FAQ Eco farm
Vertical farming involves growing food products in vertical structures to produce more using less space. It meets the need for proximity and shorter supply chains as urban areas become increasingly dense. Vertical farming harnesses several soil-free cultivation techniques, in closed environments so we don’t need to worry about the weather:
aeroponics - roots are in open air and the nutrient-rich solution is sprayed on
hydroponics - roots are soaked in a nutrient-enriched solution
aquaponics - roots are dipped in water enriched with waste from fish raised at the farm
These techniques have been around for years but were almost exclusively used in the food sector. However, they are perfect for cosmetics which need quality ingredients and ultra-fresh, molecular richness throughout the year, whatever the climatic conditions.
We have therefore chosen to work with a vertical farm in the Paris region, for the most local production possible, with the hope of inspiring others.
Our first step was to relocate raw material production. The reasons were two-fold: shorten the production circuit compared to cosmetics sector standards, and be totally traceable and ethical. Ulé uses fresh, whole plants for its formulations, with well-known, scientifically documented properties: tulsi for stress, coleus for protection and centella for regeneration. These are exotic plants. However, we don’t need to import them from far-away countries as vertical farm technology allows us to grow them in France.
By sourcing in France, we can guarantee the composition of the plants and their extracts. We can also guarantee that they are uncontaminated during processing and transport. By sourcing close to the production site, the fresh plants can be processed and integrated into our products as soon as they are harvested. We don’t need to use dried powder forms as is the norm in the cosmetics industry. Once matured, our plants are hand-picked, frozen and cryoground. The cryogrinding process involves taking the plant stiffened by freezing, and crushing it into powder with no deterioration. The fresh powder is macerated in a hydroalcoholic solution. The extract obtained is our cosmetics’ main ingredient.
Growing plants in a vertical farm means that producing our products’ active ingredients has far less environmental impact than plants cultivated in open fields. The surface area required for cultivation is reduced. We use around 90% less water. Last but not least, by relocating plant production we are able to ensure good working conditions every step of the way. This closed cultivation, in aeroponics or hydroponics and therefore without contact with the soil, means that there are no toxic discharges, no pollution of the soil or water tables, and no direct negative impact on local ecosystems.
At Ulé, we believe plants have many benefits, and that freshness is the key to superior quality.
We have carefully selected three remarkable plants whose properties have been known for thousands of years: tulsi for stress, coleus for protection and centella for regeneration.
We believe that every molecule counts, which is why we use whole plants in our recipes, not just the chemically-extracted principle active ingredient.
And we know that plants are never as rich in active ingredients as when they have just been harvested. That’s why we use fresh plants, rather than the dried powder form which is the norm. We have total control over the cultivation of these plants and are unhindered by weather fluctuations and contaminations.
The primary ingredient in our products is the extract obtained from the freshly harvested plants through a maceration process: it represents 55% of our serum formulations.
These plants are the essence of our products. And that’s why it’s important to explain how we source fresh, exotic plants in France and where they come from.
Vertical farm is not considered as 'real agriculture', thus guidelines to evaluate if an ingredient is organic cannot be applied in our case. However, as vertical farm is a culture without soil, our plants are 100% pure and free from any pesticides. Moreover, as we control all parameters to grow plants, we have a full traceability on our ingredients. In fact, we are 'more than organic' as we control all the process from A to Z – but we are not allowed to claim it.
We have partnered with Tower Farm to grow the plants that are the essence of our products. The French aeroponics start-up is located at Station V, the agricultural incubator for AgriTech and FoodTech start-ups, based in Saint-Nom-la-Bretêche in the Versailles plain. It is creating agri-technologies and new jobs in the greater urban area. Eight people work there daily, planting, feeding and harvesting, and of course, carrying out research and development. When the organisation grows to an industrial scale, Tower Farm is committed to hiring staff who have difficulty entering the work force. The start-up favours local suppliers and uses water in a closed circuit, which drastically reduces consumption. Strengthened by our two-year partnership, the start-up monitors and reduces consumption and energy dependency by improving equipment efficiency, such as LED and air conditioning, and experimenting with on-site electricity co-generation. We are proud to support this young company in the long term, supporting an innovation process likely to change practices and standards throughout the sector.
