Like all other makerspaces, Fab Labs, co-working spaces, incubators and shared labs the Covid-19 pandemic has hit us hard, making it very difficult to operate and provide regular access to lab services and equipment. Green Lab is no different and in early April we decided to put the entire lab into hibernation, closing our doors for access, storing our equipment and rethinking how we operate in a post-Covid world; the pandemic also co-incided with our 2020 lease ending.
We spent most of April and May packing and sorting all the equipment for storage, surprisingly five Luton vans loads left our site in Bermondsey destined for storage on a farm; enormous thanks to our Lee Valley farmer.
As for the future, we’re working on a new strategy and plan to re-open Green Lab in late summer (July/August), with a new space for early stage idea development, new education programme and two new amazing projects we’ve been working on in the #closedloop #urbanfarming area.
Naturally we miss so many things from our Bermondsey lab but we’re looking forward to opening a new lab and sharing news of the projects.
Grey Consulting has announced a strategic partnership with Green Lab: Grey Consulting and Green Lab are on a mission to radically change the way food is produced and consumed.
The partnership allows Grey Consulting to provide clients with expertise and innovative thinking when it comes to designing, new sustainable food systems that balance health, nutrition and ecological principles whilst putting people and the planet at their heart.
Grey Consulting is a new kind of strategic consultancy, combining analytical rigour with lateral creative thinking at the speed of a start-up. The team is working with clients in sectors as diverse as banking, public health, retail, FMCG and entertainment, and reshaping the way that businesses grow through its verified Wholebrain approach.This approach allows businesses to break down problems in a neurodiverse way, identify unique positioning and stand out from the crowd.
WholeBrain thinking allows Grey Consulting to be even more diverse and to attract partnerships with innovators at the bleeding edge. This, married with the group’s focus on sustainability, are two key factors that have formed the collaboration with Green Lab.
Leo Rayman, CEO of Grey Consulting, said: “Green Lab is an incredible group that harnesses technology to find simple solutions to complex food problems. We can’t wait to get going and to work with GreenLab towards a more sustainable planet, as climate change and sustainability is the ‘mother of all complex system’. We can only resolve it by working collectively to create systematic change.”
Andrew Gregson, Founder and Director Green Lab, said: “Green Lab and Grey Consulting team have a shared a philosophy of creative innovation and nurturing radical ideas, and when the opportunity presented itself, I was very excited to bring bleeding-edge food systems thinking into a partnership with Grey Consulting.”
Caroline Wood, a PhD student at the University of Sheffield (studying parasitic weeds that infect food crops) attended the Circular Economy Club’s event hosted at our openhouse in May, to learn more about the labs involvement in the current bioplastic debate. Since, Caroline has continued her research and published an interesting article on whether bioplastics are the answer to tackling the growing single use plastic issue.
In her feature Are bioplastics the solution to plastic waste?, Caroline lists the different types of bioplastics available and describes their composition. She provides some transparency on how bioplastics are recycled and composted, an area that is increasingly coming into question – with some bioplastics requiring specialist facilities, separate to the recycling of conventional plastics. Moreover, she compares the environmental footprint of bioplastics with the impact of conventional plastics, with some bioplastics using raw materials, putting equal pressure on sea and land resources.
For this reason, Caroline advocates that it would be better to use waste materials for bioplastic production instead of creating a new need for resource intensive raw materials. By doing this, most of these waste materials would be available to the public. Caroline explains that “locally-produced, abundantly available waste materials […] [offer] the chance to move plastic production from large corporations to community ventures”. Caroline also met with Green Lab residents Materiom whilst at the event. Materiom are an online open source database that share bioplastic recipes and therefore encourage anybody to create their own bioplastic materials. An important area of there research includes utilising waste materials as a resource, as well as localised manufacture and recipes that can be adapted to suit location.
However, for bioplastics to become mainstream, there are many challenges to overcome. One example Caroline mentions is the possible food allergies linked to some bioplastics’ raw materials, with some ingredients containing gluten for example, having a negative affect on individuals with coeliac disease.
In conclusion, the real issue is our single-use society. The most effective and sustainable way to move forward would be to reduce and reuse certain products and materials, with bioplastics acting as an alternative option only when reusing items is unachievable – ie the medical industry.
Our friends at the Green Alliance think tank just produced a new report that caught our attention: Cutting the climate impact of land use. It got us thinking on how we can mitigate the agricultural sector’s contribution to climate change.
Green Alliance highlighted how urgent transformation is in this sector: “action must be taken now to reduce emissions and lay the foundations for the longer term transformation required.” The report also looks at land use as an opportunity area: “in the often overlooked land use sector, the UK now has an unprecedented chance to set a clear course and accelerate the pace of change.”
Here are some (amongst many) of the interesting approaches to change agricultural practice proposed in the report:
Afforestation: Green Alliance estimates that we need to be planting at least 70,000 hectares of new woodland per year (that’s almost twice the area of Sheffield).
