It’s no secret that industrial companies have historically put sustainability on the back burner, but things have changed. Because their operations involve longer product life cycles, complex manufacturing processes, demanding customer requirements, and applications that make implementing sustainability programs more difficult, these hurdles have almost outweighed the incentives to choose a greener path, especially in traditional food industries.
In agworld and agtech, profit margins are small (2-3%) compared to other industries. This means that everyone is competing for 2% of the returns instead of a larger portion that would be worth competing for and splitting amongst the industry. When food companies reduce food waste by 30% to 40%, this impacts everyone and makes innovation imperative rather than optional because the margins have the potential to grow — the product is selling instead of being wasted.
Notably, more companies are becoming “food companies” because returns are larger. This means that there are more financial resources to focus on innovative sustainability efforts. Combined with industry knowledge and a startup mentality, agworld and agtech can properly leverage innovation for the future.
Companies are now taking ESG initiatives seriously because the benefits can be tremendous. For example, companies with high ESG marks are securing valuation premiums quickly. Industrial product manufacturers are seeing modest benefits as well. However, due to low margins in the agworld and agtech industries, traditional food companies can’t just take the shiny idea of ESG and force it into tradition. These companies have to disrupt a little at a time and make incremental improvements to see true innovation and lasting change. Once these companies embrace new technology and improvements in the supply chain, they can fully embrace sustainability and minimize food waste more efficiently.
Midwest Companies That Are Leading the Way in Innovation
While traditional food companies are slow to adopt innovation, there are a few outliers paving the way toward sustainability. Bunge, an agricultural business that connects farmers to consumers, partnered with CoverCress, a Chevron-invested startup that is bringing a renewable oilseed and animal feed crop to market.
The partnership marked a long-term commercial agreement to convert annual field pennycress into the CoverCress crop that has a smaller footprint and can fit into existing corn and soybean rotations. The addition of a new crop onto existing farmland has the potential to provide farmers with additional revenue while also offering the ecological benefits of a cover crop in improving soil health and lowering nitrogen losses.
This somewhat new focus on sustainability has underscored its role in the total value chain. Sustainability is a long-term goal that will eventually yield returns, but stockholders want immediate returns to prove the value of their investment. In this way, sustainability can impact profits and losses. However, in order to truly innovate, industry leaders have to think outside of the normal confines of profit and loss to see ESG’s true impacts.
For example, agricultural-input manufacturers should shift their focus away from how sustainability impacts sales of products and toward how it impacts sales of solutions. For as long as anyone can remember, farming operated under an input-output model — specifically, how fertilizers affected the productivity of a given crop.
The sustainability mindset of farmers is to invest in cleaner tools and farming methods that are ecologically sound but are grounded in proof. Farmers have always prioritized sustainability, but today they can take advantage of the newfound focus on digital tools and new biological products that lead to further innovation and better results.
Sustainability Next Steps for Midwest Entrepreneurs, Investors, and Business Leaders
Because sustainability and traditional food industries haven’t always gone hand-in-hand, it can be intimidating for industry leaders to embrace an innovation shift. However, if leaders can articulate the value of sustainability initiatives, then they are worth time and resources. The key here is to ask, “Should this really be done?” If the initiative would add value and efficiency to your company, then the answer is yes.
Here are a few ways industry leaders in the Midwest can embrace sustainability for years to come:
1. Explore all avenues to reduce waste
The crux of all sustainability efforts is waste reduction. Companies that tout sustainability must consciously work every day to limit resource consumption and waste production. This may require a lot of nuanced work, research, and reflection. However, when companies consistently take small steps to reduce waste and make the most of the resources they have, they improve their operations and build value for their investors, their audience, and the world.
Zooming out, everyone involved in food production should be interested in reducing waste to increase profits. Less waste in fertilizer, electrical processes, and manpower can improve the bottom line down the entire value chain. Specifically, reducing waste provides more material that can be recycled and composted for crops. Also, there is more food to process, less waste in landfills, and more supplies to meet consumer demand. Additionally, investors will likely feel more comfortable investing in companies that prioritize waste reduction.
