Viraj Puri


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LIVE TED Convo: Join TED Fellow Viraj Puri: What innovative development solutions are most appropriate for your city, region or country?

Viraj will be LIVE answering questions from 1pm - 2:30pm EST

Most of my career has been spent in the broadly defined field of "appropriate technology". Currently I am involved in commercial-scale urban agriculture in New York City. My company, Gotham Greens, is dedicated to growing the highest quality vegetables and culinary herbs for local restaurants and retailers. Gotham Greens designed, built, and now operates the nation’s first commercial scale, urban hydroponic greenhouse facility, located on the rooftop of a manufacturing building in, Brooklyn, NYC. The premium quality, pesticide-free vegetables and herbs is grown in sterile rooftop greenhouses using clean, renewable energy. We’ve selected technically-sophisticated Controlled Environment Agriculture -- a combination of horticultural and engineering techniques -- that lends itself well to the built environment. We believe its an appropriate technology for NYC - a city of 8 million people that imports nearly all of its food. The city lacks arable land but does have many acres of unused available rooftop space.

There are a number of ways to farm responsibly and sustainably. Our methods have been selected based on our unique geographic location. This form of agriculture may not be appropriate for all regions. I believe infrastructure, technological, and development solutions must appropriate for a given geographical, environmental, and cultural context.

What innovative development solutions are most appropriate for your city, region or country?

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    Jul 2 2011: I wish someone would come up with a solution for three of the main problems I see in Paris, my current hometown:

    1) We have lots of homeless people who are not being taken care of in a sustainable way.
    2) The streets are dirty (except for representative areas like the Boulevard St. Germain); recycling about to become an important topic, but not everyone is aware of it.
    3) The street cleaning service is using water (!) to wash away the dirt on the street -- at the same time, the local authorities are trying to promote the Parisian tap water as spring water rich in minerals.

    My previous hometowns in Germany -- Munich, for example -- are ready for innovations like urban agriculture, alternative energies or similar programs. Although I love Paris for its history, its culture and its atmosphere, it is hard to see that some things are going terribly wrong there.
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    Jul 1 2011: I think that my native region of Birmingham, Alabama is perfect for all sorts of agricultural developments. Seeing innovative development solutions spring to life in otherwise forgotten areas helps to reinvigorate passion and infuse concerned citizens with a sense of purpose. Most of the major metropolitan area of Birmingham, Alabama is covered in pavement/asphalt. I think we could rediscover the dead areas above the impenetrable ground with a system of hanging gardens. They could be made of lightweight materials that withstand high wind and storm damage (do those exist)? The filtered runoff from the paved ground could be used as a water source (thousands of gallons are displaced each time it rains in that region). Parking decks, parking lots, oversized sidewalks--they could all use a little garden! Alabama's ecosystem is pretty diverse as it is, but an innovative development solution such as this could help remind us that it's one of the best places to grow and nurture plant life and harbor sustainable life for our citizens.
  • Jul 2 2011: I think that the way that we work needs to change... We "work" 40 hour weeks and spend another 5-20 hours per week commuting, when we're competing with talent with similar skill sets a world away.

    Working from home. Less hours. Distributed workloads. More technology to collaborate, exchange and build. I think these things stimulate creativity and put less burden on the employee, as well as, the company and it's bottom line.

    Changing the WAY we work and giving up on an old model is an innovative development I like us as a culture to embrace...
  • Jul 2 2011: Dear Mr. Puri,

    Your vision and intention runs parallel to Dr. Rosemary Sharpins' in that she has held fast to improving the worlds need for safe food/water for all. While the world is dealing with eColi, salmonella etc your efforts and hers will help to sustain the planet and "the plant". You 2 should get together! B2P, ' Blue to Pink', the essence of simplicity in testing for E.coli, and knowing about contamination with human and animal waste through the whole food supply chain....from Farm to fork.

    " Find the E.coli, and manage them, before the E.coli find you or your customers!"

    B2P™ has developed a radically improved system for simple, fast, effective food and water safety testing which enables all operators in the food and water supply chain to detect contaminating bacteria before the bacteria reach the consumer and cause illness. B2P™ ’s technology allows for the detection of contaminants in a range of solid and liquid mediums, including fresh water, sea water, dairy products, meat, shellfish and dry food and leafy green vegetables and other produce and, audit and tracing of contaminants through the whole supply chain.
    B2P™ has built core competencies in innovative research, strategic marketing and scientific design. The company is focused on development of new products to meet the requirements of the end user, including state of the art instrumentation to allow faster, more accurate testing. B2P™ is building a Global distribution network to ensure its products can be used by anyone, anywhere at anytime.

    B2P™ was established in 2003 by Dr Rosemary Sharpin, a leader in the New Zealand·biotechnology industry and she was named New Zealand's most distinguished biotechnologist in 2000. The company has been granted patents and has patent applications filed in New Zealand, Australia, Canada,United States and Europe. B2P™ products are manufactured in ISO9001 accredited facilities, in accordance with GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice).
  • Jul 1 2011: Stop making people drive to work to sit in a cubical when no in personal interaction is needed. Almost everyone has a computer and internet service in their homes now. Why should everyone drive miles away to work, wasting valuable time on driving while polluting the air and using tons of oil products.

