Are Bangkok’s fledgling urban rooftop farms a hidden goldmine for hotels and hospitality businesses? Meet the hoteliers and entrepreneurs proving that environment-focused partnerships are the best marketing tool a business can have.
By Claire Knox
October 28, 2016
At 8am, Bangkok’s Siam Square is heaving. Traffic slows to a crawl, commuters squeeze into the skytrain and the sweet, smoky smell of grilled street food wafts from the downtown district’s labyrinthine sois. But on the Novotel Bangkok’s sun-bleached rooftop, 20 floors up from the heady streets below, the still, almost serene atmosphere could not be any different. Most mornings here, a passionate group of hoteliers, microbiologists and engineers arrive to harvest one of the planet’s oldest life forms, an algae called spirulina that some are hailing the ‘kale or spinach of the future’. According to the hotel’s general manager Manuel Reymondin, the Novotel’s rooftop spirulina farm – conceptualised, set up and run by a small Thai startup called EnerGaia – is also showing that when it comes to marketing, partnering with sustainably minded entrepreneurs can be the best publicity manoeuvre of them all.
For four years now, the Novotel has been quietly renting its unused 80 square metres of rooftop space for a small fee to the innovative startup, and watching on as the greenish-blue, protein-rich edible microalgae grew and grew. This rooftop ‘superfood farm’ is one of three projects of EnerGaia: it runs a bigger spirulina farm in another of Bangkok’s ‘wasted spaces’ – a concrete parking lot on Bang Krachao, the jungle-covered island in the middle of the Chao Praya river. There is also a rooftop farm at the company’s headquarters further out in the eastern suburb of Suanluang, along with a research and development centre, offices and a fully equipped laboratory where the algae is both cultured and packaged after harvest.