasn’t there before three years ago,” said David Gracer, a Rhode Island resident who has been educating the public about entomophagy — human consumption of insects — since 2001.

Gracer, who started eating insects out of curiosity in 1999, has traced mention of the practice in the media and academic journals. In the last four years, he has counted 1,200 articles about entomophagy in the media and 800 technical articles about the subject — a tremendous difference over prior years.

But the public’s mindset about entomophagy, shown via the comments on articles in American media, he says, shows a lot of disgust and mockery of the practice, which is commonplace in parts of Latin America, Asia and Africa.

What would it take to change these mainstream attitudes and increase market viability in America? “If things get scary out there in terms of climate change and food production and food stability, and [there’s] not complete mayhem, that’s going to be something that will change the game in terms of people’s perceptions,” he said.

Nevertheless, he continued, “When I got started, there were only a few people, and now there are domestic manufacturers for insect foods. There’s a much bigger community than there was five to six years ago.”

Tiny Farms

Berkeley, Calif.-based Andrew Brentano, wife Jena and friend Dan Imrie-Situnayake decided a little over a year ago to start Tiny Farms, a business that would support individuals and entrepreneurs interested in developing a steady supply of edible insects. Their idea wasn’t too outlandish.

After all, the Bay Area already had seen the debut of edible insect food truck Don Bugito, which hit San Francisco streets in 2011. Well before that, San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences and the city zoo served samples to the adventurous. [In years past, I’ve sampled edibles at Don Bugito and the Academy of Sciences, along with chapulines (grasshoppers) in Oaxaca, Mexico].

Tiny Farm’s co-founders observed that there wasn’t enough supply to meet the needs for new businesses making insect food products, such as the Exo cricket bar funded on Kickstarter.

“It’s really tricky to get food-grade insects,” Brentano said. “That’s also an issue overseas because of import regulations and food safety issues.” In addition, most insects overseas are wild harvested and as a result likely will have accumulated metals and pesticides.

The emerging for-profit company’s core product will center around Web-based management tools to enable individuals and businesses to track their insects, receive alerts, and conduct data analysis.

“Right now, there’s not a market for our larger-scale plans,” Brentano said. “But there needs to be a feed-in. … Hopefully we’ll be growing with them so we can help with technical matters.”

In step with demand, then, Tiny Farms’ first offering will be open-source home assembly kits for bug farms. Brentano anticipates that the kits will be available in the first quarter of 2014.

Beyond Meat

Ethan Brown, founder and CEO of Beyond Meat, sought to develop a version of plant-based meat that was seamless with the real thing. He collaborated with biological engineering professor Fu-hung Hsieh and researcher Harold Huff at the University of Missouri, who had developed on a fake chicken product made from soybeans. The product got off the ground in 2012 at Beyond Meat’s Columbia, Mo. factory.

Company investors include the Obvious Corporation startup incubator and venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers.

Hampton Creek Foods

In 2011, Josh Tetrick founded Hampton Creek Foods in a quest for the perfect plant-based egg substitute. He was motivated to provide an alternative to eggs laid in unsafe, environmentally polluting industrial facilities (he explains in the video above).

“Since one-third of those eggs end up in food products, we focus on the products these caged chicken eggs end up in,” he said.

Heading up R&D is Johan Boot, who left his post as head of global R&D at Unilever to join Tetrick. In early research, Hampton Creek’s biochemists screened the molecular structure of more than 2,000 plants. Then, the company’s culinary director and food scientists took over. Eleven plants were “highly functional” as an egg substitute, Tetrick said, because they could aerate, emulsify and coagulate just like the real thing. The result was Beyond Eggs, a powder that can be used in place of eggs in baked goods.

Hampton Creek Foods also has developed a mayonnaise made from yellow peas. It’s available at 120 Whole Foods markets and will launch nationwide Dec. 5. Cookie dough and scrambled “egg” products are in the works.

Other large companies have shown interest in the San Francisco-based startup’s work, which counts Khosla Ventures, Bill Gates and Kat Taylor’s Emerging Impact Fund among its investors. Tetrick said Hampton Creek Foods is currently collaborating with three Fortune 500 companies. Although he said he couldn’t talk much about this due to a nondisclosure agreement, there is a joint research project with General Mills.

