Q&A with graduate student Jaime Thissen

Jaime Thissen is currently conducting a long-term sustainability extension project on controlled environment (greenhouse) sustainability

Greenhouse crop production is increasing as consumer demand increases, specifically in areas where the natural climate is more hostile to the desired production. However, no assessment of the sustainability of existing facilities currently exists, and there is sufficient consumer demand for assessing this from seed to shelf. The purpose of this study is to assess the sustainability of current greenhouse crop production systems in North America. Twenty-three greenhouse facilities in the private sector volunteered to provide data for the development of sustainability metrics. Additionally, facilities with either or both vegetable and ornamental production participated in this study. Each facility was assigned a region: Florida, Northeast, Midwest, and Southwest. Sustainability was assessed through the development of individual categorical sustainability equations. The final value was an “S-score” for each facility with a range of zero to ten, with zero meaning the worst or lowest value and ten being the best or highest value. Key parameters were organized according to five general categories based on economic, energy, environmental, social and safety aspects as well as applied techniques. This report focuses on the environmental aspects of the overall sustainability equation, which include drainage management and water recycling. Descriptive statistics were analyzed to determine parameter dominance and statistical significance while an exploratory factor analysis was used to determine the relevancy of the parameters. Larger facilities tended to have higher environmental S-scores due to better overall management of the organization. Every facility required improvement in at least one category. 

Jaime Thissen smiles at the camera, wearing a dark suit and blue button up shirt.

Graduate Student Q&A:

What experience(s) led you to explore your current research project?

Providing a context for sustainable development.

Why is this work important, both to you, and to people in general? 

It addresses numerous shortfalls in sustainability and development that have been occurring over the last century. Most projects that are allegedly sustainable often fail, and we work to remedy the situation for the facilities we are working on. Namely, we examine extra dimensions of sustainability including total worker health, maintenance, time-scales and leadership hierarchies.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your project so far? 

We’ve been able to reach a diverse array of stakeholders who would otherwise not be considering adopting these practices.

Is there a clear vision of what you hope your research project’s impact will be, and has that vision changed from the start of your project to present day? 

The vision is the same, but we’ve tweaked our approach based on feedback from the clients, workers, ownership and other third-parties. By utilizing this feedback process, we are also able to create a more efficient operation based on human and non-human resources as a byproduct to sustainable operations.