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Rise Gardens 2023 Sustainability Impact Report

Rise Gardens 2023 Sustainability Impact Report

This document was compiled by Environmental Scientist and Sustainability Coordinator Lamija Memidzan, and Director of Research and Development Angelo Kelvakis at Rise Gardens. This document is meant to report sustainability information on Rise Gardens for the year 2022. The goal of this report is to inform the public and employees of Rise Gardens of the impact the company has on the local and global environment. This report is also meant to capture future initiatives and hold members of the Rise team accountable for improving the sustainability of the company.

Introduction

Rise Gardens designs state-of-the-art indoor hydroponic produce gardens that make it easy for anyone to grow their own food. The system makes a complicated process productive and fun for gardeners constrained by busy schedules, short growing seasons, or access to land in urban settings. The modular, smart IoT platform allows for expansion and enables the growth of a wide variety of greens and vegetables. Founded in 2019 and based in Chicago, Rise Gardens encourages better nutrition and health outcomes by helping people grow their own food year-round and by partnering with schools to build nutrition education into the classroom.

Rise Gardens builds and markets elegant home hydroponic gardening systems that make a complicated process easy, productive and fun. The movements toward sustainable and hyper-local food have created hundreds of millions of potential consumers globally who care passionately about the provenance and nutritional value of their food. We intend to serve them with an excellent product and unparalleled service. Our system is the most advanced consumer product on the market. It adapts commercial-grade hydroponic technology for consumer use. The Rise Garden ecosystem includes a manufactured appliance, an application that interfaces with the appliance, and a service that supplies customers with all the supplies to keep their system continuously productive. The system allows for modularity to grow a little or a lot of food at home in a beautiful package at an affordable price. Rise Gardens' mission is to connect people to the food they eat, to help them to grow more of their own food, and to inspire them to be conscientious food consumers.


Water Conservation

Rise Gardens

How Does Water Usage In Hydroponics Compare To Conventional Growing?

In conventional outdoor production, farmers are incentivised to use as much water as necessary in order to produce their crops. Areas like California, where 56.3% of the country's food exports are grown, have less than 50% of their water sources metered (CDFA 2020). This ensures that food production stays at the required level to feed everyone, but can lead to inefficient watering practices by farmers. Most farmers will simply top water their crops through large sprinkler systems, instead of implementing more costly, harder to maintain drip irrigation systems, which could save up to 90% of water (Road Island 2022).

When looking at hydroponic technology, water is conserved by limiting the amount of water lost to evaporation that occurs when dealing with a large field of soil. In a hydroponic system, the water is taken up by the plants and then returned to the main reservoir, all of which is enclosed, leading to a much smaller amount of water lost to evaporation.

In scientific studies comparing the water efficiency of soil to hydroponics, research shows a substantially higher efficiency when looking at the Liters of water per kg (L/Kg) of plant matter grown. One study conducted an experiment where open-field tomatoes were compared to greenhouse hydroponically grown tomatoes. Comparing several sources of data on field-grown tomatoes, they claimed that soil grown tomatoes take roughly 60 L/kg to grow, compared to hydroponics which takes only 15 L/kg (Nederhoff et. al 2010). Another study conducted a similar experiment where they compared a deep water culture hydroponic system to drip irrigation and standard soil growth. The hydroponic tomatoes consumed 120.2 L/kg vs drip irrigated plants which consumed 224.89 L/kg and soil which consumed 275.9 L/kg (Verdoliva et al. 2020). When comparing the growth of thyme plants in soil vs soilless growth medium, plants grown semi-hydroponically consumed 35% less water than their soil counterparts (2.134 kg / m^3 vs 0.754 kg / m^3) (Tawaha et al. 2016). Lastly, according to a study conducted in 2015, comparing resource usage by lettuce grown in Arizona, conventional soil farming used around 250mL water per g of lettuce produced (Barbosa 2015). When growing in a Rise Garden, it takes only 25mL of water to grow one gram.

Water efficiency breakdown:

  • Hydroponic tomatoes, on average, are 60% more water efficient than soil grown tomatoes.
  • Hydroponic thyme is 65% more water efficient.
  • Hydroponic lettuce is 90% more water efficient.

