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SUFI provides an integrated hub that sustainably manages the urban energy-water-food nexus in an era of climate change.



SUFI is an effort to provide an integrated environment - facilities, services and practical knowledge - to more sustainably manage the urban energy-water-food nexus in an era of climate change. The SUFI improves the resilient capacities of urban communities by:

·         Mitigating the acceleration of climate change by reducing or eliminating the demand on energy, water and land use (and release of GHGs) associated with food production, especially as this demand increases with population growth and consumption.

·         Providing adaptive capacity to growing urban populations in areas where some of the effects of climate change may be irreversible (e.g. diminished access to water).

While the SUFI is an effort to increase urban environmental resilience in the face of climate change, it has many additional economic and social benefits that improve a community’s collective Triple Bottom Line. 

The foundation of the Hub is a vertical, aquaponics farm that grows and harvests fresh fruit and vegetables. In a Hub, we adopt technology and practices to minimize demands on energy, water and land; eliminate waste and wastewater; and potentially regenerate and restore blighted urban landscapes. The concept of a Hub is modular by design as the application of certain technologies and processes are inherently site specific.

The key components of the Hub are not new in that they leverage existing, proven technology, tools, practices and know-how related to urban agriculture, aquaculture, energy efficiency, renewable energy, the circular economy and green job creation. We combine all these elements, however, in an integrated model that delivers environmental, economic and social benefits. 

What actions do you propose?

The scope of this proposal focuses on establishing the first Hub in the Boston metro area. Major startup activities include:

·         Stakeholder engagement (local and national)

·         Fundraising and grant application

·         Site selection and permitting

·         Facility renovation and buildout

·         Farm design, construction and planting

·         Hiring and job training

Who will take these actions?

We propose to establish a for-profit, social enterprise in the form of a B Corp and/or benefit corporation to execute and safeguard the SUFI mission. Partner and stakeholder contributions will also be necessary to project success.

What are the key challenges?

Key Hub features and benefits:

Vertical, aquaponics farm in existing, possibly abandoned, urban structure (e.g. warehouse). 

·         No new land cleared for agriculture.

·         Reuses existing structures with embodied energy and materials; little/no demo waste generated.

·         Reduces fossil fuel use as food travels shorter distances.

Energy efficient equipment: lighting, refrigeration, irrigation

·         Grid energy: reduces grid-related fossil fuel use and GHG emissions.

·         RE: reduces energy load, and thus the capital and O&M costs of RE systems.

Water efficient equipment for irrigation and HVAC; greywater reuse; and rainwater collection.

·         Reduces stress on water sheds.

·         Reduces energy requirement, GHG emissions.

Renewable energy (RE) to meet energy needs. (PV, solar thermal, wind)

·         Reduces electric grid-based fossil fuel use and GHG emissions.

Other technologies with potential Hub application to reduce GHG emissions: green roofs, microgrid and WTE. 

What are the key benefits?

SUFI also provides several additional social and economic benefits:

·         Provides fresh, healthy food to urban residents, who often have limited access to fresh food, improving health and well-being.

·         Supports farm-to-table movement and sustainable food service industries.

·         May regenerate water for return to municipal systems and local water sheds.

·         Supports growth of local RE sector.

·         Promotes socio-economic development by creating 15-75 new jobs per Hub and providing job training for transferable skills.

What are the proposal’s costs?

The initial capital and first year’s operating costs of implementing the first Hub are highly dependent on site-specific parameters and financial terms (e.g. leases), but are estimated to be $25-45/ft2. We anticipate, however, that a major  portion of these costs can be offset in following ways:

-          Partnerships with corporations, public agencies, SRI investors and NGOs that have a stake in the energy-water nexus and/or have a particular interest in a Hub location (e.g. geographic proximity).

-          Grants and awards from state and local governments that encourage and recognize economic development and neighborhood revitalization.

-          Rebates, incentives and grants from state, local and Federal government to install RE (e.g. SRECs) or to make energy efficiency improvements (e.g. LED lighting).

Time line

1st Hub, Somerville, MA 18-24 months

Subsequent Hubs: TBD. Candidates include: Memphis, St. Louis, Newark, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Los Angeles. Starting after 1st Hub completed, 12-18 months each Hub, with 6-month stagger.

Related proposals

Value not set.


Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index, ND-GAIN (ND-GAIN)