Diet: The trend towards healthier diets needs to be accelerated, reducing red meat and dairy consumption by at least 30 per cent by 2030.
Sequestering carbon: This can be done by focussing on agroforestry and the improvement of salt marshes, woodlands, peatlands and wetlands. Using more wood in construction, also provides long term storage for carbon sequestered in trees.
Bioenergy crops: Crops such as Miscanthus and short rotation coppice willow are low-cost and low-maintenance and can be used to make bioenergy.
Biochar: Similar to charcoal, biochar is formed by thermal decomposition in a limited oxygen environment. It can store carbon in the soil for extended periods while improving soil fertility and quality.
Manure management changes: Innovative techniques such as treating manure using anaerobic digestion can be effective.
Improving soil management: “Measures include the controlled use of nitrogen fertilisers to match inputs to field conditions more closely; increased use of organic residues, such as livestock manures and digestate from the processing of food wastes and crops; and more cultivation of legumes, which fix nitrogen in the soil and reduce the need for fertilisers.”
And (if you’re not convinced already): “If we get it right, there are many benefits beyond reducing emissions. Many of the measures to decarbonise land use will also contribute to greater soil protection, improved water and soil quality, flood mitigation, biodiversity and recreational benefits, and they will support a more productive and resilient food system and greater societal wellbeing. UK farmers and land managers will be central agents in cutting emissions from land use and will also benefit from low carbon practices. But policy needs to support them through this transition, providing the incentives to innovate and adopt new measures, and ensuring that best practice is supported by consumers and supply chains.”
Aditya Chakrabortty described Green Lab as the ‘Willy Wonka’ of makerspaces in the article he wrote about us for the Guardian this week.
Discussing the lack of support to makerspaces and creatives trying to make change happen for the way we live, he highlighted the importance placed on these environments for London to be at the forefront of new ideas and yet the neglect they face when it comes to planning workspace within the city.
He spoke to Green Lab founder Ande Gregson as to why he started the project in the first place and why it’s so important that it doesn’t fail.
Meet Britain’s Willy Wonkas: the ideas factory that could save UK industry
by Aditya Chakrabortty
“A decade after the crash, finance grips London more tightly than ever. No longer penned into the Square Mile and Canary Wharf, it now gropes its way along the South Bank and has turned Mayfair into a shadow-banking quarter. The rest of the city centre provides butler services to the super-rich: luxury developers and estate agents, fad restaurateurs, tax-loophole spotters, reputation launderers in PR.
For Cameron’s Conservative colleagues, this is success, to be celebrated. In 2014, the capital’s then-mayor, Boris Johnson, rejoiced: “London is to billionaires what the jungles of Sumatra are to the orangutan. It is their natural habitat.” Groovy for the great apes, not so fun for us worker ants. Economic diversity in the heart of the capital now hides out in some unlikely places. Go to Bermondsey, just a tube stop away from London Bridge. Follow the signs to the old further education college, whose students and teachers have long gone. Upstairs is a former home economics kitchen, the kind in which you tried and failed to cook an apple crumble. Except now it’s a farm.
Over by the windows, mealworms are breeding. Running along the walls are tanks of fish. In the middle is a mini-greenhouse with huge water tanks where tomatoes and squash will sprout. Any free space is crammed with leafy green plants. And just wait till you hear the plans for a trout farm. Here, slap-bang in the middle of the capital, lies agriculture. Nestling in this abandoned college are a whole bunch of companies. And the laser cutters and 3D printers make it a manufacturing site too.”
For our first #openhouse of 2018 we welcomed our fellow urban agricultural mavericks into the lab to hear how urban ag is impacting cities and communities around the globe. With urbanisation on the rise and our growing concerns for the current food systems in place we are seeing technology set to play a larger role. With this increasing move from countryside to city our relationships to our food sources are becoming jeopardised and as a result people are turning their hand to growing for themselves, finding unique and smart ways to grow within the city. We heard from our green fingered friends in New York and Shanghai, discussing how our cities are growing for the future and how small change is taking place across the globe.
We heard from Agritecture – an urban agriculture consultancy based in New York and we also spoke to AgTech X, a makers space based in Brooklyn creating opportunities and space for designers and makers to build an urban agriculture community.
Henry Gordon-Smith, Founder of Agritecture, showed us different examples of urban agriculture throughout the city, ranging from low tech community based projects to high tech commercial ventures.
We looked at case studies of these different typologies, focusing on 5 New York based projects:
Edenworks – a commercial vertical aquaponic growing system.
Each of these examples have varying levels of success and Henry discussed the urban agriculture impact categories that they measure projects against – looking at success more holistically and how it impacts not only on an economic level. The categories we looked at are:
Aesthetics – does it attract people? Is it an enjoyable experience?
Social – does the farm engage the community? does it improve food justice and equality?
Economic – How much yield does the farm producer? does it create jobs and revenue?
