Greenhouse Pioneer: Charlie Paton, Seawater Greenhouse

Sunlight and seawater. They’re the two resources behind Seawater Greenhouse’s innovative technology to create ideal growing conditions for crops in hot, arid environments. With live projects from Abu Dhabi to Australia, Seawater Greenhouse creates custom designed greenhouses helping farmers benefit from year-round production. We talk to founder and director, Charlie Paton, to find out about his greatest achievements and what he’s working on that gets him fired up and excited.

Charlie Paton

Tell us, in 30 words or fewer, about Seawater Greenhouse – what’s your mission? 

We design greenhouses for hot, dry coastal regions, using sunlight and seawater for cooling and desalination, providing ideal growing conditions for crops where agriculture would otherwise be difficult or even impossible.

What drives you? 

Solving problems is fun and interesting. Light and photosynthesis fascinate me, and I enjoy creating the right environment for things to grow.

Charlie Paton

What is your greatest achievement to date? 

Designing and installing greenhouses for a farm in Australia, which is now 20 hectares and yields 15,000 tonnes of tomatoes.

What are the challenges you face?

Simplifying the design so it is suitable and practical for markets in Africa, especially regions like the Horn of Africa, where drought constantly threatens food security. These are harsh environments to work in, and helping to train farmers in horticulture is an intriguing but highly rewarding challenge.

What are you working on that’s getting you fired up and excited?

Developing the business model for our expansion across Africa and the Middle East to overcome the challenge of selling greenhouses to farmers that don’t have money but have a real need for the technology.

Where do you want to take Seawater Greenhouse next? 

Iran, where there is rising salinity in rivers and dustbowls in key agricultural areas due to environmental degradation. The country experiences extreme temperatures of 55ºC and food and water are big social issues. We are also developing further in Africa, for example Namibia and Morocco.

What can we, as individuals, do to make a difference?

Stop buying stuff you don’t need – especially advertised products, and stop all advertising to children; it’s a $17bn dollar industry that sells junk that children shouldn’t consume in the first place.

How is what you are doing inspiring change in others?

You’d have to ask them! We get regular feedback that what we are doing genuinely makes a difference.

Can you recommend a life- or game-changing book for our readers? 

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.

What do you listen to when you’re cooking dinner?

I don’t cook, I wash up! I enjoy Radio 4 – especially From Our Own Correspondent – but I switch to Radio 6 as soon as I hear the Archers theme tune.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? 

“Except during the nine months before he draws his first breath, no man manages his affairs as well as a tree does.” This is a very humbling and spot on quote from George Bernard Shaw.

Can you leave us with who’d be your Eco Hero? 

Buckminster Fuller, the visionary architect and design engineer.

At Greenhouse PR we celebrate the work of people who are leading the way in sustainability. Visit our blog page to hear from a library of environmental pioneers, such as Dame Helen Ghosh, Director General at National Trust, Robert Edwards from Solar Polar and Guy Pattison, CEO of Long Run Works.