Impacts Of Drought On Outdoor Water Usage

As the effects of climate change continue to worsen, one major impact to our ability to grow our own food is access to municipal water. As drought conditions, heatwaves, and wildfires worsen, state and county governments implement water restrictions in order to limit the public usage of fresh water resources. This is important to people who are trying to grow their own food outdoors, because when these restrictions get severe, households may become restricted on the amount of water they are able to use on their outdoor plants. In most cases, restrictions are based on freshwater supply where reductions in the aquifer, lake, river, or other source drop below a certain percentage. For the most part, these restrictions are kept to lawns, decorative water fountains, and dust control with the initial stages of drought being to warn and inform citizens to restrict their unnecessary usage of water (edcgov.us). Restrictions continue when stages 2 and 3 are entered and the public is required to reduce their uses of both outdoor and indoor usage (edcgov.us). 

In 2022, the states that faced the most stringent water restrictions due to drought are California, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Montana (drought.gov). These states experienced the most severe drought over the longest period of time. Within these states, citizens face restrictions using any water outdoors and therefore are less likely to successfully grow food in their backyard or on their patio. 

When looking to build a more resilient food system, you should look towards methods of growing food that use less water. For outdoor growing, this looks like installing a drip irrigation system that delivers precise volumes of water to the base of all your plants, focusing water usage. For indoor growing, this looks like utilizing a hydroponics system that will use substantially less water per plant.

Rise Gardens

Food Miles


What Are Food Miles

The term arose from climate change scientists trying to capture the impact our food system has on our environment. One author states that food miles are “the life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with food production against long-distance distribution” (Weber Matthews 2008). This term helps to also show just how long after our food is harvested before reaching your dinner plate. Between the farm workers cutting the produce in the field, to the trucks shipping to grocery stores, to sitting in your home, your food can sit for quite some time before eating it.

United States Food Miles Data

Most of the food in the United States is grown in California, but a lot of that produce is exported across the globe and within the country. We source about 32% of all fresh produce from other countries (fda.gov). This food is shipped in and driven hundreds of miles before it reaches your local grocery store. 

A study conducted in 2003 looked at produce shipments reported by the USDA, comparing the distance traveled by locally produced produce, to conventional sources. They were able to generate food mile data using a Weighted Average Source Distance method to produce the table below (Pirog et al. 2003):

Rise Gardens

This table was taken from (Pirog et al. 2003) and describes ‘Locally Grown’ as sourced from a local farmers market vs a grocery store.


Rise Food Miles


Personal Rise Gardens Food Miles

Our Personal Rise Garden (PRG) is assembled and shipped by boat in a single delivery from Taiwan. From the port, it makes its way to our 3PL in Tennessee by truck. Using a sea distance calculator tool to calculate shipping distance by boat from port to port, it takes about 15,931 miles for our PRGs to arrive at the port, and then they are driven by truck to our 3PL which is about 369 miles away by car. This means our product travels about 16,300 miles before you place your order. From there, our farthest average customer is located in California, where another 2,500 miles must be traveled before the garden is in your hands. This means a total of 18,800 miles is traveled by your Garden!

The Rise Garden Food Miles

Our larger Rise Garden is assembled in Mexico and driven to our 3PL in truckloads. This is a distance of 1,915 miles, and then from our 3PL to our farthest average customer is another 2,500 yielding a total travel distance of only 4,415 miles.

Rise Garden Plant Pods

Our plant pods are assembled in New York where workers hand seed, label, and package each box. This means your plant pods travel 811 miles from New York to our 3PL, and then another 2,500 miles to our farthest customer in California. This means your packs of plant pods travel 3,311 miles from the time they are made, to your home.

Rise Dry Nutrients

Our latest nutrient product is a lightweight powder and is manufactured in Mexico, along with our gardens. This means it travels the same distance as our Rise Garden, 4,415 miles.

How This Breaks Down For You

In order for you to recover those food miles generated by your rise products, you will have to grow a lot of veggies. In order to figure out how these miles break down, we are going to use an example user who lives in California.

Example PRG User "Amy"

This user owns a PRG and is subscribed to Rise Membership. This means that her quarterly shipments come with 3 four packs of seeds and 3 months of nutrients. Her food miles start with her Garden which equates to 18,800 miles, and every year she gets 4 shipments of seeds and nutrients in the same box. This means that we can combine that last leg of the trip from the 3PL to her house so that each box has a food mile footprint of 1,915 miles for the nutrients, plus 811 miles for seeds and then 2,500 miles for the last leg of the trip. Each box contains 5,226 food miles. 

Recovering those food miles, Amy now grows 4 pods of basil, 4 heads of buttercrunch lettuce and 4 pods of red-veined sorrel within 3 months. With the average food miles for basil being 2,070 miles, 1,823 miles for lettuce, and 1,815 miles for sorrel, that is conventional food mileage of 8,280 + 7,292 + 7,260 = 22,830 miles. This means that she recovers 17,606 food miles every 3 months, or 5,868 miles per month. If Amy’s goal is to grow enough food to recover her quarterly shipments and the food miles from her garden, it will take her 3.2 months.


Nutrient Loss


Nutrient content in plants begins to break down once the plant is harvested. This can lead to significant losses in nutrition when consuming produce that has been transported far distances and is much older than you would expect. When looking at the many different plants that go through nutrient loss over time, one good example is to look at ascorbate loss in leafy greens. This is one of many different ways that plants can break down, but is the most widely studied, and therefore gives the best example of how and why someone may want to grow their own food, or shift their diets to more locally sourced foods, like farmers markets.

Ascorbate Loss In Leafy Greens

Vitamin C composed of ascorbate is found to have many different health benefits such as the synthesis of collagen, prevention of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, as well as it acts as an antioxidant (Dewherst et al. 2017). These benefits are lost when the plant is heated up, meaning you can only obtain these nutrients from raw plant tissue. This is why these specific chemicals are important to look at in leafy greens, because they are usually only consumed raw, not cooked.

A study conducted in 2017 looked at the impact of washing leafy greens like spinach, arugula, mustard greens, watercress, lettuce, red chard, and pea shoots, on the ascorbate content within 10 days of storage. The study found that depending on the type of plant, leafy greens lose an average of 35-86% of their ascorbate when washed, then stored at 4ºC for 10 days (Dewherst et al. 2017). The main reason they think this is happening is due to the mechanical stress placed on the leaves during the washing process (which happens to all store-bought leafy greens) which oxidizes the ascorbate, breaking it down into a non-beneficial chemical called oxalate.

Another study conducted in 2009, looked at the breakdown of nutrients in heads of cabbage over time, as cabbage is widely known to be a good storage crop. According to this study, “white cabbage can be stored under refrigerated conditions for up to 10 months, providing a continuous supply for the fresh market and for the production of processed foods such as coleslaw.” They also state that, “the highest levels of antioxidants were found in fresh-harvested cabbages. Long-term storage significantly reduced the content of ascorbic, caffeic, syringic and gallic/trihyroxybenzoic acids, as well as flavonoids artemetin, betanidin, malvidin, nobiletin and quercitol”. After only 3 months of storage, cabbage lost 100% of its pyridoxamine and ~80% of its ascorbate (Hounsome et al. 2009). Scientists have hypothesized that certain B vitamins (folic acid, vitamin B12, and pyridoxamine) might reduce cardiovascular disease risk by lowering homocysteine levels (nih.gov).


Rise Users


There are 3 different metrics we currently report on in order to frame the impact that our users have on their food systems. 

Total Pounds Of Produce Grown

As of December 2022, 157,576 lbs of produce were grown by all Rise customers. This is tracked using successful harvest data from our app and dates back to 2019. 

Water Diverted

As of December 2022, 4,254,494 gallons of water have been diverted by all Rise customers. This is calculated by taking all harvest data and comparing Rise Garden water usage to that of conventional agriculture.

Food Miles Diverted

As of December 2022, 231,184,914 food miles have been diverted by all Rise customers. This is calculated on a per-plant basis using the same methods described in the ‘Food Miles’ section of this document.



Recycling

Garden Life Cycle

The average customer uses our gardens for 3.3 years. We offer a 1 year warranty on electronics, and a 3 year warranty on non-electronic components. After thorough in-house testing of our electrical components, we have made vast changes from the first version of our gardens to the newest model.

Based on an analysis of our garden’s life, an engineering report determined that our New Rise Garden’s electronics were designed to last at least 5 years. The assembly of the Garden was also improved to allow for easier replacement of our lights, if they were to fail. However, when cycling the lights in our electronics, they were tested to the equivalent of 2200+ years of light cycling with no failures. The water sensor in the New Rise Garden is also enhanced as it is screwed down and its electronics are improved, lengthening the lifetime of that specific part. Additionally, both the pump and lights were improved upon for efficiency and durability. This means less failures, and less replacement parts. 

The life expectancy of our gardens is difficult to determine at this stage of the company’s growth. The company is 5 years old so the longest running garden is 5 years. In theory, with regular maintenance and replacement of parts as needed, your garden should last as long as you wish to garden! 

Garden Reuse and Recycling Today

For those looking to reuse or recycle their garden, the most sustainable thing someone can do is to restart their garden or pass on the garden to someone else, either as a gift or a resale. By trading/selling on the Facebook group, you continue the life cycle of a garden with minimal impact on the environment. If that is not an option, the next best option is to recycle the parts of your garden as designated recycling centers. Not all of our garden parts are recyclable through residential channels. Below is a list of the plastic products within our Garden and how to enter into this recycling search engine in order to find out if your area can process that specific part. This database allows you to input the individual part in the search bar, enter your zip code, and return a list of the closest recycling facilities that will allow you to recycle that part. Each city has different recycling restrictions per processing facility, so always check your jurisdiction’s restrictions first before recycling in your alley bin.

  • For net cups, select #7 rigid plastics
  • For PVC piping, select #3 rigid plastics 
  • For reservoir and/or reservoir lid, select #5 rigid plastics
  • For service door top and/or extension, select #6 rigid plastics
  • For tray lids, select #6 rigid plastics
  • For inner trays, select #6 rigid plastics
  • For base pans, select #6 rigid plastics
  • For nursery bases, select #6 rigid plastics
  • For nursery domes, select #1 plastic non-beverage bottles
  • For enclosure cover of control board, select #7 rigid plastics
  • For hole cover (of net cup/sensor holes), select #5 plastics
  • For the pump mount, select #5 rigid plastic
  • For the flexible tubing and extensions, you will have to dispose of that in the trash



Office Sustainability


Carbon Footprint Of Rise Employees

We conducted an internal survey to determine the impact of transportation on the office’s carbon footprint. Of the respondents to our internal survey, 78% of our employees reported working from home either sometimes or always. Of those that work from home, on average, employees report working from home 2.86 days. For the sake of this report, we will assume working from home eliminates an employee's carbon footprint for transportation related to work. 

The average one-way commute in Chicago is 34.6 minutes. Of the employees that commute to the office, 42.8% take public transport as a part of their commute, 50% bike or walk as a part of their commute, and 35.7% use a personal vehicle as a part of their commute. Many employees use mixed methods of transportation.

In 2022, the carbon footprint from all business-related flights amounted to 7.972 tons of CO2.  

Below are the flights taken and their respective emissions:

March Florida - LA - Vegas - Florida (only non-round trip flight) 0.630 t+0.132 t+0.591 t = 1.353t

October 3 people Chicago to Mexico 2.9t

October Chicago to NYC 0.474 t

October Chicago to DC 0.419 t

October Canada to Chicago 0.994 t

November Chicago to DC 0.419 t

December North Carolina to Chicago 0.434 t

December Mexico to Chicago 0.979 t

These values were calculated with the flight footprint tool from myclimate

Office Supplies And Daily Functions

Our average spend on office supplies was $68.39. We purchased office supplies multiple times per month.  

We have purchased sustainable tissues for the office. The brand we purchase, “Who Gives a Crap”, is made of 100% bamboo. These forest friendly tissues also are 100% carbon neutral when shipped. The tissues are 100% plastic free and 50% of company profits are donated.

We also collect packaging mailers to recycle with EcoShip. These mailers are then repurposed and distributed to businesses.

Within our office, we have a full kitchen which is in constant use, and through the company WasteNotCompost we have diverted 100% of all food waste from the kitchen area. This also includes any and all plant waste grown in our Rise Lab from experimentation. 



2025 Company Level Sustainability Goals


In our previous sustainability report from last year, we outlined 3 major goals for improving the sustainability of the company. In the first year of setting those goals we have accomplished one and will continue to work on the other two:

  • Goal 1: Switch from a liquid nutrient solution to a solid nutrient formula.
  • Goal 2: Create a fully integrated waste stream for our product between our users and us.
  • Goal 3: Increase community level sustainability initiatives from all employees of the Rise team.

Goal 1 Progress: Dry Nutrients

Our goal to provide a nutrient product with no water, and less plastic has been accomplished, and as of today, everyone who signs up to be a member gets dry nutrients in their shipments. In order to accomplish this goal, we had to completely redesign our nutrients so they would work in a powdered form, set up new manufacturing processes, and conduct extensive field studies to validate the growth of our plants with this new product. Below is a quick breakdown of why we chose to focus our energy into improving our nutrients.

What Are Dry Nutrients?

