What makes a sustainability leader? Meet circular economy innovation champions AeroFarms

With the entry deadline for edie's 2022 Sustainability Leaders Awards on Friday (8 October), this series showcases the achievements of previous winners. Up next: Winner of our 'Circular Economy Innovation' award, AeroFarms.

What makes a sustainability leader? Meet circular economy innovation champions AeroFarms

Are you ready to follow in AeroFarms' footsteps? Submit your entry to the 2022 edie Awards by Friday 8 October 2021

AeroFarms is the world leader in indoor vertical farming, leading the way in addressing our global food systems crisis. It is building, owning, and operating cutting-edge indoor vertical farms in the US and all over the world.

Over the past 40 years, the planet has lost 30% of its arable land. 70% of our freshwater goes to agriculture, and 70% of our freshwater contamination comes from agriculture, leading to dead zones and dramatically harming natural ecosystems. In the US, most of the fresh leafy greens supply comes from California or Arizona and must be transported over thousands of miles every day to reach its destination, emitting harmful carbon emissions and resulting in a food waste along the supply chain of up to 75%.

A certified B-Corp with a commitment to sustainable practices, AeroFarms is on a mission to disrupt traditional supply chains by building farms on major distribution routes and near population centres, significantly reducing carbon emissions incurred from trucking and distributing in the leafy greens supply chain.

The business’ environmentally controlled indoor farms can grow food all year round, independent of climate and weather events, with 390x the productivity of field farms per square foot. This means the business does not have to worry about frost or crop protection and can grow just about any crop by replicating their ideal environment in its aeroponic vertical farms. To date, AeroFarms has grown more than 800 varieties of plants, demonstrating the potential to diversify the food supply in a major way at a local and regional level.

As well as reducing carbon emissions, AeroFarms’ model enables much more efficient use of precious resources such as water. Compared with field farming, AeroFarms grows with 95% less water and on 1% of the landmass required to achieve equivalent yields. It also uses 40% less fertiliser and zero pesticides, herbicides and fungicides compared with field farming.

Instead of soil or disposable hydroponic growth media, it uses a cloth made out of recycled water bottles which are taken out of the waste stream and reused over and over in AeroFarms’ operations, resulting in zero waste. The business tested more than 100 types of growth media for its plants and the result is a closed-loop solution for seeding, germinating, growing, and harvesting.

Instead of 76% food waste, which is typical along the leafy greens supply chain, AeroFarms has 0%. It builds its farms close to its customers, growing and distributing its greens hyper-locally, resulting in minimal waste. The business also partners with innovative food companies to develop novel products from its excess production and second cuts, such as soups and sauces, to eliminate any waste at the farm.

AeroFarms designs its operations and business to embody circular and cradle-to-cradle thinking. Its aeroponic growing towers are a closed-loop system, recycling and using less water and nutrients while misting the roots of plants with targeted nutrients and water, as well as optimally oxygenating the roots. Because of this, the business can grow plants faster and more efficiently than in the field.

AeroFarms also looks at climate resiliency from an energy standpoint and has invested in natural gas turbines to be able to generate its own clean energy independent of the grid.

The business’ largest project so far is the build-out of the largest indoor vertical farm in the world, as well as its global HQ, on the site of an abandoned steel mill in Newark’s historic ironbound district. By revitalising this warehouse, the business was able to breathe new life into an abandoned space, create 120 jobs, and provide year-round access to local, fresh, safe, and nutritious produce to a food desert.

The company continues to scale to fulfil its mission to provide access to safe, nutritious food to communities around the world all year round. It has recently announced two major initiatives to help it achieve its global mission: the world’s largest indoor vertical R&D farm in Abu Dhabi, and  a partnership with the World Economic Forum (WEF) and Jersey City on the nation’s first municipal vertical farming program.

The Covid-19 Pandemic has highlighted how vital it is to establish effective, resilient local and regional food supply chains with an emphasis on circular, clean technology, and Aerofarms is ready to rise to the challenge.

edie’s judges said: “AeroFarms is taking a truly pioneering approach to farming. As a global leader in vertical farming, the organisation has embedded circular thinking int all aspects of the business, growing fresh, safe, nutritious food using 95% less water and zero pesticides, herbicides and fungicides all year round.

Are you our next winner?

After a tough and extraordinary year, edie’s RSA-accredited Sustainability Leaders Awards are back for 2022, bigger and better than ever – celebrating the incredible people, projects and partnerships that are accelerating climate action and transforming business, for good. 

Entries are now OPEN. The submission deadline for the 2022 Sustainability Leaders Awards is Friday 8 October 2021. The Awards is then set to take place as a live ceremony on the night of Wednesday 2 February 2022 at the Park Plaza London, Westminster. 

Our ‘Sustainability Leader of the Year’ category is among the 23 categories to choose from. Make sure you get the recognition you, and your team, deserve. ENTER THE SUSTAINABILITY LEADERS AWARDS 2022 HERE.

edie Staff

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