    You can easily send documents via email to be proofread, edited, and redesigned. You can have teleconferences or video conferences. You can even have online collaboration meeting where many people can view and edit the same project together in real-time. All of this online document activity has an additional bonus: Less wasted paper.

    Telecommuting reduces the amount of time behind the wheel therefore reducing carbon emissions, traffic, oil consumption, and pollution. It allows for more quality family time with the absence of a commute and allows for working parents to play a more active role in raising their children, creating a better future for our our society.

    Reduces Stress, Reduces Sick Days, Reduces Travel Time, Reduces Traffic Congestion, Reduces Carbon Emissions, Reduces Oil Dependency, Reduces Noise, Reduces Damage to Roads, Reduces Time Children Spend at Daycare, Reduces Paper Waste, Reduces Company Overhead Costs, Reduces Office Space Needed,

    Increases Productivity, Increases Time With Family, Increases Morale, Increases Health, Increases Profits, Increases Company's Reputation, Increases Creativity, Increases Life of Roads, Increases Our Chances For A Better Future.
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    Jul 1 2011: HI,

    Over the last two years, people in India have seen the cost of basic food items increase many fold. Concurrently, the cost of petrol including LPG (which is most commonly used as cooking fuel) has also increased at a painful rate. Thus not only has the cost of buying basic food increased many fold, but so has the cost of cooking it at home.

    One option would be to grow some basic food stuffs at home and use solar cookers to cook. But not every one has the space to grow veges at home (no access to roofs either if you live in a flat), and most conventional solar cookers cannot cook important staples like bread (chapati).

    What low tech, economical solution can you recommend to address such issues ?
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      Jul 1 2011: Hi Radhika,
      In addition to solar cookers, there are also fuel efficient, improved designed cookstoves that have been designed specifically for certain regions in India. If you search "Improved Chulhas" you are bound to find great designs that are patent-free, as well as video on how to install them.
      In addition to reducing fuel cost, the construction and selling on these stoves can provide an additional income stream to masons and metal workers. the improve cookstove design uses far less wood than conventional biomass stoves which also improves indoor air quality.
      The 'rocket stove' is a great design
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    Jul 1 2011: In the Medford, Oregon area we have a pretty significant homeless, and on the edge of homelessness, population. Issues with unemployment and underemployment. We have a pretty long growing season. Lots of wine/grape production, pears. Thanks for the comment on agri-tourism. Siskiyou Sustainable Foods Coop and our Local Foods initiative does that. Certainly the wine tours take advantage of that.I liked this TED Talk onagriculture and cities -
    And this TED Talk on integrating Life with living -
  • Jul 1 2011: Hi Viraj, I know of a monastery on the plains where a small community of nuns live and work. They've got a good deal of land and even have some housing that was built for a community college that no longer has a residential program. They're looking for sustainable ideas for shared use of property that could continue beyond their residence in the distant future. They're already using windmills and they breed some animals. I like the ideas you gave to Bruce but I think they are in too rural of an area for tourism. I'm wondering if they could get involved with healthy school lunches or something similar but they would need a partner. Any ideas?
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      Jul 1 2011: Hi Meag, Perhaps they have special recipes of some of processed food like sauces, jams, deserts, pickles, pestos, etc, something that can be produced, marketing and then exported to the surrounding area and beyond? with some clever marketing and branding, it might create a fun, additional source of income for the community. just a thought!
  • Jul 1 2011: We recently moved to Southwest Arkansas and there is very little organic produce or recycling here. People do not think in these term yet. How is the best way to educate people?
    • Jul 1 2011: As a former math, physics and calculus teacher who is now a 41 yrs. old entrepreneur, my experience is that you can 'teach' children, but you have to mildly 'suggest' things to adults --- if you can be creative and have adults think the idea is their own, all the better ... :) :) :)
  • Jul 1 2011: In answer to your question:Tesla Technologies are 'appropriate', however, they mess with capitalism.

    Power is a key component to farming, from irrigation to machine use.
    Presently the amount of use of unnecessary fossil fuels is incredible and hard to account for.
    Clean electric power has been kept from society for far too long with too many phony excuses.

    Any technology that is disruptive to established commercial interests by the BIG BOYS, never see the light of day.Here in Nova Scotia, Canada we have some places in the Bay Of Funday which have 54ft tidal differential, however, the business elite are too invested and entrenched in contracts involving coal fire electric generators, for GREEN technologies to ever make it through the bureaucratic mind field. They put up a few wind mills to appease a few people, but COAL is KING in Nova Scotia (Canada's most backwards province)

    I hope this comment was not too 'politically incorrect' for your discussion.