“These companies see the prices of caged chicken eggs going up because they’re fed massive amounts of corn and soy,” he said. “They’re watching the problem, and it’s a natural way for them to save money.”

View the original story here.

Image of eggs and Beyond Eggs courtesy Hampton Creek Foods; image of cricket flour courtesy Exo

Silicon Valley dives in to support sustainable seafood

GreenBiz | November 18, 2013

Blue Sea Labs fish distribution company screenshot

Blue Sea Labs, a San Francisco-based fish distribution company, is working to shorten the traditionally long supply chain between U.S. fishermen and the end consumer.

Traditionally, the seafood industry has not benefited either end of its supply chain. While overfishing has depleted fish stocks, fishermen have given up profit margins to large processors and distributors. And thanks to mislabeling, consumers haven’t always been too sure where their fish came from.

Now, though, access to sustainable seafood has become mainstream. Large grocery chains Safeway and Whole Foods are taking cues from the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch recommendations, and conscientious consumers try to buy directly from fishermen as much as possible.

But through new developments in technology and emerging opportunities for impact investors in sustainable seafood ventures, the movement has evolved and expanded beyond its original scope. Nonprofits such as the Future of Fish, for instance, are driving sustainability in seafood by supporting entrepreneurs.

And in the true style of startups, what better way to help entrepreneurs than by matching them up with investors during a two-day pitch session in Silicon Valley?

Scaling up

Enter Fish 2.0. Although described as a competition by founder Monica Jain, it’s also a year-long development process complete with advice and mentoring from business advisors and impact investors. Eligible entrepreneurs (those focused on wild capture-based fisheries, closed-loop aquaculture or in-ocean aquaculture systems) get the chance to refine their business models through a series of four elimination rounds with advisors experienced in finance, marketing and investing.

“These entrepreneurs offer investors the opportunity to help build viable businesses that contribute to food security, ocean sustainability and thriving local communities,” said Jain, who herself possesses a hybrid marine biologist-Stanford MBA background.

The first Fish 2.0 competition took place this year. Jain started the event as a way to bridge the gap between the entrepreneurs and interested investors who just weren’t finding viable business models. Organizers aimed to create opportunities and build momentum for impact investors in the sustainable seafood industry — a sector that has yet to seal as many deals as those in sustainable agriculture.

Through offering advice and judging during the first three rounds held online (PDF), and from sitting in the audience during the finals, impact investors got a front-row opportunity to familiarize themselves with the competitors. They were also ready to invest — some up to $10 million, according to Fish 2.0.

More than 80 hopefuls entered. Judges used a scoring system that evaluated factors such as the competitors’ business models, market conditions, financial status/projections and social and environmental impact.

By April, 53 competitors made it to the second round; in June, 39 continued to the third round. In September, 10 finalists and 11 semifinalists were chosen for the final round that culminated in the two-day event Nov. 12-13 at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. Finalists gave a 10-minute pitch to a judging panel made up of investors and investment experts.

And the winners

First place and a prize of $40,000 went to Blue Sea Labs, a San Francisco-based distribution business shortening the supply chain via an online system connecting U.S. fishermen to consumers. As with similar online marketplace Good Eggs, producers (the fishermen in this case) know exactly what they need to fulfill their orders and can save time and money when securing their supply.

We are really excited about the chance to grow our business and help fishermen reach more consumers,” said Blue Sea Labs founder Martin Reed. “It was great to have a room full of investors there who wanted to know more about seafood.”

Second place went to Cryoocyte, a Harvard Innovation Lab startup that is developing fish egg-freezing technology in order to preserve endangered species for aquatic biodiversity. Founder Dmitry Kozachenok believes that freezing fish eggs also would give entrepreneurs in the developing world greater access to start their own fish-hatching operations, by providing them with a year-round supply of eggs and a way to bypass the costs of breeding and transporting juvenile fish.

“We want people to have better access to healthy foods, and we want generations down the road to have the same biodiversity in the oceans that we see today,” said Kozachenok, adding that he hoped to use his company’s technology to help restore wild fisheries. Cryoocyte received a $25,000 prize.

