By Scott Ballum
Sustainability is growing like wildflowers. It’s an exciting time as we see it flourish in so many ways, from the rooftop of Green Spaces where an urban farm is blossoming on a once black tar top, to the emerging green start-up businesses who applied for our Green Business Competition.
Last month over 70 green entrepreneurs, covering a broad cross section of the economy, were narrowed down to five Finalists that presented at the awards ceremony at Brooklyn Borough Hall. Sponsored by Con Edison, the Nature Conservancy, and host of local and national leaders in environmental sustainability, the competition is a testament to the growing awareness and celebration of efforts that bring these issues into our daily lives. The top prize was awarded to Gotham Greens, an initiative to create New York City's first commercial scale, rooftop hydroponic farm -- an ambitious concept that would have been unfathomable even a decade ago. The 12,000 sq ft facility will grow over 30 tons of premium quality, pesticide-free vegetables each year for the NYC retail and restaurant market, combining technically sophisticated Controlled Environment Agriculture techniques with unique energy saving innovations.
Gotham Greens' efforts are also unique in that they extend beyond the ecological to address public health concerns surrounding conventional agriculture, including long distance food transport and food safety. This serves as a reminder that the values of sustainability extend beyond that of our natural environment. Inclusive education, nourished cultural and artistic expressions, and accessible medical and nutritional resources all contribute to the sustainability of a planet worth living on. Regardless of whether our practices are devoted to producing a green product or a providing an ecologically sound service, we need an awareness of, and active engagement in, systems of local material acquisition, progressive business practices, and fair access and distribution.
By expanding our definition of sustainability to understand and address our impact socially and culturally, as well as environmentally, enterprising businesses like Gotham Greens, and all of us, will increase the number of ways our projects have a positive influence, create opportunities for others, and rise above the green-washing trend to truly spread the seeds that will grow our future.
Scott Ballum is an author and creative director in Brooklyn, NY. He is the founder of Sheepless Co., a design practice for small businesses and non-profits, as well as the forthcoming on-line magazine UpStart, providing inspiration and resources for activist entrepreneurs. Scott moved his businesses into Green Spaces in April 2009.