2. Fortify the supply chain through innovation
The transition to more sustainable operations requires a lot of moving parts — specifically, the manufacturing of commodities that further sustainability. Walmart, for example, is working with its suppliers to cut carbon emissions across the board. Through its Project Gigaton, it has dedicated resources to its suppliers to help reduce 1 gigaton of greenhouse gas emissions from its global value chain. As this example makes clear, sustainability requires the capacity of your suppliers to truly succeed.
Also, the CoverCress partnership to bring a renewable seed and animal feed crop to market fortifies the supply chain by helping to meet the demand for renewable fuels. That’s because CoverCress took a winter weed that has been bred and gene-edited to fit into corn and soybean rotations.
Adding new crops on existing land during winter is not only profitable, but this in particular is better for the soil, provides cover for the ground, and decreases nitrogen losses. Farmers can use this once-weed to grow more crops during the year, which improves supply.
3. Focus on tech innovations
Sustainability efforts would not be achievable without the right technology to put plans in place. Because sustainability really boils down to efficiency, industry leaders must invest in technology to innovate in the food industry. In fact, food technology investments totaled $13.5 billion in 2021.
While the investments did decrease in the second quarter, one thing is clear — people are dedicating significant resources toward technology that helps create a safer, cleaner food system. Soon, cutting-edge technology, like food packaging smart sensors, will be found in every aspect of food packaging.
These sensors will be essential in food sterilization and processes, which will also reduce waste. They will be used in most phases of food packaging. As the technology continues to improve over time, manufacturers will be able to use it to detect microbial contamination and even changes in the gas composition of sealed packages. Not only do the sensors support the value chain with efficiency, they also support the goal of safety; these combined are a major component to sustainability.
When it comes to sustainability in the food industry, there is a lot to consider, from outlining goals to getting suppliers in on the plan. However, even traditional industries in the Midwest can prioritize sustainability in the coming years with careful coordination and the right partners. All it takes is a goal and the right allocation of resources.
Once all of these things come into place, companies can work consistently to build a cleaner, safer future for food production.
From Struggles to Success: Ajamu Attard’s Inspiring Entrepreneurial Journey
Ajamu Attard is the National Director and CEO of Student Support in Canada, and his journey as an entrepreneur has been riddled with struggles and successes along the way.
With an intense determination to better his community from the get-go, young Attard, now 27, has been the recipient of about a dozen prestigious awards such as Top 20 Under 20 Award and the Lincoln M. Alexander Award.
“Just a couple years before receiving those awards, I was in a shelter,” says Attard, looking back to high school.
Early struggles as a student
Attard faced hardships during his school years, but he remained determined to make a positive impact. Despite years of struggle and what he frankly describes as a period of temporary mediocrity in his academic career, Attard decided to focus all his efforts on improving his own life and becoming a leader in his community.
Although Attard coasted through school for a while, his situation quickly changed and he went on to become an entrepreneur and a community leader in his own right.
Attard took a victory lap, and focused all his spare time on bettering his community and helping his fellow students realize their potential and find new opportunities in academics, post-secondary education, funding and scholarships, and community involvement opportunities.
Attard went on to continue making a difference, launching community initiatives to help eliminate racial discrimination in Ontario. Among other efforts to assist in his community, this is the one that would get him nominated for the Lincoln M. Alexander Award.
Having experienced racial discrimination himself, and being one of the few students of colour in Peterborough, Ontario, Ajamu Attard decided to take a stand and help his fellow students in more ways than one.
Attard helped his fellow students write scholarship applications, and eventually went on to start a scholarship matching service for students. The service was successful, helping students acquire over half a million dollars in scholarship funding.
Attard says students would struggle to find the right scholarships at the time, and would ask for his help.
“All they wanted was for someone to find the opportunities for them,” says Attard.
It was shortly thereafter that both Attard’s peers and staff at his school began to take notice of his remarkable achievements as well as his determination to make a difference in the lives of his fellow students.