Ho’oulu Pacific, a community-based aquaponic and distributed agriculture business, won third place. Based in Waimanalo, a Native Hawaiian community east of Honolulu, Ho’oulu Pacific hopes to give residents the tools to establish healthy food security by growing fish and vegetables in their backyards. The integrated closed-loop system directs water flow from the fish tank to the plants. Plants extract nutrients from the fish waste, and the water is purified by the plants.

The company will buy the surplus and sell it to surrounding communities. Co-founders Keith Sakuda, Ilima Ho-Lastimosa and David Walfish aim to expand the network across the Hawaiian Islands. They received $10,000 in prize money.

In the fast-pitch competition, semifinalists had just 90 seconds to make a winning impression and $2,500. SmartFish, which aims to improve fishermen’s livelihoods in developing countries through the development of local and regional markets for sustainable seafood, tied with Inland Shrimp Company for the honors. Based in the Midwest, the Inland Shrimp Company is focused on raising shrimp indoors using sustainable methods.

View the original story here.

Screenshot of Blue Sea Labs courtesy Blue Sea Labs; image of fishermen setting their nets courtesy Loki Fish Co./Blue Sea Labs

Why Kimberly-Clark is banking on bamboo

GreenBiz | November 9, 2012

When Kimberly-Clark announced its plan to source 50 percent of its wood fiber to alternative sources by 2025 — more than the amount that’s in three billion rolls of toilet paper — the company wasn’t quite sure how it would make that happen.

It’s a tall order, even for the one of the world’s top suppliers of facial tissue, toilet paper and paper towels.

“We don’t know how we’re going to get there yet,” Brenda Nelson, a director of business planning and sustainability for the company’s family care division, told GreenBiz. “It’s not like there was a lot of precision around number and years,” she said of the pledge made in June.

So why would Kimberly-Clark, best known for its Kleenex, Huggies and Scott brand products, commit to an actual deadline? After all, Walmart famously announced goals to become 100 percent supplied by renewable energy and create zero waste — yet failed to disclose a timeline.

Like the advice given to Benjamin, the young man searching for a future in the 1967 film “The Graduate,” the answer lies in one word.

Kimberly-Clark is banking on bamboo.

“We did enough research on the fibers and potential barriers to know that it’s achievable,” Nelson said. “2025 was a date we put out there to hold ourselves accountable to make it happen.”

Mitigating risk

In 2011, Kimberly-Clark used 3.53 million metric tons of fiber to manufacture its products, according to company figures. Less than one-third of that amount – 1.05 million metric tons — came from recycled sources, the company reported.

Eighty percent of Kimberly-Clark’s product line contains wood fiber. Its primary sources are from the U.S., Brazil and Canada. In a 2011 report, the company describes itself as “highly reliant” on the material.

In the last few years, Kimberly-Clark has been hunting for a commercially viable alternative to wood fiber. In 2009, the company adopted a procurement policy requiring 40 percent of its fiber to be sourced either from FSC-certified or recycled sources by 2011. The move brought an end to a five-year campaign by Greenpeace pressuring the company to cut its ties with suppliers hawking non FSC-certified wood. The policy also banned the use of any fiber from endangered species.

But the motivation for the search extends beyond environmental reasons, Nelson says. It’s also an effort to insulate the company from a fiber market marked by volatile prices and a dwindling supply.

“We’ve taken a long look at what are the outlook and trends in virgin and recycled fiber supply,” she says. “There’s increasing pressures and demand on land that’s available. We know that where there’s constraints in terms of resources, we’ll someday have business impacts associated with them.”

To build the business case for alternative fibers, Nelson’s team examined a whole range of characteristics for several materials including bamboo and wheat straw, a product left over from wheat farming. They looked at fiber characteristics, biomass available, processing requirements and whether the infrastructure needed for processing was available. The group also identified barriers to commercializing the materials, along with broader trends that could affect the supply.

After a year of initial R&D tests, bamboo appears to have become the focus in the company’s alternative fiber strategy. Kimberly Clark is also evaluating other candidates, Nelson said, but declined to disclose more information.

