26 years ago the United Nations designated March 22 World Water Day – a day to focus our attention on the importance of freshwater and advocate for the sustainable management of this non-renewable resource. Food plays a major role in current efforts to create a more sustainable water management system, because growing food consumes 70 percent of the planet’s freshwater resources. A smarter approach to food – from production to consumption – can help address water scarcity and promote water efficiency. Whether it is through smarter irrigation, greater use of data and technology, better livestock and land management, promotion of healthier soils, or reductions of food loss and waste, food must be central to any discussion about ensuring water access to all. The NYC Food Policy Center is celebrating this year’s World Water Day by highlighting 12 organizations working inside and outside New York City to protect and conserve water.
Food and Water Watch
Type of Organization: Non-governmental organization focusing on corporate and government accountability relating to food, water, and corporate overreach
How They Conserve Water: Food and Water Watch champions healthy food and clean water for all by tackling major challenges around corporate control of water, corporate control of food, fracking, climate change, the environment and more. One of their current campaigns focuses on increasing the regulation of factory farming due to its negative impacts on the environment, our drinking water, rural communities, small-scale farmers, and the animals themselves. Runoff from factory farms can pollute streams, putting fresh water supplies from our major waterways and their ecosystems at risk. Food and Water Watch is advocating for strict regulations of factory farms to combat such public and environmental hazards.
Where To Find Them: Headquartered in Washington, D.C., with regional and international offices
Date Started: 2005
Director: Wenonah Hauter
Natural Resources and Defense Council
Type of Organization: Non-profit international environmental advocacy group
How They Conserve Water: The National Resource and Defense Council (NDRC) has several areas of interest, including food and water. They advocate for the reduction of harmful chemicals in our food, stronger pollution controls on industrial farms, and safeguarding of small farmers’ crops against climate change. Additionally, a major component of their focus is on how to reduce food waste and promote efficiency and sustainability from farm to fork to landfill. On the farm front, NDRC supports and promotes farmers who use water more efficiently through smarter irrigation and soil practices and encourages the government to better regulate the pollution from factory farms that enter our waterways.
Where To Find Them: Headquartered in New York City with offices in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Beijing
Date Started: 1970
President: Rhea Suh
Type of Organization: Profit company
How They Conserve Water: JUST Water understands that water is not an unlimited resource and that the current commercial brands of bottled water are not operating under a sustainable model of business. JUST Water is working to redesign that model into one that values water responsibly while reinvesting back into the communities where they work through a new type of bottled water. Under the current model, the company pays six times more than the municipal rate to access and bottle water for its customers. They believe this fair price actually raises the current watershed levels and encourages additional investment into water management infrastructure repairs. Packaged in paper-based bottles with plant-based caps, resulting in a 74 percent reduction in carbon emissions as compared to a standard plastic bottle. In addition, JUST Water is 100% spring-fed and 100% responsibly sourced.
Where To Find Them: Glens Falls, New York with offices in the United Kingdom and Australia
Date Started: 2012
CEO: Ira Laufer
Billion Oyster Project
Type of Organization: An ecosystem restoration and education project of the New York Harbor Foundation
How They Conserve Water: The Billion Oyster Project focuses on the preservation and restoration of the New York Harbor through the revitalization of oysters and reefs in order to restore the local marine ecosystem’s natural mechanisms for maintaining itself, thus resulting in cleaner water and greater biodiversity. Additionally, oyster reefs protect the city from storm damage, reduce flooding, and prevent erosion along the shorelines. The organization partners with 75+ restaurants across New York City to collect oyster shells that would have ended up in landfills and use them to promote the restoration of the New York Harbor. To date, the project has planted 28 million oysters in New York Harbors and recycled 1 million pounds of shells.
Where to Find Them: Governors Island, New York
Date started: 2014
Executive Director: Pete Malinowski
Type of Organization: Indoor hydroponic farm, farm accelerator
How They Conserve Water: Square Roots uses hydroponic farming technology to rethink the urban agriculture space. Their water supply runs through a closed-loop hydronic system, delivering nutrient-rich water directly to the crop’s roots and recirculating the water throughout the farm. The ability to recirculate allows the farm to use less than soil-based farming. Each two-acre farm, built inside in shipping containers, runs on approximately ten gallons of water per day, which is about 90 percent less r than the traditional farm. In addition to their innovative and data-driven approach to farming, Square Roots have made it part of their mission to mentor urban farmers and create more pathways for young people to launch successful careers in food and farming.
Where to Find Them: Brooklyn, New York
Date started: 2016
CEO: Tobias Peggs
Type of Organization: Agriculture Technology Company
How They Conserve Water: Understanding that 70 percent of the world’s freshwater is used for agricultural purposes, Teralytic has created soil probes to collect data on soil moisture that they are then able to use to provide farmers with information that will help them improve their irrigation management. With soil sensors constantly tracking moisture levels, growers can make more informed decisions about irrigation, adjusting levels based on data from the ground rather than weather predictions or guesswork. This means growers save water, increase yield, improve crop quality, and reduce labor. The result is a win-win in the end – the probes help farmers save money while reducing the environmental impact of agriculture.
