Read the exclusive interview with Michael Parkes, CEO & Founder of Bios, where he talked about his innovative startup and how it uses energy and low carbon technologies for building integrated operating systems, how the collaboration with Nova SBE came about, and how decisive it can be to integrate innovative sustainable technologies to ensure responsible consumption and production.
Michael, you're the CEO and Founder of BIOS, a startup company that uses energy and low carbon technologies for building integrated operating systems using indoor farming. Can you please explain how exactly does this work?
Bios integrates indoor farming systems with existing data centers in the building to recover waste energy and improve decision-making for optimization of resources across operations of the whole structure. We evaluate a location based on the available data to identify materials waste (energy, water, and other resources) and unused real estate space for integrated solutions. Including indoor farming systems, energy generation, and resource use efficiency equipment.
This can increase asset value as the clients Building Integrated Operating Systems (BIOS) will provide live data to make decisions for optimum health (of humans, plants, and Earth) in buildings while having live access to the data for reporting against SDGs, ESG, GHGs, Carbon, and Green Building certification frameworks. The ability for clients to make decisions based on live data now will impact the quality of life offered by the location to its community in the future.
Bios leverages the use of undervalued space, data, and waste of buildings to provide a clean technology that integrates zero carbon building goals. Our ultimate aim is to transform the future of green buildings to secure the inclusion of green jobs and access to clean food in urban areas.
So given the current context, what difference can BIOS make in creating green and culturally inspiring living conditions and guaranteeing sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources?
The systems scientist part of me is always interested in understanding the interaction of biological, energy, ecological, and human transactions with each other. These transactions generate data already. It is only through the integration of existing data centers with new technologies that we can understand and improve our impact.
There is a massive shift in our collective awareness about the need for green. However, this can be complex to define in terms of resource use and identification of sustainable interventions. The negative impact of food and energy supply chains on the environment is very well known! This is a result of the entanglement of corporate and institutional systems with the natural world. Data related to this food/energy impact exists in different systems and can be used to identify the baseline of our impact as it is now. Then decisions can be taken to improve resource use efficiency and sustainable business management to service our most valuable resource – Earth.
Culture can be understood as a collection of norms, behaviors, and actions and their subsequent impact on the world. In 2021, the power of the digital world to change collective behavior on a global level by leveraging the digital world in service human health cannot go unnoticed. Bios has been encouraged by the calamity to promote to all actors and future clients. The data exists already. This can be used to ensure healthy conditions of future occupants and communicate transparently, and create digital information about the value they bring to their community.
How did the partnership with Nova School of Business & Economics (Nova SBE) come about, and how important is it for BIOS?
Early in Bios' development, we had the chance to run the maze with the Maze-X Accelerator program in 2019. It was at one of these rooftop networking parties that a team member at the time met someone from the Nova SBE student club GreenNova (now entitled oikos Lisbon), who suggested I connected with Nova SBE's Chief Sustainability Officer, Luís Vega Martins. At that time, we were at the stage where we had done some basic business modeling, technology evaluation, and energy impact modeling.
Our pitch back then was, "We are developing a technology to improve energy efficiency and CO2 footprints of high-energy consuming buildings by transforming wasted energy into food". The goal was to discover an interest in piloting with Bios to create a prototype on-site, and after a lot of work together, now in 2021, we have our Bios greenhouse installed on-campus.
How can Nova SBE contribute to the success of Bios?
Urban Agriculture (UA) has been an emerging industry for decades now. Its aims to produce and improve access to healthy food in densely populated areas. This is honorable. The past work of UA pioneers has made a massive contribution to community gardens, school farms, and local farm allotments, which are important for access to local food. By bringing the farm to the urban doorstep, UA can take targeted action towards a circular economy, social inclusion, and climate change mitigation.
There are multiple types of UA and technologies used for achieving an impact across social, environmental, and economic dimensions. The acceptance of different technologies has been demonstrated in urban agriculture and horticulture solutions active now globally using high-tech, low-tech, community, and combinations to discover a sustainable solution. Currently, the challenge for UA is to create a repeatable and sustainable business model for operating an urban farm. We believe this can be achieved by using past projects to develop a sustainable community-owned food/farming business. This is the perfect challenge to test with young adults, entrepreneurs, and local community members, young or old, connected to Nova SBE, one of the EU's leading business universities.
The project shows how to produce in sustainable ways while making cities safe, resilient, and sustainable. Nova SBE provides the grounds of its bright campus but also its community. Can you tell us how the Nova SBE community can also play a major role in test-driving and improve the project? Can you explain a little more about what can – and already is – taking place in that sense?
