Integrated sustainability assessment of social and technological innovations towards urban food systems

Case study: SWUAS aquaponics system – Soest (Germany)

Location: Soest, Germany
Typology: Protected aquaponics
Urban area: Urban
Innovation type: Technological innovation
Main functions: Water recirculation – Polyculture – Research



The aquaponics system at SWUAS (Fachbereich Agrarwirtschaft der Fachhochschule Südwestfalen) was implemented for research purposes. The installation started in May 2015. Regarding the aquaculture system, European catfish are held in three 1.1 cubic meter tanks, equipped with filters, feeders and warm water. The fish production is connected to the floating hydroponic system hosted in the greenhouse next door, growing in deep water culture beds (DWC). Aquaponics seeks for resource efficiency by recirculating the water between the two systems: the water from fish farming (aquaculture) flows into the plant basins (hydroponics) where the fish residues are used as fertilizers.


Crops: Lettuce (Salanova cook RZ), Lemon balm and Basil (African blue)

Fish: European catfish (Silurus glanis)

Techniques: Aquaponics production: Aquaculture tanks with UV disinfection and filters (biological & mechanical) + Floating hydroponic production with wooden beds

Irrigation: Well water (Elevated amount of calcium carbonate)– Recirculation – Automatic irrigation (Tap water is available)

Use of renewable resources: –

Sustainable practices: Pesticides-free – Integrated pest management – Local production – Minimization of water consumption – Sustainable production of protein sources

Other products: –





SustUrbanFoods in the AESOP Sustainable food planning workshop for PhD and Young scientists: Making, measuring and re-thinking sustainable food systems

The AESOP Sustainable food planning PhD and Young professionals group aims to bring together academics, policy-makers and practitioners from an international audience that are at the beginning of their career.

These days they organized the AESOP SFP Workshop for PhD and Young professionals in Berlin with the aim of helping young researchers and practitioners to build a network in the field that can lead to future collaborations and develop a multidisciplinary and international participation at the AESOP SFP Conferences.

In the framework of the SustUrbanFoods Project, the results from the participatory workshop were presented in the MEASURING SUSTAINABLE FOOD SYSTEMS track, leading into an interesting discussion on:

  • what is sustainability?
  • who defines sutainability?
  • how can we measure social sustainability?
  • why should we measure it?
  • how is that important in policy-making?


Program “Making, measuring and re-thinking sustainable food systems”

23 March 2017

  • 12:30 – 13:30 Welcome and Opening Remarks
  • 13:30 – 14:30 Key Note Speaker: Katrin BOHN
  • 14:30 – 14:45 Break
  • 14:45 – 16:15 Parallel Sessions on Making, Measuring, and Rethinking Sustainable Food Systems
  • 16:15 – 16:30 Coffee Break
  • 16:30 – 18:00 Parallel Sessions on Making, Measuring, and Rethinking Sustainable Food Systems
  • 18:00 – 19:00 Wrap-up


24 March 2017

  • 08:30 – 09:00 Opening
  • 09:00 – 09:30 Reports of the Three Sessions
  • 09:30 – 11:30 Workshop Networking: Neela ENKE
  • 11:30 – 11:40 Short Break
  • 11:40 – 12:00 Wrap up (survey/evaluation, conclusion)
  • 12:00 – 13:30 Lunch and Transfer
  • 13:30 – 16:30 Field Trip
  • 16:30 – 17:00 Farewell


Starting of the secondment period in Dortmund (Germany)

The secondment planned in the project just started!

Until the end of May, I will be working in Dortmund with researchers, architects and urban planners of the Fachhochschule South Westfalia (SWUAS), the Company hei-tro and the association Die Urbanisten.

The objective of the secondment is to know more about the aquaponics technology and to value two case studies on aquaponics in Dortmund.