Ajamu Attard says if he didn’t have the support of staff, who later became aware of his situation, he would have gone down the wrong path.
“Many teachers took extra time out of school to quite literally support me because they found out I was working two jobs and doing all these different things,” says Attard.
One situation stood out to Attard in particular when a teacher sat him down and told him to avoid hanging the wrong crowd, and to go all-in on his vision. Speaking highly of his potential and his intelligence, young Attard was given a second chance to make something of himself.
It was then that Attard became hyper aware of the potential vices as well as the pitfalls of being not just a student, but a struggling student – a student that was struggling financially, emotionally and with clarity. With an unpredictable future, it was hard to make the right decisions to drive positive growth.
At the time, it was hard to think long-term because Attard was struggling with poverty and anxieties brought about from his turbulent childhood and living situation.
According to Ajamu Attard, making a definitive decision to change and impact his community for the better was one of the best decisions he has ever made. At the time, seeking to affect more positive change and expand his efforts within the community and in his own work, Ajamu Attard went on to find Student Support.
The launch of Student Support
It was in second year at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, where Attard met fellow students, and later to-be cofounders: Brent Colby and Scott Braddon.
Attard speaks highly of his co-founders, and says they were equally as driven and determined, both with a voracious appetite to learn as much as possible about starting a social enterprise.
Student Support officially started in 2021, after two of the three co-founders had graduated. Starting well after the scholarship service Attard had created, he felt confident knowing he had the prior experience under his belt.
The team decided to make Student Support a service that would benefit students and help make essential supports more affordable to the student body.
It was in the early stages that Ajamu Attard was reminded of both his struggles and successes as a student. He recalls truly being able to focus and devote his energy towards building his community as well as profitable enterprises when he was given help by teachers and peers.
Today, Student Support is partnered with major services that provide a whole range of support services to students from education to fitness and writing tools.
Student Support partners with Calm, Udemy, Nimbus Learning and Aaptiv to provide students with support throughout the university year at a fraction of the cost.
“We’re talking about 98 percent off,” says Attard.
Though many students have been in favour of Student Support, there has been occasional pushback by student organizations over the years, and Student Support was able to overcome that each time.
Student Support provides services to the student body after a referendum at each institution, and after gaining majority support, they provide their services. Students still have the option, however, to opt out at any time.
Attard says Student Support’s journey has been inspiring and filled with lessons along the way.
One thing that inspired Attard was that some students would opt in to Student Support even if they didn’t need the service. Their goal was helping their fellow students get access to essential supports and help lessen the cost burden among the student body.
Attard says it’s fulfilling to know that Student Support empowers students to be able to empower their fellow students to gain access to the support they need.
Between essential writing services, meditation services, a near limitless archive of education resources and more, Student Support is eager to form more strategic partnerships and meaningful relationships to bring more services to students at a fraction of the cost.
Next steps for Ajamu Attard
While current day-to-day operations at Student Support keeps Ajamu Attard on his feet and working around the clock, he does his best to continue giving back to the community and exploring his passions.
Ajamu Attard attended a convention with RISE – an organization that lends funding and support to entrepreneurs with mental health issues.
Attard is also exploring speaking opportunities to discuss social entrepreneurship, and encourage others to follow their passions as well. On his website, he allows organizations to book him for conferences and as a keynote speaker.
Attard wants to leave budding entrepreneurs and students alike with a final note.
“Community is about uplifting each other, and it’s our job to make the world a better place.”
Small Business Survival: Joseph Kenney on Why Understanding Consumer Behavior is Key
Small businesses are the backbone of any economy. They contribute significantly to the growth and development of a country. However, the survival of these businesses is not guaranteed, especially in today’s ever-changing business landscape.
One of the key factors that determine the success or failure of a small business is the understanding of consumer behavior. This article delves into why understanding consumer behavior is essential for small businesses, with insights from Joseph Kenney, a business strategist, and founder of several businesses including the award-winning 316 Strategy Group.
