The Largest Urban Rooftop Farm in the World is Now Bearing Fruit (and More) in Paris

Getting fresh produce into the heart of a major city used to be done by a fleet of rumbling, polluting trucks—now it’s a matter of bringing it down from the roof.

The largest urban rooftop farm in the world uses vertical growing techniques to create fruits and vegetables right in the center of Paris without the use of pesticides, refrigerated trucks, chemical fertilizer, or even soil.

Nature Urbaine uses aeroponic techniques that are now supplying produce to local residents, including nearby hotels, catering halls, and more. For a price of 15 euro, residents can order a basket of produce online containing a large bouquet of mint or sage, a head of lettuce, various young sprouts, two bunches of radishes and one of chard, as well as a jar of jam or puree.

“The composition may change slightly depending on the harvest,” Sophie Hardy, director of Nature Urbaine, tells French publication Agri City. Growing on 3.4 acres, about the size of two soccer pitches, atop the Paris Exhibition Center, they are also producing about 150 baskets of strawberries, as well as aubergines, tomatoes, and more.

Speaking to the Guardian, Pascal Hardy, a sustainable development consultant and member of Agripolis, an urban farming firm, called the Nature Urbaine project in Paris “a clean, productive and sustainable model of agriculture that can in time make a real contribution to the resilience—social, economic and also environmental—of the kind of big cities where most of humanity now lives.”

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Sci-Fi Farming

Currently only a third of the total space on hall 6 of the expo center is utilized for Pascal’s alien-looking garden, and when the project is finished, 20 staff will be able to harvest up to 2,200 lbs (1,000 kg) of perhaps 35 different kinds of fruits and vegetables every day.

Photos by Agripolis

In plastic towers honeycombed with little holes, small amounts of water carrying nutrients, bacteria, and minerals, aerate roots which hang in midair.

As strange as the pipes and towers out of which grow everything other than root vegetables might seem, Hardy says the science-fiction farming has major benefits over traditional agriculture.

“I don’t know about you,” he begins, “but I don’t much like the fact that most of the fruit and vegetables we eat have been treated with something like 17 different pesticides, or that the intensive farming techniques that produced them are such huge generators of greenhouse gases.”

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“It uses less space. An ordinary intensive farm can grow nine salads per square meter of soil; I can grow 50 in a single tower. You can select crop varieties for their flavor, not their resistance to the transport and storage chain, and you can pick them when they’re really at their best, and not before.”

Agripolis

Breaking the chain

Agripolis is currently discussing projects in the U.S., the UK, and Germany, and they have finished several other rooftop farms in France including one on the roof of the Mercure hotel in 2016, which cultivates eggplant, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, salads, watercress, strawberries, nasturtiums and aromatics all directly serving the hotel restaurant.

Growing on the roof and selling on the floor can play a big part in the production of carbon-neutral food because, according to Agripolis, fruit and veg on average travel by refrigerated air and land transport between 2,400 and 4,800 kilometers from farm to market.

The global transportation force is the largest of humanity’s carbon-emitting activities, and reducing the number of flights and truckloads of produce is a great place to start cutting the amount of CO2 entering the atmosphere.

For a culinary city like Paris, the Parisian mayor’s proposal to install an additional 320 acres (130 ha) of rooftop and wall-mounted urban farming space could significantly reduce the number of trucks entering the city, easing traffic and reducing pollution.

With rooftop farming being embraced from Detroit to Shanghai, the future is looking up.

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Employer Welcomes Back 14 Workers With Surprise $1,000 Bonuses – to Spend on Local Businesses

When New Zealanders were given the all-clear and Kiwis began returning to work after the Covid-19 lockdown, some employees were nervous about the state of businesses.

Jenny Beck, an attorney who runs a law office in Dunedin, had heard many small businesses were in dire straits because they depended on tourism—and she got an idea.

At the first staff meeting with everyone back from lockdown, “the mood was anxious,” according to the Otago Daily Times, New Zealand’s oldest daily newspaper.

But, instead of pink slips or salary cuts, the law firm owner gave each of her 14 employees $1000 in cash.

“I told them, and just about everyone cried—and I felt like crying myself,” she told reporter John Lewis.

