The land of sky blue waters – what beer, urban development and aquaponics have in common
I date myself by admitting that I reflexively think of beer when I hear the expression, “the land of sky blue waters.” Originally translated from a traditional Omaha tribe love song, the phrase became the title of a popular song in 1909 and later adapted as the Hamm’s Brewery sales jingle in the 1960s.
For decades Hamm’s beer was made at a brewery in St. Paul, Minnesota. “Sky blue water” is a rough translation of the word “Minnesota” and harkens back to the good old days when Hamm’s was purportedly brewed with water from a Minnesotan artesian well.
Long since swallowed up by the Miller Brewing Co., Hamm’s left St. Paul and for 15 years the iconic brewery lay abandoned and in disrepair — one of many crumbled, discarded buildings symbolizing the decline of the Rust Belt in America, as the once proud and powerful industrial base of the region faded, moved offshore or disappeared entirely.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that what was once a battered, graffiti-ridden building in the center of a decaying “food desert ” — where local communities have little access to affordable, nutritious food — is now home to Urban Organics, an aquaponics startup that is a model for both global sustainable agriculture and the post-industrial revitalization of urban America.
America was built on Cod.
When Americans today think of the first Thanksgiving feast, we often lean on our childhood history lesson version of events; the brave settlers celebrating with their new neighbors the survival of those first harsh months in a new world. Long tables of turkey and maize are etched in our minds, symbolizing a land of plenty and a unifying, if short-lived, bond with the newcomer’s native benefactors.
It is a foundational moment in the mythology that helped carve out a new country. But it was not as much the turkey and maize, but the even more bountiful harvest from the North Atlantic, cod especially, that underpins the foundation of the new American continent. Cod built colonial America, at least in New England.
It is said that cod was so abundant in those times that you could walk across the ocean on their backs.
Those days are long gone. The North Atlantic cod, once fabled as inexhaustible, is all but a faded memory of the past. What then happens to the towns and villages up and down the Atlantic seaboard that once thrived on what is now a tapped-out resource?
Editor’s note: This is the third post in a three-part series on sustainable fish farming startups. In case you missed it, you can read the first post here.
In the first two posts of this series, we introduced Kampachi Farms, an open-ocean mariculture startup on the Big Island of Hawaii co-founded by Neil Sims and Michael Bullock. When their mariculture fishery, the Valella project, got started in early 2012, the future of aquaculture and mariculture was uncertain, as a lawsuit brought by Food and Water Watch against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) pertaining to aquaculture was wending its way through court. The suit brought the founders of Valella into a complicated area that spanned legislation, the role of governments and NGOs, and how to best help environmental groups understand mariculture.
When I recently spoke to Sims for a follow-up interview, he was preparing to travel to the Hague to participate in the Global Ocean Action Summit for Blue Development.
“This is looking at the way that we can grow marine industries in a scalable, responsible manner. Work to feed the planet, work to heal the oceans from the depredation that we’ve put upon her and harness the energy of commercial development to do that.”
From the basic research, Sims and his colleagues began way back with Kona Blue Water Farms, to the Velella test projects (beta and gamma) and on to global operations for ocean mariculture, this is what is near and dear to Sims heart — finding ways to feed a hungry planet while healing a depleted ocean.
An ocean and a continent away, in New York City, the mission is the same, just replace the blue Pacific with the rooftop of a Manhattan ironworks factory.
Editor’s note: This is the second post in a three-part series on sustainable fish farming startups. In case you missed it, you can read the first post here.
In the first post of this series, we introduced Kampachi Farms, an open-ocean mariculture startup on the Big Island of Hawaii co-founded by Neil Sims and Michael Bullock. When their mariculture fishery, the Valella project, got started in early 2012, the future of aquaculture and mariculture was uncertain, as a lawsuit brought by Food and Water Watch against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was wending its way through court. Principal among the issues Food and Water Watch had with NOAA was allowing the Velella project to proceed in federal waters.
Food and Water Watch characterized Velella as “factory fish farming,” challenging its legality in court with the Magnuson-Stevens Act as the basis for its argument.
The Magnuson-Stevens Act of 1976 is the primary law governing management of marine fisheries in the United States. Formally known as the Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976, the law has undergone a number of amendments since then, including the Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996 and the Magnuson–Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act of 2006.
“They [Food and Water Watch] thought that aquaculture was not fishing,” says Sims. “NOAA’s position is that, under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, which refers to the harvesting of living marine resources, there can be aquaculture as well.” Food and Water Watch lost their initial suit as well as an appeal in the 9th Circuit.
Editor’s note: This is the first post in a three-part series on sustainable fish farming startups. Stay tuned for the next installment tomorrow!
Powered by their rapidly expanding populations, emerging world economies are working hard to close the gap with developed nations. As this trend of convergence continues and accelerates, growth in the coming decades will increasingly focus on the developing world.
Even now about 1 billion people, mostly in developing countries, depend on seafood as their main source of protein. How to feed a hungry and growing population from an increasingly stressed resource, in many places teetering on collapse?
