Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

Nov25

Innovation of the Week: PodPonics—Thinking Globally, Growing Locally

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By Jameson Spivack

PodPonics, an indoor urban agriculture project that grows lettuce in PVC pipes inside used shipping containers, is just one of a new crop of up-and-coming urban agricultural innovators. The U.S. company, created by Dan Backhaus and Mark Liotta, currently operates a collection of six “pods,” or containers, in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, and is in the process of developing a plot of land next to Atlanta International Airport.

PodPonics minimizes harmful outputs and enables urban residents to grow fresh, nutritious foods locally. (Photo Credit: talk.greentowns.com)

According to Backhaus and Liotta, growing the produce in shipping containers has many advantages. The size and scale of the containers makes it easy to standardize the light, temperature, and watering of the plants. For this reason, the PodPonics model is applicable to many different locales and situations. Backhaus and Liotta call this the “local everywhere” approach—emphasizing local production and consumption while maintaining a global focus.

Part of this global focus includes a strong dedication to environmental responsibility. Standardizing inputs allows PodPonics to conserve resources that typically are wasted in large-scale production. The closed environment of the pods prevents fertilizer runoff and allows for the recycling of water and nutrients. The pods also use energy during off-peak hours, which utilizes leftover energy in the system, helping to stabilize the city’s energy grid.

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Oct13

Five Global Seed Banks That Are Protecting Biodiversity

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By Victoria Russo

Almost all food begins with a seed. Even when people eat meat or other animal products, those animals were most likely fed on grasses or grains that began as seeds. Seeds are the basis of plant life and growth, and without them, the world would go hungry.

The world is home to hundreds of thousands of species of plants, and it requires a diverse variety of seeds to satisfy nutritional and environmental needs. Today, Nourishing the Planet takes a closer look at five seed banks that aim to protect biodiversity and help feed the world.

The world requires a diverse variety of seeds to satisfy nutritional and environmental needs. (Photo Credit: jamesandeverett.com)

1. Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Project, Wakehurst, England

How many plant species can you think of? Of the roughly 400,000 known species, the Millennium Seed Bank aims to conserve 25 percent in the form of seeds by 2020. The seed bank is located on the grounds of Britain’s Royal Botanical Gardens, which were constructed by King Henry VII and are now considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Focused on conserving seeds from plants that can be used for food production, the Millennium Seed Bank currently holds seeds from over 10 percent of all plant species.

Millennium in Action

The Royal Botanical Gardens has been collecting research on seed saving since 1898 and has had a formal seed bank for 40 years. In recent years, it has concentrated on collecting seeds from environments that are most vulnerable to climate change. In addition to developing new crop varieties that are more adaptable to changing environments, the Millennium Seed Bank Project has implemented an international education program in an attempt to preserve ecosystems worldwide. A large part of its educational outreach program has taken place in rural regions of Africa, in countries including Kenya, Botswana, Burkina Faso, and Namibia. Promoting projects from nutrition to forestry to sustainable agriculture, the Millenium Seed Bank Project is working to feed the world and sustain the environment.

2. Navdanya, Uttrakhand, India

Since 1987, Vandana Shiva, who created Navdanya, has dedicated her life to protecting seed diversity. Navdanya is an agricultural research center that seeks to protect seed biodiversity and the livelihoods of small farmers. The organization believes that people should have a right to save and share seeds, and has created a seed bank that conserves only unpatented seeds.

Navdanya in Action

Since its creation, the Navdanya seed bank has conserved around 5,000 crop varieties, focusing largely on the preservation of grain species. The 54 community seed banks that Navdanya has piloted have preserved nearly 3,000 species of rice alone. In addition to protecting seed biodiversity, Navdanya aims to spread agricultural information through educational campaigns.

3. Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Svalbard, Norway

Preserving seeds for long periods of time requires extremely cold temperatures and low humidity. That’s why Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located deep in the permafrost-covered mountains of Svalbard, was deemed the ideal site for a global seed bank. Funding for the seed bank, built from the remains of an abandoned mine, was provided largely by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with the aim of permanently protecting agricultural and plant biodiversity. The vault has the capacity for 4.5 million seed samples and currently houses over 430,000 specimens, including samples from Armenia, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Tajikstan. Genetically modified organisms are allowed in the seed bank only after evaluation and approval and must be specially sealed to prevent the spread of genetic modification to other samples.

Svalbard in Action

Despite being nicknamed the “Doomsday Vault,” Svalbard is a forerunner in global environmental problem-solving and innovation, and frequently hosts events on topics related to food security and climate change. In 2009, the seed vault held an international conference on climate change and the challenges of feeding the world’s growing population. The vault also has hosted influential policymakers including United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

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Oct06

Working for a Fairer, More Sustainable Food System: An Interview with Shiney Varghese

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Nourishing the Planet’s Catherine Ward  spoke recently with Shiney Varghese, a senior policy analyst at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) who leads the organization’s work on global water policy. Ms. Varghese focuses on water availability, its impact on water and food security, and local solutions that emphasize equity, environmental justice, and sustainability.    

Shiney Varghese is a senior policy analyst at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. (Photo Credit: Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy)

How do you define “sustainable agriculture”?

Sustainable agriculture has come to mean different things to different people these days. To many, sustainable development or sustainability is simply about ensuring resource sustainability, primarily through improving resource use efficiency. Too often, that answer relies much too heavily on technological solutions. I find such an understanding of sustainability rather reductionist.

True, given that most of the resources we need to sustain ourselves in this world are not renewable, resource recovery and efficient use of resources has a crucial role in achieving sustainability, provided that these processes do not end up having higher environmental footprints. But this in itself cannot address the issue of sustainability. There is another equally important component: equity.

In an understanding that simultaneously emphasizes equity and efficient use of resources, the achievement of ecological sustainability involves limiting our consumption today so that it is not at the expense of consumption of people in other spaces today, nor at the cost of environment or future generations. Sustainability means we have to efficiently use our share of the world’s resources to meet our livelihood needs.

Thus to me sustainable agriculture would go beyond improving resource use efficiency to uphold peasants’ right to land, water, and genetic material—including their right to say ‘no’ to bio-pirates or legitimating bio-prospectors—and will help realize food sovereignty of ordinary people. (more…)

Oct01

Ireland Takes Strides to Walk Its “Green” Talk

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By Robert Engelman

True to its iconic national color—green—Ireland may be the first country whose government is taking steps to measure sustainability and to integrate the concept into its economy.

Poster and “sustainability extension agent” on government-funded research farm in Count Meath, Ireland. (Photo Credit: Robert Engelman)

They’re small steps, not remotely on a scale or schedule that can stop the world’s climate from heating up to well past 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial times. But Ireland is a small country, and (as Worldwatch has discovered working with small-island states in the Caribbean) small nations can act as beacons pointing the way to sustainable behavior—particularly when large nations refuse to lead.

Ireland’s “scheme” (the term, while pejorative in American English, means program or plan here) is called Origin Green. It’s an apt name that calls to mind both the deep history of the country’s people and the lush verdure of its land. Origin Green is the brainchild of Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, an independent agency funded largely by the government to promote Irish food exports to a globalized world. The board held a one-day conference last week on sustainable food production, and used the opportunity to educate some 800 attendees on the Origin Green program. (Full disclosure: the board covered my expenses to attend.)

Having written a chapter in Worldwatch’s State of the World 2013 called “Beyond Sustainababble,” I tend to apply a skeptical ear to the use of the words sustainable and sustainability, especially by corporations. As I note in the chapter, the S-words are often used without meaning or verification to pitch brands and products to consumers who want to help the planet through their purchasing power. And indeed, some of the corporate executives presenting at the meeting on their companies’ efforts did skirt past the tough question of what sustainability really means, particularly for their own operations.

