Many curious things are buried beneath London’s busy streets. The list includes disused tube stations, 17th century plague pits, and – if you believe that sort of thing – the ghost of an ancient Egyptian priestess. The future of farming may be another.
Growing Underground is a carbon neutral farm, a project of the venture Zero Carbon Food. It sits 33 metres underground, four stories below the Northern Line in Clapham, south-west London.
Currently open for investment, the project is housed in a disused second world war bomb shelter. Its vast network of unlit tunnels could protect 8,000 Londoners, and house 4,000 staff such as medics and cooks.
After the war, the site passed through many hands. Now it is owned by Transport for London, from whom Zero Carbon Food rents the space on a 25-year lease.
At the end of one of these tunnels, sheltered in plastic sheeting, glowing with a bright, pinkish hue – only slightly reminiscent of a scene from Breaking Bad – the experiment is taking place.
Zero Carbon Food is currently testing its pioneering system by growing celery, mustard leaf, broccoli, wild rocket and other salads and herbs. The seeds are sown into a fabric made from recycled and low-carbon impact cleaned carpet samples, taken from the Olympic Village.
A hydroponics system waters them, and the plants are then nurtured by 100-watt LED lights. All this is powered by locally sourced renewable energy, and the team talks of plans for new wind and solar PV installations aboveground.
“It is a fairly simple system”, says Steven Dring (pictured, right), a co-founder of the scheme who was named by the mayor of London as one of this year’s ‘London Leaders’.
“It’s like growing cress when you’re a kid; you get a damp tissue and put some seeds on it, you use a substrate, it gets wet and you stick it under lights. It’s exactly the same.”
Dring and Richard Ballard, the other half of the founding duo, soon plan to expand their range and grow miniature vegetables such as leeks, peppers and carrots for the restaurant market. All produce will be sold within the M25.
Already a variety of buyers have expressed an interest in their produce, and celebrity chef Michael Roux Jr endorses and advises the project.
A presenter on many cooking shows and a chef at the renowned London restaurant Le Gavroche, Roux said, “I thought they were absolutely crazy but when I visited the tunnels and sampled the produce they are already growing down there I was blown away. The market for this produce is huge.”
The team’s first target was to raise £300,000 of investment through the crowdfunding site Crowdcube, offering 15% equity to potential investors. They have already passed this target with another two weeks to go.
Dring says the team is currently considering a variety of investment strategies, while in talks with the World Bank, the World Food Programme, a number of wealthy individuals and even a faraway government.
The benefits of growing underground that are generating so much interest, Dring explains, are many.
“Ultimately, there’s a lot of empty and redundant spaces under our cities, we’re running out of arable land and we’ll continue to run out of arable land as populations grow”, he says.
“This means we’ll have to import more, which means we have less food security.”
Then there’s the temperature. As anyone who has spent an extended amount of time on the Northern Line in summer can attest, at such depths temperatures are consistently warm.
“It’s a constant 16C down here, so the residual heat from the lights brings the temperature up naturally to the 18-22C we need for salad crops”, Dring adds.
“Then there’s the fact we’re protected from adverse weather, we can use renewable energy, we’re shortening the supply chain and cutting food miles, and we can engage with the local community and show them where their food is coming from.”
So far below ground, there is also a welcome shortage of pests, meaning the farm’s produce can remain pesticide free. Dring tells how the team kept an eye out for rats when they first came to the tunnels: “Then the guys from Transport for London came and laughed at us. They said there’s too much food on the surface for them to come down here.”
Concern over food production and security has made headlines in recent weeks. Earlier this month, the World Bank reported that as much as a third of all the food the world produces is wasted or lost.
Researchers have also warned that a decreasingly varied global diet will leave us all more exposed to crop failure, something we will all become more familiar with as climate change takes hold.
Feeding the world sustainably through the coming decades, as space runs out and the global population reaches 9-10 billion by the end of the century, is one of the greatest challenges we face.
In December, a study backed by the UN found that even if we eliminated food waste and evenly distributed all the food produced in 2009 around the world, then we would still need to sustainably produce 974 more calories per person every day by 2050.