The World Bank estimates that by 2030, as the global population tops 8 billion people, only 38 percent of seafood consumed globally will be wild. The rest, fully 62 percent, must come from fish farming and aquaculture.
As vital as wild fishery preservation is to ocean health and biodiversity, given this outlook for the necessity of farmed fish, the focus for building an adequate source of healthy seafood for human consumption must look to the expansion of sustainable fish farming, aquaculture and aquaponics.
Bringing sustainable fish production to scale requires a variety of new approaches and techniques developed by visionary — and sometimes controversial — business startups, operating in diverse circumstances. From the open ocean far offshore to inner-city “post industrial” warehouses, solutions are emerging.
“King Cotton,” as it came to be known in the American South, has an unsettled past.
The crop has played a critical role throughout history. As with all things intertwined with human endeavor, cotton bears witness to our triumph and tragedy, often playing a central role in each.
Enduring the threefold challenge of economic, social and environmental issues, cotton production is often implicated as unsustainable and subject to the allure and consequence of profit at all cost. Global cotton production comes increasingly from low-wage areas of the developing world like China, India, Africa, Bangladesh and Latin America.
Cotton accounts for 40 percent of global textile production, supporting the livelihoods of 300 million people or nearly 7 percent of all labor in the developing world. The scale of global cotton reflects how much we depend on it and how far removed most of us are from the effects of its production and consumption. The cotton industry reaches all the way from small-holder farmers living in poverty to the chic fashion salons of New York and Europe.
Soccer rules–with the possible exception of one enclave in North America known as the United States. As Erik Distler writes in a June 2012 TriplePundit article, soccer (“football”) goes far beyond just sport and athletics. It is a unifying force that drives community and social change, two essential ingredients for sustainable development.
The stardom and celebrity of sport–of a Pelé or Beckham–grabs the spotlight for a time and sells product, but it is in the dry, dusty fields of the developing world where perhaps the biggest and most lasting impact of soccer happens–where kids learn the joy of play, even in the harshest of circumstances. Their daily lives may seem to offer few solutions for a better life, but the simple love of a game and a joyous sense of play offers solutions in unexpected ways.
Take the Soccket ball. At first glance it looks pretty much like any other soccer ball. As far as a kid playing soccer with his or her friends in an empty field after school, it is like any other soccer ball. But Soccket is different.
Soccket, the flagship product of New York City-based startup Uncharted Play, harnesses the energy of play to literally light the path of a child’s education in the developing world. In fact, 30 minutes of play translates into three hours of light from the Soccket’s companion LED light.
The idea is at once startlingly simple and eloquent; kinetic energy is stored for later use as an electrical source to power a light. Critics may–and have–assert that poverty or the energy crises can’t possibly be solved by “kicking a ball around,” and they’d be right. They’d also be entirely missing the point.
The boom in solar energy in the U.S. is due in large part to innovative financing, putting solar within reach of almost any business or homeowner with a roof, for little more than their signature. But for nonprofits it’s a different story.
Traditional banks and financial institutions shy away from lending to 501c3 nonprofit organizations who are dependent upon charitable giving because they see it as an unreliable source of revenue. “We shouldn’t penalize nonprofits for being nonprofits,” says Lee Barken, founder and CCO (chief community officer) for CollectiveSun, a firm specializing in solar power financing for nonprofits, a deeply underserved market in need of a solar power financing solution.
With years of experience as a CPA and LEED-AP in renewable energy project finance, Barken saw day-in and day-out the gap that did, in fact, penalize nonprofits interested in going solar. With no tax liability, nonprofits are unable to reap the tax benefits of solar power projects available to homeowners and for-profit corporations. “Solar should be accessible by everybody trying to expand the market and include community participation,” says Barken.
In 2002 the U.S. Department of Energy launched the Solar Decathlon, an international college competition where students refine and present their best ideas in solar-powered home design. The Solar Decathlon’s interdisciplinary challenge requires students to design, build and operate a cost-effective, energy-efficient home from the drawing board up.
The Solar Decathlon challenges participating students to break new ground, figuratively and literally, on sustainable home design. Held every two years, a top contender at the 2013 Solar Decathlon was Stanford University’s Start.Home, leading the pack in market appeal, affordability and engineering.
Getting to the core of energy efficient home building
Reflecting the holistic nature of sustainable design, the Stanford team comprised a broad range of disciplines, from design and architecture to computer science, product design, business and social science.
Ed note: This post originally published on GlobalWarmingisReal.com and has been entered in the Masdar Engage blogging contest for the upcoming Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week
If you’d like to enter, there’s still time. Just follow these instructions. The deadline is Jan 3nd!
At the national and international level climate action is stalled under the unyielding weight of factionalism and meeting the diverse agenda of a global community. At the personal level, the issues of climate change and building a sustainable future for our children seems overwhelming; whatever efforts we can lend to the cause feels too small and inadequate.
In many ways meeting the challenge of climate change and sustainable development is often most effective at the municipal level. Cities strike a balance between meeting the diverse needs of its inhabitants with the ability to adopt and adapt to the realities and challenges of global warming, development, infrastructure and energy.