Dry nutrients are the same as our liquid nutrients, but in a powdered form. Instead of pouring them into your Garden, you simply scoop  a couple tsps of powder into your water. We have consolidated the nutrients into their pure, powder version and packaged them sustainably. Our dry nutrients arrive in kraft paper packaging, and weigh significantly less than their liquid counterparts. We achieved this by tweaking our current formula and optimizing it even further for the growth and health of plants. A little goes a long way with these nutrients!

Liquid Nutrients Impact

During 2022, we sold thousands of bottles of liquid nutrients. One large bottle of Sprout, Thrive, or Blossom weighs 69.27 grams when unfilled. One small bottle of Sprout or Thrive unfilled weighs 20.77 grams. Given the amount of bottles produced, this was equivalent to the weight of a male bison.

There are two sizes of our bottles of nutrients, one with 125mL that comes in your starter kit, and one with 500mL that can be purchased online. When manufacturing our liquid nutrients, purified water is the main ingredient by mass and given how many bottles were sold in 2022, over 2600 gallons of water was used. That is the equivalent of taking a shower for over 17 hours (LINK).

On average, our nutrients will travel 4,415 miles. This number takes into consideration our manufacturing in Mexico sending the nutrients to our third party logistics team, then out to the average distance a user lives from our 3PL processing facility. When considering the weight of a bottle of liquid nutrients, the carbon footprint adds up quickly.

Comparing Dry To Liquid Nutrients

If you were to switch over all of our users in 2022 to dry nutrients, you would see some significant impacts to their carbon footprint. An empty bottle of the 500 mL and 125 mL liquid nutrients weighs 69.27 and 20.77 grams respectively. On average, by switching to dry nutrients in kraft packaging, 894097.2 grams or over 1970 pounds of plastic would be saved. Switching all of these bottles to bags of dry nutrients would also save 2623 gallons of water.

It takes plastic about 400-500 years to decompose. And even when it does, it breaks down into tiny particles called microplastics. Our liquid nutrient bottles are made with virgin plastic to avoid contamination from other plastic sources. We can prevent pollution by reducing the amount of new plastic we introduce into the environment with our products. By transitioning to dry nutrients, we also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change.

Goal 2 Progress: Future Plans for Garden Reuse

With the release of our New Rise Garden, we know that there are many people with the original Family Rise Garden that may want to upgrade in the future. It can be difficult for customers to know what to do with their garden once they feel they are ready to retire their garden(s). 

For the future, we plan to introduce a Loyalty program to reward our growing customers and encourage the joy of gardening indoors. For those that no longer have the time or space to garden, we plan to develop a guide to support the sale and trading of gardens in the Facebook community group. This would include things like a refresh kit with new plumbing, and a new pump, and shipping boxes. 

We also plan on developing our gardens to be backwards compatible across all generations. Engineering is placing time and effort into maintaining old versions of the garden so all our users have an equal gardening experience. 

We offer replacement parts on all garden accessories on our website to ensure the longevity of the user’s gardening experience. The most sustainable thing to do with a garden is to continue its lifecycle by either gardening or passing on the gardening experience to someone else. We plan to continue developing accessories for the Rise Garden as well as regularly adding new seeds. We will accomplish this by launching a cleaning kit to decrease the time spent cleaning, while increasing the effectiveness of cleaning, using specialized tools and cleaning agents. We will also continue to generate new content on the best methods for cleaning your Garden.

Goal 3 Progress

This goal is the hardest to measure and make improvements on as these goals will rarely align with the profit driven incentives of running a startup. However, we all realize that there is inherent value in achieving these goals and will continue to make efforts to work towards community-level sustainability.

We have continued to participate in the Ravenswood 5k event, with proceeds going to the Ravenswood food pantry. Other events like CTA track cleanups, volunteer days, and food donations are still in progress.

We will continue to make efforts to partner with local businesses like breweries, plant shops, etc. in an effort to impact our local economy and strengthen our understanding of how our product can be utilized by other businesses. We have made several efforts to have schools utilize our product to teach children about sustainability and food systems, and will continue to widen our educational platform with curriculum and student case studies.


Conclusion

Ultimately, there is still a lot of work to be done at Rise in order to lower our carbon footprint and complete our 2025 goals. We pride ourselves on being a company poised to disrupt current food systems and will continue to make growing food at home more accessible and nutritious. For any questions or clarification on data presented in this report, please email our Rise Labs team at lamija@risegardens.com.

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