With its ability to grow four times faster than trees — and without fertilizer, pesticides or a lot of water — the towering plant from Asia is a favorite for companies specializing in sustainable goods. As a result, the bamboo goods market has grown into a robust industry within the past ten years.

According to Susanne Lucas, executive director of the World Bamboo Organization, an industry association, the annual global bamboo market is currently estimated at $7 billion a year. In 2017, it’s expected to more than double to $17 billion, she says, due to increasing commercial applications such as combustion, pyrolysis, fibers, metabolites, water purification and phyto-remediation.

For Kimberly-Clark, bamboo’s ability to grow in the southeastern U.S. as well as be processed locally at wood pulping plants is significant, as the company won’t need to invest in new infrastructure, Nelson said.

Of course, Kimberly-Clark isn’t the first company to take steps toward sourcing sustainable bamboo. Cape Cod, Mass.-based Bum Boosa, which makes bamboo toilet paper and baby wipes, sources its bamboo from an FSC-certified supplier in China, according to owner Sonja Sheasley. Sheasley says she turned to a Chinese source since they accept smaller orders.

But for companies as large as Kimberly-Clark, volume is a problem.

Because bamboo only flowers once every 60 to 100 years, there hasn’t been enough of a supply to keep up with the demand. Bamboo forests around the world have been overharvested to meet consumer demand. In fact, half of all bamboo species are at risk of extinction due to forest destruction, according to a report issued by the United Nations.

Upturning sourcing on its end

But Kimberly-Clark’s development deal with Booshoot, a tiny biotech upstart located north of Seattle in Mt. Vernon, Wash., has the potential to upturn bamboo sourcing on its end — for the better.

Over the course of 12 years, Booshoot developed a now-patented method using non-genetically modified tissue culture to grow large volumes of bamboo fast enough for it to be sourced at commercial scale.

“We shattered that scientific bottleneck … it’s really a complicated cloning process,” said biologist Jackie Heinricher, Booshoot’s founder.

Booshoot’s technology created the solution Kimberly-Clark was looking for: A way to develop a recycled fiber source that could deliver the high volume it needed in a sustainable and economical way.

The deal

Under its development deal, Booshoot is providing Kimberly-Clark with tens of thousands of bamboo starts for its R&D projects.

The goal: to bring bamboo into the company’s fiber fold.

Kimberly-Clark is testing the plants to see if they can grow efficiently, and whether the fiber will hold up to standards expected by consumers, such as strength and softness.

Though not exclusive, the focus is on the Moso species, a giant that grows up to 100 feet tall, produces more fiber than wood and captures four times more carbon than most trees. Because of its fast growth, less land is needed to grow bamboo fiber when compared to the same amount of wood fiber. It can be harvested in less than a decade.

If the material passes the tests, Kimberly-Clark will become the largest grower and processor of bamboo in the U.S.

Nelson said her company is also investigating how to process bamboo “with a lighter footprint, less complex processing and a higher yield” than the predominant method currently used, which includes carbon disulfide, sulfuric acid and sodium hydroxide among its inputs. Bamboo goods company Bum Boosa employs a processor that uses water, steam and friction to pulp the cellulose, Sheasley said.

Kimberly-Clark’s trials are being conducted with the potential of using bamboo in products across all types of its tissue products, Nelson said.

Working with a team of external consultants and advisors, the company is also conducting a lifecycle analysis for its products that might be manufactured with bamboo.

“It’s challenging – especially in this case to do a LCA on something theoretical,” Nelson said. “We can’t say for sure when the work will be done. But if it shows a negative impact on the total lifecycle, that would cause us to pause.”

One of the issues that the team is investigating is whether bamboo could have an invasive effect on local ecosystems — something that’s commonly associated with the plant.

The ripple effect

“It’s a really bold move,” said Richard Brooks, a Greenpeace forest campaigner in Toronto, Canada, who led the successful campaign against Kimberly-Clark that ended in 2009.

Brooks predicts Kimberly-Clark’s alternative fiber goal will send ripples throughout fiber supply chains.

“We’ve seen it before,” he said. “You can be sure there are other Fortune 500 companies looking into alternative fibers.”