Climate adaptation for cities
In the wake of the devastating storms of 2012, including Hurricane Sandy in the United States, the need for municipal-level adaptation and resilience became clearer than ever. With Sandy, New York and New Jersey saw communities destroyed and lives devastated due in part to decades of poor planning and decimation of natural infrastructure. Urban communities often take the brunt of not only extreme weather events, but the consequences of poor planning and development. The extreme weather trend has only continued globally in 2013, with drought, unprecedented storms and record temperatures in every part of the world.
For most Americans, our morning cup of coffee is the requisite first step before anything else that may occupy our to-do list for the day. It’s unlikely, while groping bleary-eyed for the coffee pot or the $5 bill for the local barista, that our thoughts are focused on the origins of our daily brew. In our early morning delirium, we may be more inclined to idly ponder last evening’s latest American Idol competition than where the coffee beans in our morning cup came from, how they were grown or who grew them.
That’s ok, you’re forgiven. It’s early.
And you’ll forgive me if you’re either not a slow-riser (I suspect most 3p readers are, unlike myself, more of the up-and-at-em temperament) or a fan of American Idol. But whether you are a fan or not, shows like American Idol are a big part of today’s mainstream culture, launching careers and wielding impressive brand awareness.
It seems almost everyone’s heard of American Idol, but, alas, only 38 percent of consumers are familiar with Fair Trade. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc. (GMCR), the world’s largest purchaser of Fair Trade certified coffee, hopes to change this gap in awareness. Earlier this year, Green Mountain Coffee, a brand within GMCR, enlisted the popularity and goodwill of Kelly Clarkson, one of American Idol’s best-known winners, and a popular music celebrity in her own right.
Despite much progress, nearly 800 million people still lack access to safe water. It isn’t for lack of trying, and a diversity of those efforts was recently discussed at World Water Week in Stockholm. One argument is that there is a fundamental disconnect between the well-intentioned benefactor and the communities they hope to impact.
Bridging this gap involves more than just charity. It requires building trust, community engagement and individual ownership. Instead of a top-down approach of pushing aid at those in need, why not harness market-based principals to activate consumer demand for access to clean water?
This was the focus of an inspiring session at World Water Week,, highlighting the work done by the Safe Water Network, one of the PepsiCo Foundation’s key water partners, to bring sustainable access to safe water to communities in India and Africa using market-based concepts of consumer demand predicated on the idea that paying for water creates sustainable access.
Market demand for sustainable solutions
This post originally appeared on Global Warming is Real.
In 2010, the United Nations passed resolution 64/292 mandating the basic human right to water and sanitation.
- Nearly 800 million people lack access to safe water
- More than one billion don’t have basic facilities for sanitation and hygiene
- About 3.4 million people die every year due to water-related diseases
Efforts abound to secure access to safe water for the nearly one billion and one-billion-plus without sanitation. But still, that effort falls short. Too many people struggle every day to find enough safe – or any – water for themselves and their families. Too many people, many of them children, die every year because they don’t have the resources for proper sanitation and hygiene.
This is due, in part, to a growing awareness that the standard philanthropic model of charity doesn’t work. Wells are dug, latrines are built, pictures are taken and published in media for the funders back home. Intentions are good but lasting results don’t happen. Wells sit abandoned or dried-up, latrines broken and unused. Access to clean water is controlled by a “water mafia” after the well-meaning, but ultimately ineffective, NGO or charity is long gone.
Public engagement is key to building sustainable and livable cities. Too often the trend of the past half century has been to design urban infrastructure around the automobile, leaving people and mass transit as a poorly conceived afterthought.
People residing and working in these car-choked urban environments are typically powerless to contribute a meaningful voice in the design process because they can’t visualize the consequences of the two-dimensional technical representations of a proposed design. It’s like “hearing” Beethoven’s fifth symphony by looking at the score. Unless you’re a trained musician it’s little more than lines and squiggles, not the majestic music that results in the execution of the symbolic representation.
San Francisco-based startup Owlized has teamed with Autodesk to help “bring the symphony alive” for public stakeholders and non-technical policymakers when considering infrastructure and urban design proposals.
Like Prometheus handing down fire from the Gods, harnessing the immense power of fossil energy has made possible the modern world we inhabit. But, as in the Greek legend, with that sudden power comes the threat of unacceptable cost for generations to come. In the more prosaic world of our daily lives, carbon emissions are the consequence of the “fire” we have tamed from ancient sunlight, upsetting the finely-tuned balance of carbon reservoirs on our planet.
With some halting progress in carbon reduction programs at the regional and national level notwithstanding, an international climate agreement regulating carbon emissions remains years away from implementation and likely not up to the task at hand in any case.
Even with emissions decreasing in the United States, globally, where it counts, the rate of increase continues. As concentrations of atmospheric CO2 slip past 400 parts per million (ppm) it is increasingly clear that a new energy economy requires not only innovation in renewable energy sources, but innovation in how we manage carbon from fossil fuels, which are not going away anytime soon, whether we like it or not. What might a new “outside the box” way of thinking about and dealing with carbon emissions – and the power plant that produces – look like? What if carbon was no longer a liability, but an asset?