Where to Find Them: New York, New York; Council Bluffs, Iowa; Berkeley, California; Tulare, California
Date started: 2016
CEO: Steve Ridder
Type of Organization: Plant-Based Meat Substitute Company
How They Conserve Water: Impossible Food has one simple mission: “To Save Meat. And Earth”. According to their website, animal agriculture occupies almost half the land on earth and consumes a quarter of our freshwater supply. Motivated by efforts to reduce humanity’s negative impact on the environment through our meat production and consumption, Impossible Foods created the Impossible Burger – a meat substitute made directly from plants. The Impossible Burger requires approximately 75 percent less water and 95 percent less land and generates about 87 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a conventional burger from cows.
Where to Find Them: While Impossible Foods may be headquartered in California, the Impossible Burger can be found in more than 200 locations here in New York City.
Date started: 2011
CEO: Pat Brown
Type of Organization: Indoor vertical farm
How They Conserve Water: Bowery Farming is an indoor agriculture company growing greens and herbs in warehouses. Combining robotics, hydroponics, sensors, machine learning, and data analytics, the company is able to grow high-quality produce at scale in urban spaces using far fewer resources than traditional agriculture. Armed with such data-driven precision, the company provides plants with only the exact amount of water required, resulting in a 95 percent reduction in water usage as compared to traditional agriculture. The company aims to grow food more efficiently and sustainably, and water conservation is a strong focus.
Where to Find Them: New York, New York and Kearny, New Jersey
Date started: 2015
CEO: Irving Fain
Type of Organization: Commercial urban farm
How They Conserve Water: Brooklyn Grange is well known in the urban agriculture space as the world’s largest creator of rooftop soil farms. Perhaps less known, however, are their concerted efforts to conserve water and support NYC’s water management system. Each year, Brooklyn Grange collects and reuses more than one million gallons of stormwater, easing the burden on the Red Hook Wastewater Pollution Control plant, which services 32,000 acres of Northwest Brooklyn. Their rooftop installations, which are responsible for retaining tens of thousands of gallons of rainfall, help keep stormwater out of our sewer system and helps combat New York’s Combined Sewer Overflow, ultimately reduce the amount of wastewater that overflows into our city’s open waterways. Additionally, nearly all of their farm installations employ water-efficient drip irrigation systems that include rain sensors and timers to ensure water isn’t being wasted.
Where to Find Them: Long Island City and Brooklyn Navy Yard, New York
Date started: 2010
President: Ben Flanner
Type of Organization: Aeroponic commercial farm
How They Conserve Water: AeroFarms is the world’s largest indoor vertical farm. Instead of submerging the roots of plants in the water, aeroponics mists the roots with nutrients, water and oxygen in a closed-loop system, resulting in 40 percent less water usage than hydroponic farms and less than 1 percent of the land required by traditional farming to achieve the same harvest yield. AeroFarms is, therefore, both water- and land-use efficient. They are aiming to flip agriculture’s paradigm of exploitation of resources to one of preservation and conservation.
Where to Find Them: Newark, New Jersey
Date started: 2004
CEO: David Rosenberg
Green Restaurant Association
Type of Organization: International nonprofit organization
How They Conserve Water: The Green Restaurant Association (GRA) strives to make the restaurant industry more environmentally-conscious and sustainable through their certification system, which rates the restaurant’s environmental accomplishments in energy, water, waste, food, chemicals, disposables, and building. In terms of water efficiency, GRA looks into its use around landscaping, kitchen, restrooms, and other areas. Restaurants are given a score on a scale from one star to a Sustainabuild Badge, providing transparency to customers and a diagnostic tool for the restaurant to make necessary changes in order to become greener.
Where to Find Them: Operates in 41 states, including New York, and in Canada. You can find Green certified restaurants in New York City here.
Date started: 1990
CEO: Michael Oshman
Type of Organization: A biomimetic design company specializing in passive water capture systems to enhance sustainable food production
How They Conserve Water: NexLoop is rethinking urban food systems by borrowing conservation techniques from nature to use water more efficiently, especially in water-stressed regions and rapidly urbanizing areas. NexLoop developed the AquaWeb – a modular building facade system – to help urban food producers collect, filter, store and distribute water from atmospheric sources such as rain, fog and humidity for use in food production. This strategy allows urban farms, including greenhouses, vertical farms, container farms, and the cities that house them to save energy and become more water resilient.
Where to Find Them: New York City, Boston, San Francisco, Stuttgart, Zadar
Date started: 2016
Directors: Jacob Russo, Anamarija Frankic, C. Mike Lindsey