With this considered, the future surely looks bright for ventures such as Zero Carbon Food. We will need bold ideas, and farms in unusual places.
The idea that two entrepreneurs and a refitted second world war bunker can play a part, however small, in meeting the food challenge is a charming one.
“When me and Rich put this together there was three elements, the social element, the sustainable element and there had to be a return for our investors”, Dring says.
He describes a mooted five-year exit strategy that involves the expansion of the current location and the development of other London sites, followed by a possible sale to a fresh produce business.
“However, if we can pay the right dividends, and keep our shareholders happy, we just may continue to grow the brand”, he adds.
“We’ve had investors globally who have said, ‘We’d love to see you take this to Paris into the Metro, or into Germany, and scale it across the UK and Europe. You could make a global brand out of this’.”
So is the sky the limit? “It is”, Dring says, before looking to the bombproof ceiling and the 100ft of London’s underbelly above it. “Or not, as the case may be.”
How Home Automation Can Help You Go Green
The holidays are an exciting, nostalgic time: the crispness in the air, the crunch of snow under your boot, the display of ornate holiday lighting up your home like a beacon to outer space, and the sound of Santa’s bell at your local Walmart.
Oh, yeah—and your enormous electric bill.
Extra lights and heating can make for some unexpected budgeting problems, and they also cause your home to emit higher levels of CO2 and other pollutants.
So, it’s not just your wallet that’s hurting—the planet is hurting as well.
You can take the usual steps to save energy and be more eco-conscious as you go about your normal winter routine (e.g., keeping cooler temperatures in the home, keeping lights off in naturally lit rooms, etc.), but these methods can often be exhausting and ultimately ineffective.
So what can you actually do to create a greener home?
Turn to tech.
Technology is making waves in conservation efforts. AI and home automation have grown in popularity over the last couple of years, not only because of their cost saving benefits but also because of their ability to improve a home’s overall energy efficiency.
Use the following guide to identify your home’s inefficiencies and find a solution to your energy woes.
Monitor Your Energy Usage
Many people don’t understand how their homes use energy, so they struggle with conservation. Start by looking at your monthly utility bills. They can show you how much energy your home typically uses and what systems cost you the most.
The usual culprits for high costs and energy waste tend to be the water heater and heating and cooling system. Other factors could also impact your home’s efficiency. Your home’s insulation, for example, could be a huge source of wasted heating and cooling—especially if the insulation hasn’t been inspected or replaced in years. You should also check your windows and doors for proper weatherproofing every year.
However, waiting for your monthly bill or checking out your home’s construction issues are time-consuming steps, and they don’t help you immediately understand and tackle the problem. Instead, opt for an easier solution. Some homeowners, for example, use a smart energy monitor such as Sense to track energy use in real time and identify energy hogs.
Use Smart Plugs
Computers, televisions, and lights still consume energy if they’re left on and unused. Computers offer easy cost savings with their built-in timers that allow the devices to use less energy—they typically turn off after a set number of minutes. Televisions sometimes provide the same benefit, although you may have to fiddle with the settings to activate this feature.
A better option—and one that thwarts both the television and the lights—is purchasing smart plugs. The average US home uses more than 900 kilowatts of electricity per month. That can really add up, especially when you realize that people are wasting more than $19 billion every year on household appliances that are always plugged in. Smart plugs like WeMo can help eliminate wasted electricity by letting you control plugged-in items from your smartphone.
Update Your Lighting
Incandescent lightbulbs can consume and waste a lot of energy—35% of CO2 emissions are generated from electric power plants. This can have serious consequences for increased global warming.
To reduce your impact on the environment, you can install more efficient lightbulbs to offset your energy usage. However, many homeowners choose smart lights, like the Philips Hue bulbs, to save money and make their homes more energy efficient.
Smart lights can be controlled from your smartphone, and many smart light options come with monthly energy reporting so you can continue to find ways to reduce your carbon footprint.
Take Control of the Thermostat
Homeowners often leave the thermostat on its default settings, but defaults often result in heating and cooling systems that run longer and harder than they need to.