During the secondment, knowledge exchange will be produced as well as different outreach activities will take place:

  • Seminar at SWUAS for students and researchers
  • Participation in the Westfalia aquaponics network meeting

Regarding the networking within the project, during the secondment I will participate in two events:



Guest editor in Sustainability’s special issue

If you’re working on evaluating the sustainability of urban agriculture by advancing in new methodological approaches or assessing specific case studies, check out the information on the new special issue of the Sustainability journal:

“Assessing the Sustainability of Urban Agriculture: Methodological Advances and Case Studies”

Guest Editor :Dr. Esther Sanyé-Mengual

Research Centre in Urban Environment for Agriculture and Biodiversity (ResCUE-AB), Department of Agricultural Sciences (Dipsa), Alma Mater Studiorium – University of Bologna, Italy
Website | E-Mail
Interests: sustainability assessment; interdisciplinarity; urban food systems; participatory research design; industrial ecology; life cycle assessment; ecosystem services; geographic information systems; qualitative research; geographic information system; environmental justice

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

This Special Issue calls for papers that contribute to the assessment of the sustainability of urban agriculture, both by advancing methodological approaches and by providing results from case studies. Cities have been identified as an essential element in addressing global concerns, particularly due to the growing population, and food flow is key in the urban metabolism and in the design of future sustainable cities. Resulting from the environmental awareness of the globalized food system and urban social and economic gaps, urban agriculture has grown in recent years aiming at increasing food security while coping with climate change. Urban agriculture ranges from socially-oriented initiatives, which address social gaps (e.g., social inclusion, food deserts) employing low-tech techniques and educational programs, to high-tech for-profit farms, which focus on maximizing yields (e.g., rooftop greenhouse, aquaponics). The sustainability profile of such diverse forms of urban agriculture might consistently vary and contribute differently to the three dimensions of sustainability: Environment, society, and economy. To date, the environmental benefits of urban agriculture as a local production system, the ecosystem services of urban gardens (both environmental and socio-cultural services) or contribution to food security have been evaluated in specific case studies. However, studies covering sustainability assessments of social and economic aspects are limited, as are integrated methods for assessing urban agriculture.

This Special Issue aims at covering this gap by considering papers that evaluate the sustainability of urban agriculture, proposing new methodological approaches, and assessing new case studies that provide new data on the diverse nature of urban agriculture. New methods and data are essential to support decision- and policy-making for the design of sustainable cities. The consideration of the three dimensions of sustainability, integrated analyses, and quantitative approaches are of particular interest.

Dr. Esther Sanyé-Mengual
Guest Editor


Manuscripts should be submitted online at by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. Papers will be published continuously (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are refereed through a peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed Open Access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1400 CHF (Swiss Francs).


  • environmental sustainability
  • social sustainability
  • economic sustainability
  • urban gardening
  • rooftop agriculture
  • life cycle assessment
  • ecosystem services
  • sustainable development goals
  • multicriteria analysis
  • social metabolism


!! Do not hesitate to contact me for any doubts or details

“The SustUrbanFoods project: challenges in accounting for the sustainability of complex urban food systems” – Contribution to the 6th World Sustainability Forum

The preliminary results of the participatory research process of Susturbanfoods were presented in the 6th World Sustainability Fórum with the aim of showing the relevance of integrating stakeholders in the definitions behind methodological schemes and in the selection of parameters and metrics.

The workshops performed in susturbanfoods invited stakeholders and students of urban food systems (UFS) to put together the elements of the sustainability of UFS, differentiating between the environmental, economic and social dimensions. As a result from the workshops, we obtained a global and comprehensive picture of what are the concepts and elements behind the global sustainability of UFS.

The relation of this concepts between the three dimensions composed the following network, which includes mono-, bi- and tri-dimensional elements.


 The detailed results and further discussions based on the workshop results will be soon published as a scientific paper.

Participation in the public event “Coltiviamo spazi urbani”

Last 18th December, Susturbanfoods joined the public event “Coltiviamo spazi urbani” organzied by the Làbas collective to present their new garden project ORTEO.