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The shocked workers were also given a caveat regarding what they could do with the money—paying it forward.

Jenny gave them “stern words” to spend the cash on small businesses, suggesting they take a long weekend, paying for accommodation, food at local restaurants, and tourist attractions, to help get the local economies rolling again.

‘‘I also thought it would be fun, in that my staff would be able to report back on their breaks, and give everyone a boost.’’

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The office really got into the spirit, and began planning trips to a National Park, their favorite restaurants, and kayak rental places.

‘‘I’m really pleased that they’ve picked it up and run with it,” said Jenny. “It’s given a real boost to team morale.’’

WATCH the interviews below… (Video screen grab courtesy of Otago Daily Times)

Need more positive stories and updates coming out of the COVID-19 challenge? For more uplifting coverage, click here.

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Portugal Preparing Several Billion-dollar Clean Energy Projects for Post-Coronavirus Future

Spared from the ravages of COVID-19 suffered by her neighbor Spain, Portugal is aiming to leap, rather than tip-toe, out of their lockdown initiatives by launching a series of clean energy projects that could generate 5.5 billion euro in European energy investment.

The new solar-powered hydrogen plant near the port of Sines is a modern “green” hydro-electric project that generates electricity through a process called electrolysis, and it could contribute 1 gigawatt of power by 2023 if investment arrives.

“The economy cannot grow along the lines of the past and our post-coronavirus vision is to create wealth from projects that reduce carbon emissions and promote energy transition and sustainable mobility,” Portugal’s Minister of Environment and Energy Transition, Joao Matos Fernandes, told Reuters.

Fernandes detailed that both Portuguese energy firms, and Dutch firms are already showing interest in the hydrogen plant, and it is shaping up to be one of the biggest industrial projects and opportunities in the country.

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Matos also said that Portugal will be launching a solar energy licensing auction, where international energy firms will have a chance to bid for prime solar real estate, as Portugal is one of Europe’s sunniest nations.

Initially scheduled to kick off in April, the auctions were delayed due to the coronavirus outbreak, which has taken the lives of fewer than 1,000 Portuguese, out of 24,500 confirmed cases according to Reuters. Up for bidding are 16 sites worth a combined total of 700 megawatts of solar capacity in the southern regions of Algarve and Alentejo.

Portugal has had previous success with energy licensing auctions before, like last June when she sold 1,150 MW of solar energy capacity at a record-low price of 14.8 megawatts per hour—mainly to international energy investors from Britain, Spain, France, and Germany.

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Already in 2016, 28% of nationwide power came from renewables. During that year they set a European record for entirely powering the country with renewables for four straight days.

Though just 11 years ago, Portugal was generating more CO2 than Bangladesh, despite having one-sixteenth the population density, their plans for 2030 are to be producing 7,000 MW per hour of clean energy and close to all their remaining coal plants.

Meanwhile, in Germany a string of recent sunny days in April led to record-setting clean-energy production. The solar power was generating around 40% nationwide, with all their renewables together accounting for a whopping 78%—while coal and nuclear less than a quarter.

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Record-Breaking Amounts of Solar Electricity Generated in Germany After String of Sunny Days

Good News Network recently explained how traditional consumer-driven supply and demand market forces are pushing coal further and further to the edge of the bed (and economic ruin), like a sprawling spouse kicking the blankets toward the cold tile floor.

A recent string of cloudless days in Germany saw the country’s solar energy production climb above 32,000 megawatts in a single day last week—smashing the previous record set on March 23rd, according to a report from Bloomberg News.

The sunny days are slated to continue, according to the German weather service DWD.

These sunny days mean that solar power is generating around 40% of the total baseline in Germany, with all their renewables together accounted for 78%, while coal and nuclear power trailed behind with only 22%.

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By 2038, renewables are predicted by the German government to make up 80% of total grid production. And owners of coal plants understand that it could become completely unsustainable to continue financing operations many years before that milestone is achieved.

A Death Rattle for Coal

In Europe, it’s already 100% more expensive to finance, supply, staff, and operate a coal-fired power plant compared to a renewable facility, while in historically coal-glutted nations like the U.S., India, and China, it’s already 50-60% more costly.