We have also partnered with another vertical farm, Jungle, to grow the same plants in hydroponics, to make the powders for our food supplements. They are located in Epaux-Bezu, in the Aisne department. Jungle has built its technological expertise through food production such as salads and herbs. Larger and more well-established, it is now branching out into the cosmetics sector.
Our products are based on plants which grow in an innovative, controlled environment, commonly known as a vertical farm. Our agricultural lab in the Paris area enables us to integrate fresh, locally grown exotic plants into our formulations. The plants grow indoors so they do not interact with the soil - they can’t pollute the soil or be polluted by it. We can control the molecular development of the plants used in our products with great precision. We guarantee they are not contaminated by heavy metals, pesticides and alkaloids. We also ensure good working conditions for all those involved in the production process and considerably reduce the kilometres travelled by our ingredients to reach you.
By sourcing our plants in France rather than importing, we massively reduce the number of kilometres travelled at every stage of production. From raw materials to delivering finished products to customers - we have far lower greenhouse gas emissions linked to transport. Vertical farms do require energy to power the artificial lighting with LED and to regulate temperature. However, there are other environmental advantages to this production method:
Less floor space - we can create a farm and cultivate between 300 and 350 plants in as little as 9m2, without soil and natural light.
Increased productivity due to the vertical structure which allows more than 100 plants per square metre to grow, and “season suppression” means more and shorter cycles during the year.
Reduced water consumption. 95% of water is reused in a closed cycle.
No added pesticides, fungicides or herbicides. No risk of contamination from heavy metals or alkaloids.
No contact with soil or the water shed so no risk of polluting or influencing them.
Despite all these arguments, and as with any innovative technology, we still lack the data to quantify our reduced environmental impact and to develop our positive contribution to the sector and the region. In France, the specifications to receive the organic label imply working with soil. As we work in a soil-free environment we cannot currently obtain organic certification.
Vertical farms depend on energy for lighting and temperature control, and nutrients such as mineral fertilisers produced in France. Their environmental impact is highly dependent on the source of energy used, LED efficiency, how the temperature is managed, reuse of water in a closed circuit and fertiliser composition.
Our partner, Tower Farm, is working to minimise the environmental impact of growing plants for our products. It is experimenting with a co-generator for renewable energy self-generation, recycling 95% of the water used and researching bio-fertilizers. Tower Farm has recently changed from LED to a new technology that is more efficient and emits less heat. This means that we can reduce air conditioning, thereby reducing energy consumption. Tower Farm is constantly seeking to improve, conducting studies which contribute to academic research on vertical farming, supported by the Station V business incubator. They are close to obtaining additional certifications to crown their success.
Aeroponics and hydroponics have been around for decades and have a proven track record. Vertical farms are increasingly sprouting up across continents, particularly in countries where food production is limited due to shortage of space and adverse weather conditions. However, growing exotic plants with known active ingredients for cosmetics is truly innovative as the cosmetics sector is still highly dependent on imports.
Plants from around the world, grown around the corner!
When we talk about ecological farms, vertical farms don’t immediately come to mind as they look more like laboratories than fields. Yet this type of production could be crucial to reducing greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale. According to Professor Dickson D. Despommier from the University of Colombia, “if every city on the planet produced 10% of its products indoors, it would allow us to convert 88 million hectares of farmland into forest. This could absorb enough carbon dioxide to bring the Earth’s atmosphere back to 1980 levels.” It’s not about replacing traditional farming, which has its own strengths and weaknesses, such as soil pollution, sensitivity to weather conditions, dependence on inputs and water consumption. It’s about complementing it. Particularly in the cosmetics sector, sourcing more from vertical farms would mean reducing the amount of land used for cosmetics production thereby freeing it up for food production and other ecosystems such as forests. We truly believe that vertical farming provides a relevant solution to several major challenges in the cosmetics sector.