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Raising the roof

Hawaii [FARMING]

“It simply came about because I wanted to grow food for my family,” says Alan Joaquin, the man behind FarmRoof, the US Department of Agriculture’s (usda) first organically certified roof farming system. Based in Honolulu, Joaquin has a background in horticulture and uses native plants to develop a simple, modular system for growing vegetables on any roof that is strong enough to support solar panels. The soil-based growing system is housed in tube-like sacks that can be lined up in neat rows on a flat roof.

The key for Joaquin was developing a system light enough to be carried on most flat roofs, yet still organic. While urban farms have sprung up in a number of cities, FarmRoof’s flexibility allows more control. “Our system is engineered, it’s modular and we have usda certification so we can expand existing farms anywhere in the world. You don’t have to worry about what’s been grown in the soil before or if there’s a property upstream that’s draining chemicals down to you. It’s a sterile, rooftop environment.”

Why it works

  1. Each module is made from a breathable geotextile that contains organic fertiliser.
  2. A drip irrigation system prevents flooding.
  3. FarmRoof modules can grow anything that suits their environment.

Stole the market

Denmark [FUR TRADE]

Denmark’s mink farmers have recently been taking full-page ads in the business pages of their country’s national newspapers, pointing out the current extraordinary success of their industry. The ads show the relative global market share of Denmark’s bacon and fur industries. The eye-opener is that, while Denmark’s most famous food export claims 11 per cent of the global market, its burgeoning fur market has conquered 32 per cent of the world’s trade.

The Chinese are buying the bulk of the 14 million mink pelts produced in Denmark annually. Though the country is known for its green credentials, the Danes are quietly proud of their fur industry and, aside from the odd escaped mink wreaking havoc on the local wildlife, it has tended to avoid the attentions of environmentalists.

It helps that Danish minks are farmed according to the strictest animal husbandry rules and, as the industry has become increasingly open, more observers have been able to witness practices first hand. As industry spokespeople like to say, “You can make an unhappy animal fat, but its pelt won’t be worth a thing”.

Making a crust

India [BAKERY]

Tastes are changing fast in India and fans of Delhi’s first French patisserie, L’Opera, have newfound reason to rejoice: the company has opened three new city outlets already this year.

Thanks to crusty baguettes and macaroons, the first outlet has been packed since launch in September 2010, meaning the family-run operation recouped its initial investment in just over a year.

Establishing a high-end food business in India is not without its challenges, with potential issues surrounding water supply, power, quality ingredients and staffing. “If it were easy, others would have done it,” says one of the founders, Kazem Samandari. With roughly 80 per cent of the clientele made up of locals rather than expats, it’s a sign of just how eager Indians are for new gastronomic delights.

It started with a click

Oman

With mass technology causing Middle Eastern dictatorships to crumble at the click of a button, cyber security has become more of a focus than ever in the region. At Oman’s Cyber Defence Summit in April, industry leaders gathered to discuss defending virtual borders.

In business

Portugal [TECH]

Though it is one of the oldest cities in Christendom, Portugal’s third city has one of the youngest populations in the EU. That is thanks in no small part to its growing reputation as a science and technology hub. The Minho University, which also has a campus in nearby Guimaraes, is a major contributor to the city’s economy, with graduates staying on to start their own businesses.

Last year the International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory (INL) – a project instigated by the Portuguese and Spanish governments – brought 200 international researchers to Braga. “Attracting the best scientific talent is not an easy task. But our focus on research in an area that I believe forms part of the modern industrial revolution means we are getting noticed internationally,” says Alejandro Pan, director for industrial liaison and technology transfer at INL.

In spite of the ongoing economic crisis, mayor Mesquita Machado highlighted 2011 as a turnaround year for Braga, and the local council has put its money where its mouth is with costly housing and social welfare schemes underway. The city’s picturesque location between mountains and the Atlantic ocean is also a draw for international talent.

Tiago Gomes Sequeira (right), CEO of co-working business centre Factory Work Style (above), says: “A new generation of entrepreneurs is leading the way to innovation. Many of our co-workers have a dozen projects on the go at a time and love to show off their ideas.”

Save some beans

USA [CURRENCY]

Credit card transactions may be convenient for an increasingly plastic-happy consumer but the processing fees charged by card companies are a growing threat to razor-thin margins of small operators. Take coffee houses for example: “Of the $0.75 [€0.55] profit from the sale of a $1.75 cup of coffee, up to $0.50 goes to swipe fees,” says Joel Finkelstein, owner of Qualia Coffee in the Petworth neighbourhood of Washington, DC. The smaller the transaction, the bigger the bite from fees.

In November, Finkelstein asked his roaster-cum-graphic designer Andrew Passell to create an alternative currency that customers could buy in large amounts on card and spend within the store. And so Quale-Bucks were born. For $20 (€15), patrons can buy 21 Quales causing processing fees to plummet for Finkelstein. Unlike many gift certificates and alternative currencies, Quales are beautifully designed and near impossible to counterfeit (the notes are printed on a specially developed natural fibre paper, which Finkelstein owns the entire US supply).

Passell stamped the coffee cash with silver ink, eschewed half tones, inserted serial numbers on the bills and designed the borders of each note with fractals – measures that would make any national mint proud. Now Finkelstein and Passell are encouraging other local coffeehouses to use Quales at their locations.

Shop addiction

Lebanon [MALLS]

In the next three years, four new malls are to be built in Beirut, including the mammoth City Center built by Saudi group Majid Al Futtaim and a mall designed by ubiquitous architect Jean Nouvel in the downtown area. “There are still seriously under-exploited,” says Guillaume Boudisseau of RAMCO real estate. “So this trend is only going to continue.”

Power people

USA

Besides the World Economic Forum in Davos, where else do the world’s most powerful go to network? Try Idaho. Each year the private investment firm Allen & Company holds the Sun Valley Conference, known for attendees such as Bill Gates and Google’s Eric Schmidt.

Q&A - Bruce Hamilton

Director, Navigant’s Energy Practice

Portland, USA

The US wind market is the world’s second fastest-growing behind China,expanding more than 30 per cent in 2011. But the possible expiration of a federal production tax credit (PTC) threatens to decimate the sector.

Why has the US wind industry boomed in recent years?

The sector has had a remarkable recovery from the credit crisis, which I would say was driven mainly by the cash grant. The PTC had been in place for years but the federal stimulus package in 2009 added grants that anybody in the sector could take advantage of, acting as a great incentive.

Could US wind rival Europe?

I think it could. Right now it’s the world’s second-fastest growing and there’s a great deal of untapped potential.

President Obama is pushing for offshore wind farms in the Great Lakes and mid-Atlantic. Do they have real potential?

We’re doing a couple of studies for the Department of Energy on this and we’re finding that viability is going to be entirely dependent on longstanding policy.

What would the PTC’s expiration in 2012 mean?

A Navigant study predicts that it could mean the loss of 54,000 jobs and nearly 70 per cent of the sector. Factories are going to start closing down, suppliers will move to where the market is strong, whether that’s Canada, Brazil, Europe or Asia. It’s already started: Vestas, a Danish company, has preempted the move by letting hundreds of US workers go.

How might firms reduce the negative impact?

They can focus on exports, or retool and develop other products. They might also lower prices – but there’s only so much of that you could do. A lot of damage could be done by next election.

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