Nova SBE is setting up an intervention to occur whereby a campus for education and commerce transforms the approach to a living building by partnering with Bios. Nova SBE has unused space that is perfect for a greenhouse on-site where a local community consumes salads. This brings value to underutilized space, and an indoor growing chamber is integrated with energy, water, and air circulation systems where data is captured using the Internet of Things – IoT across climate, nutrients, video, filters, and energy. By having access to existing data centers and treated data, Bios offers a testbed of data to analyze the impact of the whole system to recover wasted resources while improving efficiency. Fifty salads per day will be produced annually for direct consumption by the community through on-site and local food services. By bringing nature into the ecosystem of the day-to-day operating of the climate, water, and energy systems, Bios provides a new dimension to analyzing the health of the living system of Nova SBE.
We can't wait to share more details about on-site activities when we prepare for our launch in 2021! Stay tuned for June!
Nova SBE took a stand and made the 17 Sustainable Development Goals its official language, putting sustainability at our impact model's center. What about BIOS? Given that BIOS is not just an ordinary vertical indoor farming project and promotes innovative sustainable technologies and responsible consumption and production, would you say that it is definitely a project that also has the 2030 Agenda at its core?
Shifting paradigms in how buildings utilize electricity and data require us to rethink the use of space and waste in the everyday human activity of living. Clean technology is all about integration to achieve the combined goals of the UN's global commitment by applying SDGs in parallel with ESG frameworks for investing to increase the long-term value of assets for owners and occupants. The primary challenge facing both SDGs and ESG validation for impact is access to live real-world data against the complexity of different frameworks.
This can be seen in the indoor vertical farming industry's current leaders in their field, whereby they take a varied approach to promote the impact of their solutions. For example, Infarm and Plenty focused on presenting accumulated data against some variables. Whereas Aerofarms clearly communicates its commitment across SDG 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 13, 14, and 15. These leaders demonstrate benefits for supplying food into an existing food system with more efficient production per square meter while reducing waste, food miles, water, and removing the need for human workers does generate data. However, the data available in industry is not provided for life cycle assessment of the plants grown, carbon footprints, direct community health benefit and/or total improvement taken against the SDGs.
The vertical farming industry already brings many benefits to the communities they serve. Agricultural technologies (ag-techs) are traditionally anchored in soil and dirt, and Bios seeks to address multiple urban challenges in a system intervention by leveraging various ag-techs in combination with IoT to grow food beyond soil, inside urban and vertical environments. By integrating ag-tech with building energy, climate, and data centers, we offer direct access to live data for reporting the impact of the Bios solution.
Of course, if we are serious about achieving the goals and commitments originally agreed in the 1992 Kyoto Protocol, negotiated and changed throughout the following decade to the Paris Agreement. This was adopted by 196 Parties at COP 21 in Paris on December 12, 2015, and came into force on November 4, 2016. Now five years later we have a common SDGs language and it is time to take action with real-world data. The planning is over, and it is time for live pilots to bring community-focused value. This is what Bios believes is the intention of the 17 SDGs, and by partnering with community-driven grassroots action with support by the corporate and institutional infrastructure, we can have a massive impact by 2030.
For this reason, Bios demonstrates the direct social and environmental impact the community can be proud of!
Now the obvious question. What SDGs does it cover, and has the UN's global commitment thought of when BIOS began being set in motion?
We decided the preferred way to understand the flow of materials is through urban metabolism to discover ways of closing the loop on materials such as food and water or reducing CO2 emissions through energy efficiency. This revealed the entry point was buildings due to their collective impact in cities. As aggregators of a wide spectrum of materials, the current flow of materials and energy into cities contributes between 60 % and 80 % of GHG emissions. When considered as the point of consumption, the European Union (EU) buildings account for approximately 40 % of final energy consumption.
SDG 11 is at the essence of the Bios Purpose, and that's why Bios aims to integrate nature with technology to create healthy living spaces for sustainable communities and commerce.
The complexity related to sources and generating live data against all SDGs is difficult due to the inherent complexity in the design of each SDGs sub-indicators. We love a challenge for positive impact at Bios and decided the intervention for systemic impact in society was through SDG 11 – "Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable." Food and energy are critical to ensure the success of SDG 11 due to the billions of people forecast to be living in our cities in 2030. Bios will provoke a new conversation about building data to set new standards for data and measurement against each of the SDG 11's sub-indicators.
BIOS and Nova SBE's project has definitely set the bar higher for higher education schools. Given that so much can be done towards the 2030 Agenda, how decisive do you think this partnership will be in the long run?
The Bios approach holds primary stakeholders at its core while using integrated data for creating a wide range of benefits for the building and its operations. Our management team is Paulo Pereira, Julia Fernando, and myself. Together, we bring a rich diversity of skills to execute in partnership with communities everywhere. This gives us a foundation for taking systems integration further by including education communities in business and farming operations for experiential learning opportunities. Buildings and campuses of the future need to be resilient against the changing context, and a Bios intervention brings a better understanding of what is required now to ensure sustainability. Nova SBE has the opportunity to bring a digital campus to life through its Smart Pole by Nova SBE project by integrating a community-owned business.