“It’s actually hard for companies to be the first to make the first move,” Brooks said. “We’re seeing Kimberly-Clark make the move, get early adopter status and benefits — and other companies quickly follow them.”

It’s not clear yet whether Procter & Gamble and Georgia Pacific — Kimberly-Clark’s largest competitors in the market — will follow suit.

In the months following Kimberly-Clark’s announcement, Brooks reports that an increasing number of companies around the world who source fiber — and their pulp suppliers — are asking Greenpeace for guidance about alternatives.

“The conversations we’re having with these companies are more sophisticated,” he says. “They’re seriously exploring how to start purchasing these types of pulp.”

Brooks, who thinks the 50 percent reduction goal by 2025 is “realistic,” gives credit to Kimberly-Clark. “It’s the first time we’ve seen a large announcement that puts a number out there and puts research dollars behind it,” he said.

Still, he cautions that there are some actions that the company needs to take as part of its effort to source alternative fiber at commercial scale.

“There is no third party certification system for alternative fibers. Right now, Kimberly-Clark needs to come together with other companies and define some minimum criteria before certification is set up,” he said, referring to social, labor and environmental standards.

He also emphasizes that any potential use of post-agricultural wheat straw must be weighed in consideration with the global food supply.

Clark has been working with Kimberly-Clark along with a group of other external advisors on developing a socially and environmentally responsible alternative fiber supply chain.

“We know that we can’t do this alone,” Nelson said. “Getting the right partnerships in place, identifying the stakeholders and who to have conversations with — it’s all important to be successful.”

“It really is the next step of where the pulp and paper sector and companies need to go,” Brooks said. “We simply don’t have enough forests to be able to supply the growing demands of consumers.”

Photo of bamboo in test tubes courtesy of Booshoot

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Cities 2.0 prep for growth through open data, tech

GreenBiz | July 19, 2012 | Original headline: How city-level innovation is creating business opportunities

If you want to visit the future, go to Philadelphia.

The city of brotherly love has published more than 100 datasets since April, when Mayor Michael Nutter issued an executive order requiring city branches to release their once-buried information through an online portal accessible to anyone. The site includes data from nonprofits, universities and businesses, as well as municipal data from maps of enterprise zones to a searchable database of childcare providers.

“Helping government become an enabler and a platform for innovation” is what his job is all about, Adel Ebeid, Philadelphia’s first Chief Innovation Officer, told attendees at the GreenBiz Cities 2.0 webcast on Wednesday.

The intersection between local governments, big data and innovation was the key theme of “Leveraging City Investments in Technologies,” part one in the three-part series of presentations.

As urbanization accelerates, cities are poised to play a crucial role in fostering innovation, even as their swelling populations and sometimes-creaky infrastructure create a massive business opportunity for the corporate sector, webcast speakers said.

The world will undergo a huge demographic shift over the next four decades, said Eric Woods, a director of Pike Research, a global market research and consulting firm focused on cleantech. Currently, a little more than half the global population lives in urban areas. By 2050, the share of the world’s population that’s urbanized will rise to 70 percent, with the fastest urban growth taking place in Asia, he said.

“We’re going to be adding around a million people a week to the urban population for the next 40 years,” he said.

As a result, new market opportunities are blooming. According to Woods, more than $100 billion will be spent on “innovative infocentric technology” worldwide over the next 10 years. By 2020, almost $16 billion will be spent annually on that core technology.

Plus, cities of the future will need to provide infrastructure and services on a larger scale than ever before, he said.

That includes working with companies and citizens to harness data, lowering operating costs and delivering needed services as efficiently as possible.

“Cities have become a learning laboratory of innovation and new kinds of capabilities,” said GreenBiz chairman and webcast moderator Joel Makower.

Makower cited a report published by GreenBiz Group and London-based SustainAbility earlier this year focusing on how cities are “vital to the future of sustainability.” Turns out, the report concluded, that sustainability needs cities just as much as cities need sustainability.

How, then, can cities leverage their investments in technologies to provide the greatest benefit possible? And what are the opportunities for business to partner with cities in pursuit of a more sustainable future?