The recent lockdown orders for COVID-19 in Germany could have had a measurable effect on the sunny days as well, as the reduction in air pollution from things like car exhaust has already been recorded as significant in countries like India, where residents have been able able to see the Himalayas on the horizon for the first time in 30 years.

File photo by Nathan Dumlao, CC

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Not only are the shutdowns rewarding the solar market with clearer skies, but the already lagging coal market is taking further body blows as demand plummets from the shutdown of stores and office buildings. In Germany, renewable sources are the first to enter grid circulation, and since the decrease in energy demand, consumers are actually using less power than is available, meaning the electricity generated from a coal plant might be not only unutilized—but unpaid for.

The services desired by consumers are simply being fulfilled by those most readily capable of fulfilling them.

This not only applies to Jane and John Smith turning on the lights in their house, but buyers and sellers in the energy sector. The simple explanation is as follows. Johan runs an energy investment firm, and when looking to buy shares of a power producer, his maximum price for carbon-based power is 5,000 euro per share, and for renewable power, 8,000 euro per share. He can afford to pay more for renewables because he stands to make more money from those shares.

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Jurgen, who runs a carbon-based power source, can only afford to sell at 10,000 euro per share, because of current market demands for renewables. This difference of valuation of 5,000 euro between Jurgen and Johan prevent a sale from being made, and so Jurgen must either find a willing buyer, a way to reduce operating costs, or another energy project.

Whether catalyzed from climate activism, science, or whichever technology costs the least to operate, these simple supply and demand forces are causing people to put their money in renewables—and money-talks.

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Chinese Company Ships Crates of Masks to Italy Covered in Italian Poetry: We Are ‘Leaves of the Same Tree’

A Chinese company has shipped crates containing tens of thousands of respirator masks to Italy in her time of need.

And it has done so with the artistic flair of a true Italian romantic.

Consumer technology giant Xiaomi mailed the shipment to the Italian Civil Protection Department, and they stapled to the side of the crates an ancient line of poetry from the Roman philosopher Seneca:

We are waves from the same sea, leaves from the same tree, and flowers from the same garden.

Siamo onde dello stesso mare, foglie dello stesso albero, fiori dello stesso giardino

The European country has had a terrible time of the pandemic, and Xiaomi International (pronounced Sheeow-mee) announced the donation on its Facebook page March 5, saying the company felt a responsibility to a market which had welcomed them so warmly when the smartphone maker expanded into Italy two years ago.

“Since we arrived two years ago, we have felt loved and deeply integrated into the life of the country. This is also why we felt the duty to support Italy in the management of the COVID-19 epidemic, by donating a first important quantity of FFP3 masks.”

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They also uploaded the photos showing the lovingly prepared crates in their post.

The company’s chief financial officer called it a “source of great pride” to be able to offer the help, and praised the Italian government’s “excellent job for the benefit of the whole community.”

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Medical shortages of masks, test kits, respirators, and other goods are one of the major reasons why a country might find it difficult to control an outbreak, and the quality of the FFP3 masks sent from Xiaomi are the most effective available.

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Fashion Industry Eyes Alternative Leather Made Out of Cactus–And it’s Sustainable and Eco-Friendly

Photo by Adriano Di Marti

Two men have succeeded in developing an alternative to animal leather made out of Mexican cactus—and it could save millions of animals worldwide.

Adrián López Velarde and Marte Cázarez created their vegan fabric out of the nopal cactus and spent two years researching and developing their design. They then perfected the manufacturing process in July and unveiled the fabric to the fashion world in Milan, Italy in October.

The entrepreneurs realized the environmental impact of animal leather spending years working in the furniture, automotive, and fashion industries. Upon quitting their jobs, they co-founded Adriano Di Marti to find an innovative leather replacement.

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Their patented “Desserto” fabric is made out of cactus leaves that are sustainably harvested every 6 to 8 months. The material is designed to breathe easily while still being durable and partially biodegradable. In addition to the cactus-based material requiring a minimal amount of water to develop, it is grown organically in the Mexican state of Zacatecas.

The material, which is available in a variety of colors produced using natural dyes, has now been used to make everything from bags and automotive seating to shoes and jackets.

