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MŒA One-to-One Interviews: Thomas Marino, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer at The Circle Food and Energy Solutions.

Updated: Feb 10

The Circle Rome: Italian agriculture aims at the highest quality with reduced environmental and soil occupation impacts.

Four friends from Rome with compatible specialisations joined their forces to start a business together, projected to the essence of sustainability combined with advanced entrepreneurial skills. The Circle Food & Energy Solutions is the outcome, a highly technological but 100% environmentally friendly farm, in the most iconic capital of Italy, that promises to overturn the classic canons of the agri-food economy. Total respect for biodiversity and customers is the corporate mantra by the will of the four co-founders.

Photo >> Valerio Ciotola, Thomas Marino, Simone Cofini and Lorenzo Garreffa, Co-Founders of © The Circle Food & Energy Solutions

Valerio Ciotola, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, is responsible for leading the development and execution of long-term strategies, with the aim at increasing shareholder value. Thomas Marino, Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer, is in charge of every aspect related to the management of branding, marketing communication and strategic development. Simone Cofini, Co-Founder and Technical Director of Plant Engineering, is fond of the technical side of the company, providing support to all formalities and organizational needs to achieve the best outcome. Lorenzo Garreffa, Co-Founder, Production Director and Head of the Lab, deals with the planning and coordination of all production activities to foster cultivation within the aquaponic system while drafting KPI reports.

MONACŒCOART® asked Thomas Marino to give us an insight about the avant-garde economic model introduced by The Circleand its core values, deeply imbued by circularity to boost sustainability.


MONACŒCOART®: Thomas Marino, The Circle is meant as a model of cutting-edge circular economy strongly focused on the model "cradle to cradle" but at the same time on high-tech, with the ambitious target of considering sustainable development as a core value of the company itself. How did this idea come about among you, co-founders? Was it born by chance or with a specific goal? Have you had any particular source of inspiration?

Thomas Marino: The Circle was founded in 2017 in the surroundings of Rome as an idea among four friends, who then became members: Valerio Ciotola, Simone Cofini, Lorenzo Garreffa and me (Thomas Marino), all young entrepreneurs born in 1992.

The starting idea was to give life to a long-lasting consistent model of agricultural production that is both technological and innovative in order to create a cycle with a positive impact on the environment. An approach able to respond concretely to the great environmental challenges we are facing today linked to the global warming, notably: lack of water, soil erosion and the need to produce more food with less and less space available.

Hence The Circle was born. Developed on 2 hectares of land, it consists of 5,000 square meters of aquaponic greenhouses where ready-to-use salads and aromatic herbs of the highest quality are grown, providing a sustainable and win-win impact.

The Circle’s method optimizes the use of available resources in order to address the current shortcomings of the primary market. Using renewable energy sources and principles of circular economy, our goal is to bring a healthy and nutritious product to the market by boosting a new way of growing vegetables.

Photo >> Innovative aquaponic horticulture in vertical towers at © The Circle Food & Energy Solutions

MONACŒCOART®: If you were asked to list three added values of the production chain you conceived, what would you say? What does it mean for you to be sustainable?

Thomas Marino: I would say 1. excellent product quality 2. transparency of supply chain processes and 3. positive impact on the environment. These are prior among the many added values of our running production. In particular, we do not use any herbicide and/ or pesticides of chemical type. Sustainability is not to be found only in the final product, but in the whole process as well as in the human resource on the background, made of a skilled young team willing to take action and give a positive contribution to mitigate climate change. The Circle, in fact, is based upon a core concentration of technology that offers the best result in nutritional terms. We do not produce any waste, much less pollution. In other words, our structure is able to overcome the concept of biological and zero impact, becoming an added value for the environment.

Photo >> Vegetable harvesting with the innovative method by © The Circle Food & Energy Solutions

MONACŒCOART®: Your virtuous production cycle aims to not generate any type of waste and it uses the natural synergy between living beings with the inclusion of aquaponics, "in symbiosis" with cultivation. Where does this choice come from and what are the advantages in terms of quality and food safety of the agricultural product that is placed on the market?

Thomas Marino: The Circle sets ambitious targets for addressing the climate crisis and the demographic growth, including the need to produce more food in less space. We consider aquaponics as the solution to make a positive contribution to the environment. The cultivation system has many advantages starting from reduction in water consumption up to 90% compared to business-as-usual agriculture. In addition to this, our cultivation towers allow a higher production yield, totally ‘made in Italy’. We have also developed a sensor control that allows the monitoring of our greenhouses remotely to allow rapid intervention in case of emergencies potentially dangerous for plant growth.

Photo >> The phases of vegetable cultivation designed by © The Circle Food & Energy Solutions

MONACŒCOART®: How do you communicate to your stakeholders the core values of your company and its innovative economic ecosystem? What feedbacks do you get from them?

Thomas Marino: Our customers are mostly restaurants and catering facilities of excellence in Rome and whole Italy. In this way, chefs become the brand ambassadors of The Circle products. This link is getting stronger in recent years and allows us to imagine a future in which sustainable producers will become real superstars at the service of the community.

Photo >> Vegetable nursery at © The Circle Food & Energy Solutions

MONACŒCOART®: Have you joined product or process certifications, eco-labels, carbon offsetting to offset any carbon dioxide emissions? Do you participate in any specific project or event to share your experience?

Thomas Marino: The Circle aims at achieving a high standard of energy efficiency thanks to an integrated photovoltaic system installed by the support of Lazio Region. We are committed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions monitored through an ongoing certification. We actively collaborate with many companies and associations fostering Vertical Farming to increase national-international exchange and cooperation. So, we are happy to represent a source of inspiration for the new generations. Something that helps us improving ourselves continuously.

Photo >> Vegetable growing stage at © The Circle Food & Energy Solutions

MONACŒCOART®: What types of vegetables do you currently produce? Could your cultivation cycle be used in the field of floriculture and ornamental plants?

Thomas Marino: Our production is currently focused on different types of mizuna and mustard, tatsoi, arugula, oregano, sorrel, marjoram, mint, edible and much more. Using the same techniques, you can also grow small fruits such as strawberries, berries, blackberries and small vegetables, such as chili and tomatoes. We are always testing to grow new plant species whose radical trend develops horizontally. We have the possibility to grow potentially all kind of flora, except for the shrubs that are not suitable to grow in small vertical spaces.

Photo >> Innovative aquaponic vegetable and herbs cultivation at © The Circle Food & Energy Solutions

MONACŒCOART®: How do you see the development of your company in the near future? What are your upcoming plans?

Thomas Marino: We have a busy agenda. The Circle has recently introduced new products on the market in partnership with our chefs and some of our members, like the aquaponic pesto. In a short-term growth perspective, we can count on a new plant in Abruzzo that will handle the processing phase of the raw material greatly increasing the commercial network. Our target is to create the most sustainable and extensive aquaculture production facility in Europe. To do so, we intend to build a new industrial plant of 2 hectares, to meet the demand of the Italian market.

To know more about The Circle Food & Energy Solutions please visit:


By Maurice Abbati

Springer International Publishing

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