    Lux et Veritas!
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      Jul 1 2011: You're absolutely right, Glenn. There is significant fossil fuel use in agriculture. Here at Gotham Greens we've installed a 55kW solar PV system to help meet the electrical needs of our greenhouse. We paid close attention to energy use and efficiency in the design of our facility from selection of construction materials to using the most efficient equipment possible. Our proximity to the retail market also reduces the impacts of long distance food transport, including fossil fuel use and the associated carbon emissions
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    Jul 1 2011: Hi Viraj -- I'm really interested in rooftop farms and the projects you've undertaken in Brooklyn. How do you think city and state governments and agencies could get involved to grow this movement? Besides offering tax credits, how do you convince those that couldn't care less where their produce comes from to support this type of project?

    Do you think it plausible for a larger organization, such as yours, to lease space on residential or industrial rooftops for farms on a wider scale and sell the produce at market? Would that ever be fiscally sustainable?
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      Jul 1 2011: Thanks, Will! Absolutely; I think for urban agriculture to be feasible on a commercial scale, real estate interests must be considered. Land use is competitive in many urban areas, particularly in New York City. rooftops are largely unused spaces so there is room for creativity to capitalize and create commercial value from such spaces. And for smaller residential rooftops, it simply helps the greening of our city which has positive impacts on storm water management and energy efficiency.
      We plan to expand to more industrial rooftops in the future. Stay tuned!
  • Jul 1 2011: How does your technique relates to permaculture?
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      Jul 1 2011: As i understand the term 'permaculture' it refers to 'permanent agriculture' that is practiced in a holistic way with regard to its immediate surrounding environment, with lots of synergies and minimized waste. waste products of one process can be inputs for another and land us used efficiently and sustainably.

      Our methods, while more technological can also be viewed as a form of permaculture because of our resource conservation, and synergy with the urban environment. Granted there is more technology in our system compared to traditional permaculture but that technology and automation reduces labor and resource use and we are part of the urban fabric and environment
  • Jul 1 2011: How would one go about finding what's right for their community? I live in Lexington, KY.
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    Jul 1 2011: I live on a 1/2-mile high plateau in central Washington state. It is semi arid and mostly winter wheat country. My town, Waterville is 1,200 and struggling. Suggestions?
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      Jul 1 2011: Bruce, not exactly sure how wheat is irrigated in your region but drip irrigation has been very successful in other areas.Agri-tourism is becoming popular in some regions as more people, particularly urban dwellers, are interested in the food system, how food is produced and sustainable food initiatives. Perhaps your area can promote agri-tourism: bed and breakfasts, farm stays, farm volunteering, etc. activites like 'corn mazes', cheese making, pickling, are increasingly popular.
  • Jul 1 2011: In our city, we have a great need for a new arena. I am hoping the arena applies green and reusable practices. What are some examples out there in the world that has this?
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      Jul 1 2011: Hi Christina, I don't know any specific example of arenas with cutting edge practices but some initiatives would include energy efficiency and renewable energy use. Arenas traditionally use lots of electricity and are large areas that need to be conditioned. Combined Heat and Power (CHP) may be appropriate as well as on site solar PV if your city is sunny. Presumably the roof area would have a large surface area. Also covered parking structures who's canopy doubles as a soalr PV array would be neat. Can use compostable plates/cups for the concession stands, collect rainwater for plumbing, etc. I know the Philadelphia Eagles were talking about installing windmills at their stadium.
    • Jul 1 2011: Hi Christina, we have just build an area in our comminty that you may be interested in. I am located in Ontario, Canada. Here is the link
    • Jul 1 2011: Hello Christina, I work at a 13,000 seat arena in Texas. We have briefly looked into reducing our energy costs by using renewable resources such as solar arrays on the roof and it is not as easy as it sounds. The big problem is money, nobody is willing to justify spending the 7 figures it would take to install. In addition to the additional budgetary incursion that specialized equipment and trained manpower to maintain such a complex piece of technology, we would have to reinforce our roof structurally to be able to handle the weight and that would be more added cost. I agree, it would be much cheaper to do it in the design and building phase but we are still talking about a couple million dollars to save a couple tens of thousands of dollars a year. The technology is not advanced enough or cheap enough to produce the amount of power needed by a large facility for their regular operations, much less large concerts. With arenas having at least 40-50 year lifespans (or longer if they are well maintained), it is my opinion it will be a long time before we see any significant use of renewable resources in the arena/convention hall industry. BUT, I hope I am proved wrong. :-)
      • Jul 1 2011: Josh, Has your arena looked into grant opportunities to fund a green energy renovation? Or corporate sponsorship?
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    Jul 1 2011: An example of an appropriate technology project I worked on is passive solar green building in Ladakh, India. Its a remote Mountainous region on the western edge of the Tibetan Plateau. Its essentially a high altitude desert extermely rich in soalr energy potential. Our passive solar buildings were made of rammed earth - which is made from local raw materials and which blended in very well with traditional architecture and building style. The rammed earth has very high thermal mass which helped in keeping buildings warm in the winter without artificial heat. rammed earth might not be a silver bullet for other regions but certainly worked extremely well in Ladakh - environmentally and culturally.