Ecological – does it encourage biodiversity? does it help to manage rain and storm water
Health – Is it providing fresh food for those that need it? Is it providing stress relief and a sanctuary from urban living?
It was a comforting insight to hear that not everyone measures success on ‘growth’ and that sometimes the project with the most impact are not the most economically minded.
The discussion of low tech versus high tech urban farming was another interesting point. With many people joining the urban agriculture movement keen to use high tech smart methods, such as hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics, soil based farming can often be overlooked, despite it’s many benefits. Whilst high tech farming and controlled growing environments can result in food security and utilise precious space these methods take time to perfect and the energy consumption can be huge. They also may not provide the local community with sometimes much needed jobs and the biodiversity we all need to bring back to our cities.
We also heard from Ricky Stephens, co-founder of AgTech X, a co-working space focused on the intersection of urban agriculture, technology and sustainability. Based in Brooklyn, AgTech X is creating a working community space that also runs classes and workshop for the public to engage with. As we are finding with Green Lab it is becoming increasingly important for these spaces to exist, not only as a space for play, test and experiment with new ideas, but also to create a dialogue between the local community and those working and growing within the city. Green Lab and AgTech X are facing similar hurdles in sustaining this concept, looking for a permanent space where the ideas can grow and for that all important funding to sustain the project.
We also heard from Andy Garcia – a product design engineer and founder of Domosfarms – based in Shanghai.
Whilst New York has been a big player in the urban agriculture scene from the beginning we hadn’t heard much in the way of China’s involvement and Andy gave us an interesting insight into the urban ag community developing in shanghai and also the general agricultural issues that China is currently facing.
When Andy first moved to shanghai 8 months ago he found that he not only couldn’t drink the tap water but he couldn’t cook with it due to the heavy metals found in the water. These heavy metals are a result of china’s mining and processing industries. These metals cant be filtered by the body, resulting in an increased chance of cancer and disease when consumed. Not only are these heavy metals found within the water systems but also within the food grown and produced.
With this concern Andy was keen to start producing his own food and he started to build his first hydroponics system. With the success of his first system he garnered interest from others keen to produce their own food and is now in the process of creating two open source projects for those wishing to build their own hydroponic systems and produce their own food.
China came quite late to the urban agriculture movement, with neighboring countries of Japan and Korea way ahead of them. this was partly due to their large agriculture industry producing plenty of food but in recent years, with increased urbanisation and fears of both food security and food safety the need to explore urban agriculture has increased.
The safety of the food produced has come into question, with the entire food system now possibly contaminated from China’s industries people are now demanding safer food.
China is addressing this problem by investing in land all over the world, having brought areas in Africa, America and Australia. They are also looking to architectural developments to solve their problems with a current project being built on the outskirts of Shanghai. Sunqiao Urban Agricultural District is being developed to include vertical farming systems such as hydroponics and aquaculture, whilst also providing research and public outreach to the community.
Our next #openhouse will be on Thursday 22nd February, make sure you sign up here.
Grow Wild is the UK’s biggest wild flower planting initiative brought to us by Kew Gardens. As we grow more concerned with the future of our wildlife and our fragile ecosystems in danger of being disrupted we are finding that small groups of people are fighting back with responses as simple as planting native flowers and encouraging wildlife back into their gardens.
Grow Wild is encouraging communities to take back their green spaces and spread wild flower seeds. Having lost 97% of our wild flower fields since 1970 this initiative is extremely important in protecting our natural spaces.
As part of the initiative Grow Wild has now launched their community funding opportunities for more people to get involved, find out more below.
HOW CAN YOU TAKE PART
‘Grow Wild, is excited to launch our new community project funding for 2018. We are awarding funding of £2,000 or £4,000 to community groups that want to bring people together through activities that connect their community and celebrate UK native wild flowers, plants and/or fungi.
Do you have an interesting idea for involving your group or local community in a project. Will it capture people’s attention and connect everybody through activities focused on the creative transformation of an area where they live and spend time? Click here to read all about the funding opportunity. Make sure you download the guidance document and read it fully. It tells you everything you need to know about who can apply, the criteria for funding and the process for completing an application.
Grow Wild is here to help and advise groups along the way. We have dedicated Engagement Managers working across the UK to help guide your thinking and develop your project idea. Contact information can be found in the guidance document.’
Green Lab will be playing a key role in a collaborative bid that YOU &ME architecture recently won at the London Festival of Architecture competition. The competition will give the Green Lab team a chance to design a bioremediation ‘Green Lung’ concept beneath the Silvertown flyover, in the Royal Docks area of Newham, east London.
The ‘Green Lung’ will lie at the centre of a ‘Greenline Flyover Testbed’ proposal, exploring how natural sustainable methods can reduce air and water pollution generated from high trafficked flyovers.
YOU &ME with 3Space, Green Lab and Mott Macdonald, the practice overcame the competition of 52 other applicants with their proposal “Greenline Flyover Testbed”.