Got sustainability? (Photo Credit: Robert Engelman)

There were plenty of PowerPoint slides showing reductions in the use of energy, water, and other resources. And there were some mentions of long-term targets and even a few goals of achieving zero waste or net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the future. These are healthy signs that these companies—ranging in this meeting from Irish firms like Errigal Seafood to multinationals like PepsiCo—are at least showing some leadership and are ahead of the many others that can’t be bothered to worry about their impact on the future of humanity.

But what was more interesting than the individual corporate efforts is the role that the Food Board—and thus indirectly the Irish government—is playing in trying to introduce real metrics of sustainability into the food industry, all the way to the farm itself.

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Oct19

Inaugural Global Green Inclusive Innovation Summit Aims to Empower Businesses for Good

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By Carol Dreibelbis

For the first time ever, governments, businesses, multilateral organizations, NGOs, academics, and investors will come together to discuss green, inclusive businesses at the Global Green Inclusive Innovation (G2i2) Summit. The G2i2 Summit will take place from October 25 to 26, 2012 at Infosys Technologies’ campus in Bangalore, India. In the spirit of global participation, the Summit’s location will rotate around the globe in future years.

G2i2 Summit organizers hope to address climate change, reduce poverty, and improve the social impact of business. (Photo credit: www.g2i2summit.com)

The G2i2 Summit will focus on accelerating the spread of innovative green and inclusive businesses around the world. A “green” business can be defined as one that demonstrates an explicit concern for the environment and does not negatively impact the local or global environment, community, or economy. A business is defined as “inclusive” when it aims to benefit low-income or other disadvantaged communities; businesses do this by actively including these communities in the business process, whether through job creation, offering affordable goods and services, or other means. While green and inclusive businesses may be either for-profit or non-profit in nature, they ultimately aim to do good through business.

By bringing together representatives from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, the G2i2 Summit aims to both foster innovative green, inclusive business partnerships and match these partnerships with funders. According to the G2i2 Summit website, “New green and inclusive businesses not only need desirable green products or guaranteed markets from companies; but also funding from public and private sector sources, social and infrastructure support from governments, on-going business and technical training from multi-laterals; and local market knowledge from NGOs and academia.”

The G2i2 Summit will feature keynote speeches by Mr. Jairam Ramesh, Honorable Minister for Rural Development of India; Professor Rajeev Gowda, chairperson of the Center for Public Policy at the Indian Institute of Management; and NS Raghavan, co-founder of Infosys Technologies, a global consulting and IT services company based in India. The agenda will also include special pitch sessions for green and inclusive businesses aiming to scale or replicate in India and around the world.

One concrete outcome of the G2i2 Summit will be the launch of several innovative, green and inclusive businesses related to sustainable food, clean energy, water, waste management, and health in the following target countries: Brazil, China, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Peru, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Vietnam. Various companies, governments, and organizations are in support of this goal, including the UN Global Compact; multinational corporations Unilever, Novozymes, Nokia, and Greif; and the governments of the United States, Germany, South Africa, Sweden, and New Zealand.

By connecting companies and governments with complementary green, inclusive initiatives, G2i2 Summit organizers hope to address climate change, reduce poverty, and improve the social impact of business. Visit the G2i2 Summit website for more information.

How have you seen businesses have a positive impact on your community? Please share with us in the comments section.

Carol Dreibelbis is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

Sep06

Sustainable Development through Information: the Community Innovation Resource Center

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By Victoria Russo

Today Nourishing the Planet highlights the Community Innovation Resource Center, a program started by Kaganga John, a Ugandan community activist, farmer, and environmentalist.  Through a partnership with the Global Giving Project, the program aims to collect funds for technological hardware including computers with internet capabilities, radios, and televisions in order to improve the flow of information to Kaganga John’s home community of Kikandwa. Throughout Kaganga John’s life, he has seen his community struggle with chronic issues of hunger and environmental degradation. As a