(WATCH the video below)

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Old Electric Vehicle Batteries Can Be Recycled into New Sources of Energy –Even Used to Power 7-11 Stores

An increase in the sale and use of electric vehicles (EVs) is vital for many governments to reach their stated CO2 reduction targets, however if special regard is not quickly given to advancing the technology in recycling the battery packs of these EVs, our landfills could be overrun.

Looking for a solution to the battery waste problem, a study published in Nature by University of Birmingham researchers presents this sticky situation alongside some innovative ways to help combat it. For example, stations of retired EV batteries can be used to reinforce unstable grid networks in developing countries, or used to power things at home.

The study explains that, like the batteries in older mobile phones, an EV battery at the end of its automobile life could still maintain 80% operating capacity and could be easily repurposed for jobs elsewhere in society.

Even now, Toyota, producer of the Prius—one of the most, if not the most, successful hybrid cars in history—has joined forces with 7-11 stores in Japan to expand the integration of the electric vehicle byproducts into Japanese society.

Their project, in line with the latest recommendations from the Birmingham researchers, aims to utilize banks of expended EV batteries from Toyota cars in conjunction with solar panels to power 7-11 stores, while new fuel-cell EVs powered by hydrogen will be serving as the distribution fleet for the legendary convenience store chain.

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Meanwhile, we can extract minerals from batteries, while at the same time avoiding the environmentally-damaging mining practices that use a lot of water.

Nissan NV200 by Kārlis-Dambrāns, CC license

“Electric vehicles may prove to be a valuable secondary resource for critical materials, and it has been argued that high cobalt-content batteries should be recycled immediately to bolster cobalt supplies”, the study says.

Another mineral present in EV batteries, lithium, is one of the most critical minerals for building batteries for our portable devices and key electronic components in society like video processors and microchips.

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To gather merely one ton of lithium requires the mining of 250 tons of the mineral ore spodumene, or 750 tons of mineral-rich brine. Therefore extracting lithium from car batteries (since estimates suggest that we only need 256 used EV batteries to produce 1 ton of lithium) can avoid this water-intensive carbon-intensive method of production.

In 2017, the worldwide sales of electric cars exceeded 1 million units for the first time. Market research group Deloitte reported that this figure doubled during 2018, and is close to doubling again, from 2 million to 4 million by the end of 2020.

Those are big secondary resources for minerals, which could negate the need for mining many additional tons in order to power the world we love.

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Company Collects 80% of City’s Recyclable Plastics and Turns It All into Lumber

Photos by Mike Chassie

This trailblazing Canadian company is building a new standard for sustainability since they started recycling the bulk of their municipal plastic waste into lumber.

Roughly 80% of the plastic recyclables collected throughout Halifax, Nova Scotia are now being processed by Goodwood Plastic Products Ltd so they can be turned into building blocks.

The plastic lumber can be drilled, nailed, glued, and handled the same way as wooden lumber—but without any of the same deterioration.

The other 20% of municipal plastics are reportedly being sent to other Canadian recycling markets, but Halifax Solid Waste Division Manager Andrew Philopoulos says that provincial legislators are particularly grateful for Goodwood’s initiative.

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“We are very, very fortunate here in Nova Scotia to have that local company taking the material,” he told CBC’s Information Morning. “Without them, I think we would find it challenging to find a market for a lot of the plastic packaging that we are collecting.”

Goodwood also made a name for themselves back in December when they partnered with a Sobeys grocery store in order to create one of the nation’s first parking lots made entirely out of post-consumer plastics saved from local landfills.

Although the bulk of Goodwood’s recycled plastic comes from single-use bags, they also process food jars and other common consumer packaging.

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Thus far, CBC says that the lumber has been used to make everything from picnic tables and park benches to agricultural posting and guardrail structures—and Goodwood vice president Mike Chassie says he hopes their business model will inspire other regions to launch similar ventures.

“We can take this business—the knowledge and our skills—and we can export it and take it to other places,” he told the news outlet. “Post-consumer plastic is not going away, so we need to continue to find ways to give it a new life so it becomes a resource, instead of a waste.”

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