Leveraging technology upgrades

There’s an easy answer to the question of what a city can do first for the most effect with the least cost, according to Jim Anderson, vice president of Schneider Electric and head of its U.S. Smart Cities program.

Upgrading buildings is the low hanging fruit for cities, he said: “Many are not upgraded or updated over the years, so it becomes a big energy user and can be upgraded at not really any cost to cities.”

Water use efficiency and transportation should be the next targets. “A lot of water is lost from leaks and old pipes and old systems out there that probably in many cases goes unnoticed,” he said.

Mobility from a traffic and congestion standpoint should also be attended to, Anderson said, along with improved traffic management. For example, new sensors available in the marketplace can help address traffic flows through real-time data.

“There are some new and evolving business models evolving around traffic and traffic congestion involving tolling,” he said.

“[There’s] huge cost savings about understanding the benefit you can get from improved competition, growth of innovation and the decrease of congestion,” said Helen Honisett, director of emerging solutions ecosystems at Cisco. “It costs cities to have people sitting in cars.”

Financing Cities 2.0

A key issue is “how we finance the technology innovation that we need,” said Woods of Pike Research. “There’s going to be increasing focus on looking at new business models, new ways of financing operations in cities and new types of partnerships.”

Anderson used as an example his company’s Smart Cities division, which works with cities to devise efficient strategies across six domains: energy, mobility, water, public services, buildings and homes and smart integration.

When U.S. Smart Cities does performance contracting for government buildings, it conducts an energy efficiency assessment in those buildings and installs upgrades.

Costs are paid for up front from a third-party financial institution based on the expected energy savings after the upgrades are complete. This poses virtually no risk from the city’s end, Anderson said.

“It’s a way cities can upgrade their infrastructure, upgrade their faciilties without any taxpayer issues or having to come up with any up-front money to fund that,” he said. “And those savings are guaranteed by Schneider.”

Driving the conversation

Since most cities don’t have chief innovation officers, who drives the conversation between companies and cities when it comes to these initiatives? And are cities starting to work together in their efforts as well?

It can start within city departments, such as a city’s office of sustainability, and eventually get to the mayor’s office, but it all depends on the city, said Ebeid of Philadelphia.

He participates in a working group made up of seven U.S. cities’ Chief Innovation Officers. Calling themselves the G7, the group shares experiences as a way to learn from each other.

The same dynamic is taking place in Europe, Honisett observed. One difference she’s noticed is that there’s been a shift where cities are less competitive. Now, they’re willing to share with each other and partake in discussions regarding how to move from one stage to the next, she said.

Cisco runs a Smart+Connected Communities initiative aimed at economic, social and environmental sustainability.

“One of the things that Cisco that works with cities on is to understand the benefits around technologies,” said Honisett. “We see huge amounts of cost savings that can be made within cities by using technology.”

The case of Philadelphia: Cities 2.0 on the ground

In Philadelphia, Ebeid said he wants to reenergize city residents to see themselves as innovators working not just on one project here and there, but to set up frameworks for sustainability.

In the next few weeks, Ebeid said the city will designate a chief data officer to oversee its open data effort — which, to be sure, came a couple of years after San Francisco made a similar open-data move, but which has made great strides.

Since 2010, the city’s Greenworks program has published an annual report which tracks 160 metrics across goals in energy, environment, equity, economy, and engagement. Greenworks is a project of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability.

One data set that the city will be delving in the next year or two, Ebeid said, is residents’ requests for non-emergency services – something almost every city has.

“We’d like to mine that data and visualize the community chatter and try to put into perhaps what the next conversation is going to be about. That is what will set us apart from traditional mining of datasets,” he said.

In addition to working with the tech and startup community through hackathons and meetups, Ebeid’s office is starting to engage with the 83 higher education institutions in the area – the second-highest number of local collegiate institutions in the country.

“In many cases, that’s perhaps an underleveraged asset,” he said.

Ebeid said he’d like the partnerships to be focused on business incubation and scaling.

“Universities certainly have the wherewithal to scale it quickly so that we can respond to almost any situation,” Ebeid said.

Photo of Philadelphia night skyline by Thesab/Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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