In fact, almost half the average residential energy use comes from energy-demanding heating and cooling systems. As an alternative to fiddling with outdated systems, eco-conscious homeowners use smart thermostats to save at least 10% on heating and roughly 15% on cooling per year.
Change your home’s story by employing a smart thermostat such as the Nest, ecobee3, or Honeywell Lyric. Smart thermostats automatically adjust your in-home temperature by accounting for a variety of factors, including outdoor humidity and precipitation. A lot of smart thermostats will also adjust your home’s temperature depending on the time of day and whether you’re home.
Stop Wasting Water
The average American household uses about 320 gallons of water per day. About one-third of that goes to maintaining their yards. Using a smart irrigation systems to improve your water usage can save your home up to 8,800 gallons of water per year.
Smart irrigation systems use AI to sync with local weather predictions, which can be really helpful if you have a garden or fruit trees that you use your irrigation system for water. Smart features help keep your garden and landscaping healthy by making sure you never overwater your plants or deprive them of adequate moisture.
If you’re looking to make your home greener, AI-enabled products could make the transition much easier. Has a favorite tool you use that wasn’t mentioned here? Share in the comments below.
Working From Home And How It Reduces Emissions
Many businesses are changing their operating model to allow their employees to work from home. Aside from the personal convenience and business benefits, working from home is also great for the environment. According to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, if employees with the desire to work from home and compatible jobs that allowed for this were allowed to do so only half the time, the reduction in emissions would be the equivalent of eliminating automobile emissions from the workforce of the entire state of New York. Considering the stakes here, it is vital that we understand how exactly working from home helps us go green and how this can be applied.
Reduction of automobile emissions
Statistics by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show that the transportation sector is responsible for about 14% of the total Global Emissions of greenhouse gases, which is a very significant percentage. If employees work from home, then the need to travel to and from their workplace every other day as well as other business trips are reduced considerably. While this may not eliminate the emissions from the transport sector altogether, it reduces the percentage. As indicated in the example above, a move to work from home by more businesses and industries cuts down automobile emissions to as much as those from an entire state.
Reduction of energy production and consumption
According to Eurostat, electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning accounted for as high as 26% of the Greenhouse gas emissions from the EU in 2014. EPA stats are also close at 25% of the total emissions. This makes energy production the single largest source of emissions. Working from home eliminates the need for large office spaces, which in turn reduces the need for electricity and heating. Similarly, the need for electrical office equipment and supplies, such as printers and computers, is also greatly reduced, which reduces the emissions from energy production in offices. Additionally, most households are now adopting green methods of energy production and implementing better ways of energy usage. The use of smart energy-efficient appliances also goes a long way in reducing the energy production and consumption levels from households. This, in turn, cuts down emissions from energy production from both the home and office fronts.
Reduced need for paper
Paper is also a huge source of emissions, considering that it is a carbon-based product. EPA stats show that carbon (IV) oxide from fossil fuel and industrial processes accounts for 65% of the total greenhouse gas emissions. Working from home is usually an internet-based operation, which means less paper and more cloud-based services. When everything is communicated electronically, the need for office paper is reduced considerably. Moreover, the cutting down of trees for the sake of paper production reduces. All these outcomes help reduce the emissions and individual carbon footprints.
While businesses make an effort to recycle it is not as effective as homeowners. Consider everything from the water you drink to office supplies and equipment. While working from home, you have greater control over your environment. This means that you can easily implement proper recycling procedures. However, at the office, that control over your personal space and environment is taken away and the effectiveness of recycling techniques is reduced. Working from home is, therefore, a great way to go green and increase the adoption of proper recycling.
Even though the statistics are in favor of working from home to reduce emissions, note that this is dependent on the reduction of emissions from home. If the households are not green, then the emissions are not reduced in the least. For instance, if instead of installing a VPN in the router to keep the home office safe, an employee buys a standalone server and air gaps it, the energy consumption is not reduced but increased. Therefore, it is necessary that employees working from home go green if there is to be any hope of using this method of operation to cut down on the emissions.