The event was a public meeting between citizens, researchers, activists, organized bodies that are interested in the topic of urban agriculture. The goal of the event was to explore the environmental, social and economic aspects of these new practices, share the experience of concrete initiatives and imagining possible scenarios for the city of Bologna.


The roundtable was composed by:

  • Daniela Gasperi – PhD students in the Departmend of Agricultural Science  – UniBo
  • Esther Sanye-Mengual – MSCA fellow, Research Centre for Urban Agriculture and Biodiversity (Rescue-AB) – UniBo
  • Maurizio Bergamaschi – Sociologist of the territory – UniBo
  • Joan Crous – social cooperative Eta Beta Onlus (Bologna)
  • Luana Iori – Gandusio Orti (Bologna)
  • Stefano Scarascia – Arvaia – Agricultural cooperative of citizens of Bologna


The event was followed by an organic aperitif with km.0 products in collaboration with Làbiopizza from Labàs and the social brewery Schiumarell.



Cibi, relazioni e altre trasformazioni nella città contemporanea

Le aree urbane rimandano a paesaggi cementificati dove la natura ha a disposizione solo aiuole e parchi per crescere e colorare di verde alcuni interstizi della città. Ma esistono altri spazi dove piante e individui possono interagire creativamente nella costruzione dell’ambiente urbano? A Bologna, già da alcuni anni, molti fra singoli e gruppi si sono attivati per riprendere un contatto diretto con la natura e donare ai luoghi nuovi significati. Partendo da prospettive differenti, in forma individuale o collettiva, hanno trasformato tetti, balconi, piazze e aree dismesse in orti e giardini comunitari, dove è possibile coltivare, insieme alle piante, anche nuove relazioni sociali. In una città sempre più anonima e frammentata dove i processi di riproduzione del capitalismo globale intervengono nelle forme del consumo, della speculazione immobiliare e dell’esclusione sociale, gli orti urbani si configurano come laboratori di sperimentazione locale, dove costruire nuove strategie di resistenza all’egemonia del modello neoliberale e rivendicare una gestione collettiva degli spazi urbani e rurali. Autoproduzione di cibo, scambio di conoscenze, consapevolezza ecologica, incontro e convivialità, solidarietà tra culture e generazioni, costituiscono azioni ed obiettivi che esprimono una nuova domanda di città e rimettono al centro l’individuo con le sue scelte e le sue aspirazioni.
Domenica 18 dicembre 2016, dalle ore 18:30, vi aspettiamo a Làbas per un incontro pubblico tra cittadini, ricercatori, attivisti, realtà organizzate che sono interessati al tema dell’agricoltura urbana. Andremo a scoprire le dimensioni ambientali, sociali ed economiche di queste nuove pratiche, partendo dalla condivisione di esperienze concrete e immaginando possibili scenari per la città.

Ne parliamo con:

Daniela Gasperi – Dottoranda Dipartimento Scienze Agrarie – UniBo
Esther Sanyé-Mengual – Centro Studi e Ricerche in Agricoltura Urbana e Biodiversità (Rescue-AB) – UniBo
Maurizio Bergamaschi – Sociologo del territorio – UniBo
Joan Crous – Eta Beta Cooperativa sociale Onlus (Bologna)
Luana Iori – Orti di via Gandusio (Bologna)
Stefano Scarascia – Arvaia – Cooperativa agricola di cittadini bolognesi

A seguire aperitivo biologico e a km zero con Làbiopizza a Làbas e Schiumarell – Birrificio sociale.


Knowledge exchange with students at UNIBO

The Marie Sklodowska-Curie individual fellowship promotes the knowledge exchange between the experience researcher (who did the mobility) and the host institution. As part of this exchange, I perform seminars and specific lesson on life cycle assessment (LCA) for the students at DIPSA (UNIBO).

To date, I had the opportunity to perform the following lessons: