Green Living Starts from the Top with Rooftop Republic

Rooftop Republic

By Jasmine Chan

Rooftop Republic is fertilizing a sustainable lifestyle through urban farming

Hong Kong is a city of over 7 million residents with a population density of 17,311 people per square mile (World Population Review). It’s challenging to elevate residents’ quality of life when space is as scarce as it is, but urban farming is being presented as a solution by incorporating wellness and sustainable practices into city-dwelling. 

Andrew Tsui has always been passionate about social transformation and aimed to empower communities to adopt a greener lifestyle. In 2015, he co-founded Rooftop Republic, an impact business, with Michelle Hong and Pol Fabrega. They discovered that by nurturing a more intimate relationship with food and nature through the activity of farming, urbanites like Hongkongers would become more conscious about their consumption habits. 

The company also aspires to shape future cities to be more livable and inspire people to re-think the produce they’re consuming. Rooftop Republic works with architects, engineers, organic farmers, chefs, and nutritionists to develop and deliver urban farming solutions, converting more than 60 idle urban spaces into rooftop farms across Hong Kong since its founding. 

Jumpstart interviews Tsui to understand the company’s mission, the challenges it’s faced in advocating urban farming, and why innovating on a green economic model  is the way forward for the movement. 

From farm to circularity 

Tsui was in real estate management before embarking on his social entrepreneurship journey. Working with architects, urban planners, and government officials led him to believe that building an economic infrastructure is the first and foremost criterion for changing people’s lives.

“A lot of people have been talking about sustainability–how important and how urgent it is for us to change. But without an economy around sustainability, it’s really hard to drive and sustain that,” he says. 

In 2017, Rooftop Republic was awarded the ‘Most Outstanding Social Enterprise (Meritorious)’ and ‘Most Innovative Social Enterprise’ accolades at the Social Enterprise Awards Hong Kong. Although the company’s social mission is at the forefront of its operations, its co-founders have also created a revenue model that works alongside its efforts to build a circular economy. 

Tsui describes the company’s business model as “farming as a service.” Its clients include corporations, restaurants, schools, and local communities, and it provides farm design and installation services for urban farms as well as professional farm management. Though these services are profit-driven, the company believes that such projects and partnerships will accelerate public understanding of urban farming, showcasing its potential to transform cities. The word ‘rooftop’ is an iconic representation of untapped urban sites. 

“There are around 6 million square meters of rooftop that are potentially farmable in Hong Kong with good accessibility and physical condition,” Tsui says. “We mobilized, and we are forming a tribe of people who come together and transform these idle places.”

Inside the city’s mindset 

Although the benefits of urban farming are clear, Tsui says that the cosmopolitan mindset of efficiency, which is deeply rooted in Hong Kong, is a notable challenge.

“In the fast-paced urban lifestyle, time is money. People don’t allow time for nature to take care of itself,” he says. 

Tsui calls the feverish desire for efficiency the “instant noodle lifestyle.” In the context of farming, it’s the attempt to expedite natural processes with science to reach a higher yield, such as using synthetic hormones and chemical fertilizers. He says that this mentality is difficult to reverse through campaigning and advocacy, as it’s aligned with people’s values. 

In this regard, the company goes against the grain. When selecting a suitable location for a rooftop farm, Tsui and his team strive to make the most of the natural environment, even if the conditions aren’t ideal. For instance, they don’t disregard spaces with insufficient sunlight, as the ultimate aim goes beyond efficiency. 

“Technically, we can use artificial lighting, other technologies, or even move it indoors. But still, we ask ourselves: How do we shape an inclusive environment for the wellbeing of our people?” he says. “It’s not just a space to produce food.”

Tackling food waste is another focus for the company. Consumers are generally hypercritical of agriculture products, which generate a tremendous amount of food waste and pose another challenge to sustainable practices. 

“One-third of the food produced in the world don’t reach the end consumers because they are not perfect-looking or meet the expected shape,” says Tsui. “If there’s a little scar on it, you cannot sell it for a good price. They’re not even taken from the farm.”

Unlike other urban farming companies, which strictly focus on food production or hydroponics, Rooftop Republic works to better food distribution in Hong Kong by donating a portion of its harvests to local food banks. 

“Today, in an abundant city like Hong Kong, we still have a million people who are living in poverty. But at the same time, other parts of the city are wasting so much of our food,” says Tsui. He adds that, with hands-on farming experiences, consumers are likely to become more receptive to eating “ugly food” and drive systemic change in the produce supply chain, such as waste reduction and supporting more local farmers.

Blooming a green generation

Although it’s difficult to shift people’s mindsets, Tsui believes that innovation can enable change to occur at a faster pace. After five years of operation, Rooftop Republic has a clear direction in espousing the green movement through education, sharing the benefits of a circular economy that supports local food production, urban greening, and a sustainable lifestyle. 

Rooftop Republic Academy launched in March last year. The program caters to urban designers, retirees, students, and anyone urbanite who is interested in farming. Participants can gain hands-on farming experience and learn urban agriculture knowledge, such as the principles of organic farming, soil management, irrigation systems, and more. It also provides upskilling opportunities for marginalized communities. 

“Our purpose of existence is to create value for the 99%,” Tsui explains. “They share the commonality of being hopeless about having a green lifestyle–either they have no options where they live, the system does not allow them, or they feel like they don’t have the ability.”

Tsui hopes Rooftop Republic Academy will become the Le Cordon Bleu or Shaolin Temple of urban farming talent, as it also provides structured courses for property and facilities management. By connecting with urban designers through farming, the company hopes to bring about a new normal, where urban farms will be as ubiquitous as gyms.

“It is the cradle of empowering city people–specifically, one part of it is the professionals who are actually designing the future of our city,” Tsui says. “These are the people we actively engage with and share how they can engage urban green design in the future.”

By many accounts, Rooftop Republic’s push for urban agriculture is paying off. Matthew Pryor, Associate Professor and Head of the Landscape Architecture Division at the University of Hong Kong, estimates that there are around 1,500 farmers in the city. The number of farms has also increased consistently over the past decade and is showing no signs of slowing down. 

Looking ahead, Tsui hopes to continue to change how the public views urban farming, not only as a leisure activity or an alternative to traditional food production, but a vital component to urban life. 

The oasis may not be a mirage after all. 

Jasmine is Jumpstart’s Editorial Assistant. 


Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email


5 More Business Podcasts You Need to Listen To

5 More Business Podcasts You Need to Listen To

Entrepreneurs have one thing in common—they always look for opportunities to learn and grow. To gain an understanding of running a viable business, you need to listen to the experiences of those who have emerged triumphant in the business world. A great way to do so is by tuning into a vast number of business and entrepreneurship podcasts scattered across the internet today.

5 Hobbies To Maximize Your Entrepreneurial Drive

5 Hobbies To Maximize Your Entrepreneurial Drive

Entrepreneurs are a special breed of person. They’re go-getters, risk-takers and dreamers. Yet, even the most driven entrepreneur needs to take a break from time to time. Spending every second of your day on your business is stressful, and you will lose your drive very soon. If you want to stay energetic and ready to take on new challenges at work, hobbies are what you need.

Making the Metaverse a Force for Good with the Metaverse Charity Foundation

Making the Metaverse a Force for Good with the Metaverse Charity Foundation

If you are a frequent reader of our website, you must have seen us mention The Sandbox, Decentraland and Axie Infinity. These are some of the most popular metaverses out there, and the one thing they all have in common is that they all have their origins in Asia. While Asia is home to all these metaverse projects, it suffers two main issues: the region has major rural-urban inequality as well as a significant wage difference between high-skilled and low-skilled occupations.

How Do Stores Get You to Spend More Money

How Do Stores Get You to Spend More Money?

Have you ever entered a grocery store to buy some milk but ended up with a bag full of items you didn’t even need? You’re not alone if you feel guilty for spending more money than you intended. It’s not our fault that we keep putting items in our shopping carts; we are manipulated to do so! To make sure you buy more, retailers will go all the way to carefully engineer every aspect of their store.

6 Lessons All Entrepreneurs Can Learn from Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos

6 Lessons All Entrepreneurs Can Learn from Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos

Whether you love or hate him, there’s no denying that Jeff Bezos is one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our generation. Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has built a business empire encompassing everything from ecommerce and cloud computing to artificial intelligence (AI). What can we learn from Bezos, one of the world’s wealthiest men with a net worth of US$151 billion? Here are six key lessons that all entrepreneurs can learn from the billionaire:

9 Signs of a Toxic Workplace

9 Signs of a Toxic Workplace

Workplace trends like “hustle culture” and “quiet quitting” are shining the light on unhealthy, toxic work environments and their effects on employees. Hustle culture is when you feel like you have to work yourself to the bone and do way more than others all the time; quiet quitting, a counteragent to hustle culture, is about doing the bare minimum at your job instead of going above and beyond for an exploitative employer.