Evan Bromfield is a research assistant at the Centre For Food Safety in Washington D.C. and a vertical farming enthusiast and blogger. Read this recent article from his blog that considers what most don’t consider when thinking about vertical farming.
Designers love to praise vertical farms’ sustainability and combating climate change is a huge part of that, but there’s a lot more nuance than most other articles go into.
Sustainability is not just a measure of how much water your system recycles or how many solar panels it uses, and these resources are not the only things that affect climate change.
Not only that, but also there isn’t just one type of vertical farm: there are farmscrapers, farms that float, rooftop gardens, converted warehouses, and tricked-out greenhouses just to name a few.
The kicker? Each model is going to have entirely different measures of sustainability, especially when it comes to a carbon footprint.
Let’s take the obvious example. The original farmscraper envisioned by Dickson Despommier, whose name everyone should know, is a 30-story building bearing a tremendous amounts of water and carbon-rich plant weight. What is such a structure’s carbon footprint?
Looking at one emblematic skyscraper (1 Penn Plaza for the purposes of this exercise), we can calculate the estimated square footage of such a farmscraper.* Once we have an estimated square footage, we can use a carbon footprint calculator to see where it falls. In New York City, the carbon footprint of one of Despommier’s vertical farms is 63,360 metric tons of CO2 just in construction.** This means that for every floor built, 2,112 tons of CO2 are released into the atmosphere. To put that into perspective, the average American produced 19.8 tonnes from 1980-2006 (much higher than the average Chinese citizen who only produced 4.6 tonnes).