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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture

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Vertical Greenhouse Co. Seeks to Bring Fresh, Affordable, Low Carbon-footprint Produce to Urban Areas

February 15, 2012 |

Rendering of a Plantagon Greenhouse

Plantagon is a Stockholm-based urban agriculture company that strives to balance commercial and values-based forces to simultaneously achieve profitability and ‘do good.’ To do this, it has introduced the Plantagon Greenhouse, a vertical greenhouse designed to bring fresh, affordable, low-carbon-footprint produce to urban areas. According to the company, the greenhouses’ efficiency and high productivity make them economically viable – it’s possible to finance each greenhouse from its own sales.

The structure of the Plantagon Greenhouse is spherical, to maximize available light, and has at its core a transport mechanism that slowly spirals planting boxes upward, a few centimeters at a time, as the plants grow. The mature plants at the top are pushed onto a harvest platform and new seed and soil boxes are pulled in at the bottom. According to the company’s website, the greenhouse takes up 10,000 square meters of ground, but is equal to 100,000 square meters of cultivated land – and is five to 10 times more efficient to maintain, doubles to quadruples profit per square meter, and produces three times more crops than traditional growing.

Though in its beginning phases, Plantagon has already received numerous nominations and accolades, including winning the “Innovator Idol” prize at Globe Forum in 2009 and the 2011 Red Herring Top 100 Europe Award. Right now is an exciting time for Plantagon, as it just held its very first groundbreaking ceremony on February 9, 2012 in Linköping, Sweden. Construction of the greenhouse will take an estimated 12 to 16 months.

Seedstock recently asked Plantagon Business Development Manager Gustav Gorecki to answer a few questions about the workings of the company and its plans for the future. Here’s what he had to say:

Q: What was the inspiration for Plantagon, and how was it transformed from an idea into a functioning business?

A: We wanted to show the world that it is more profitable to do business in a more sustainable way. However, due to the high innovation level and the development resources it demands, it will take some time for our first innovation to show profit. But as we promote a more long-term thinking in society, it’s in line with our model.

A functioning business is dependent on a good team of people, so the first step was to concretize the idea and the vision in order to attract good people that could realize the idea.

Q: Your website says you wanted to make money while doing good – why did you feel greenhouses were the best avenue? What sets Plantagon apart from other greenhouse businesses?

A: The driving force behind vertical greenhouses is hard to question. The urbanization is ongoing, more and more people are moving into the cities. The transportation of vegetables into the cities brings heavy emissions and costs. Ordinary horizontal greenhouses inside the cities aren’t possible due to lack of space. In order to cultivate inside cities we have to do it vertically. Growing inside cities brings on many other advantages since we can make use of spillage heat from the surrounding buildings to heat up the greenhouse. We can also use carbon dioxide from surrounding industries for the first phase of the growing process, since it demands a higher concentration of carbon dioxide. We are also working on a solution to make use of the grey water in the city for irrigation.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit more about the interactions between the for-profit and nonprofit, and why you decided this would be the best model?

A: We felt that the ordinary corporate model could become more responsible with influence from the nonprofit model. And the nonprofit model could learn to become more commercial from the corporate model, in other words, less dependent on contributions.

By incorporating ethical frameworks in the articles of association in the corporation and the statutes of the nonprofit, the organizations are obliged to follow the frameworks. The corporation “gives away” 10 percent of the stocks to the nonprofit, when it’s up and running with a significant number of members. The nonprofit appoints 50 percent of the board in the corporation. After being a member in the nonprofit for 10 years (or by signing up for a 10-year membership directly), the member receives a Closure Right, which gives the holder the right to her/his part of the profit if and when the corporation is sold. To ensure and stimulate long-term perspective thinking, the Closure Right first has to be passed on for seven generations.

Q: How does Plantagon make money? Who are the customers?

A: Product/services: greenhouse solutions, and the company is quite new and has spent it first years developing the greenhouse solution together with our manufacturing partner SWECO and developing the CSR-educational material.

Another revenue source will of course be membership fees in Plantagon’s nonprofit association. These membership fees will make it possible to invest in more sustainable ideas. Our customer will differ in each case. If we sell the greenhouse solution to a property developer, the developer is our customer. If Plantagon chooses to invest in the building, the property management company will be the customer. In some cases a supermarket can buy their own solution and become our customer. Conclusion: the investors are of many sorts so it will differ who our customer will be.

Q: How does Plantagon plan to market its products to customers?

A: It’s up to the operator of the greenhouse. The buildings will be according to highest standard, e.g. LEED[-certified]. The vegetables produced will be organic, locally cultivated and with much less impact on our environment. Those are the main reasons to buy our vegetables.

Q: What does the company see as the biggest challenges to scaling its business?

A: Time. Construction processes takes a very long time with permissions, projection, etc…

Q: Does the company have any competition?

A: Only on small scale, this is the first solution for large production of vegetables in vertical greenhouses.

Q: Does the company want to have an international footprint?

A: Yes, the interest is strong worldwide, we [are trying] to focus on China and Sweden right now.

Q: Where do you see Plantagon in the next 5 or 10 years?

A: Having 100,000 members in our nonprofit association that can suggest and finance ideas – ideas that can make the world a better place. Having 100 vertical greenhouses up and running.

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