Joseph Kenney has worked with numerous small business owners, and his experience has shown that understanding consumer behavior is crucial for the success of a small business. “Many small business owners make the mistake of assuming they know what their customers want, without really taking the time to understand their behavior,” he says. “This can lead to missed opportunities, lost revenue, and ultimately, the failure of the business.”
Identify Target Market
The first reason why understanding consumer behavior is crucial is that it helps small business owners to identify their target market. Without understanding who their customers are and what they want, businesses can waste a lot of time and resources marketing to the wrong audience. “You can’t be all things to all people,” says Kenney. “It’s essential to understand who your ideal customer is, what they like, and how they behave. This knowledge will help you tailor your marketing messages to resonate with them.”
For instance, consider a small business that sells children’s toys. Without understanding the behavior of parents and what motivates them to buy toys for their children, the business might create marketing messages that don’t resonate with them. However, if the business understands that parents are motivated by the desire to see their children happy and entertained, they can create marketing messages that emphasize the fun and educational aspects of their products.
Stay Ahead of the Competition
The second reason why understanding consumer behavior is important is that it helps small business owners to stay ahead of their competition. By understanding what their customers want and need, businesses can create products and services that stand out from the competition. “It’s not enough to create a product or service and hope that people will buy it,” says Kenney. “You need to understand what your customers want and tailor your offerings to meet those needs.”
For example, consider a small business that sells organic skincare products. By understanding the behavior of consumers who are interested in natural and organic products, the business can create skincare products that are not only natural but also effective. This will give the business a competitive edge over other skincare products that might only be natural but not as effective.
Better Customer Experiences
The third reason why understanding consumer behavior is important is that it helps small business owners to create better customer experiences. By understanding what their customers want, businesses can create products and services that meet their needs and provide a better overall experience.
“People want to feel heard and understood,” says Kenney. “When businesses take the time to understand their behavior, they can create experiences that leave a lasting impression.”
Consider a small business that sells clothing at a women’s boutique. By understanding the behavior of their customers, the business can create a shopping experience that is personalized and memorable. For instance, they can offer personalized recommendations based on the customer’s style and preferences. This will make the customer feel valued and appreciated, leading to repeat business and positive word-of-mouth.
However, understanding consumer behavior is not easy. It requires businesses to gather and analyze data on their customer’s behavior, preferences, and needs. This can be a daunting task, especially for small businesses that may not have the resources to invest in data collection and analysis. Kenney suggests that small business owners can start by talking to their customers, asking for feedback, and observing their behavior in-store or online. Kenney suggests that business owners should have meetings with their point-of-sale representatives to access the valuable data stored in the POS system. According to Kenney, more than 95% of businesses fail to utilize this consumer-rich data.
“It’s important to make customer feedback a part of your business strategy,” he says. “You should always be listening to your customers and using that feedback to improve your products and services. This will help you stay ahead of the competition and create a better overall customer experience.”
Understanding consumer behavior can also help small businesses adapt to changing trends and consumer preferences. For instance, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many small businesses had to pivot their operations to online sales as more consumers shifted their shopping habits online. Businesses that understood the behavior of their customers and were able to adapt quickly were more likely to survive the pandemic than those that didn’t.
Understanding consumer behavior is essential for the survival of small businesses. It helps businesses identify their target market, stay ahead of the competition, create better customer experiences, and adapt to changing trends and preferences. “The businesses that succeed in the long term are those that understand their customers and tailor their offerings to meet their needs,” says Kenney. “Small businesses that fail to do so will fail to exist.”
As a small business owner, take the time to understand your customers and their behavior. Listen to their feedback, observe their behavior, and use data to inform your business decisions. By doing so, you can create products and services that meet their needs, stand out from the competition, and provide a better overall customer experience. In the end, this will lead to more sales, repeat business, and positive word-of-mouth, helping your small business thrive and grow.
Tech Leaders and Experts Call for Curbing AI Tech Advancements: What are The Pros and Cons?
In recent years, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has made great strides in advancing various fields, from medicine and science to transportation and entertainment. However, with the growing concerns over the potential risks of AI, some tech leaders and experts are calling for curbing the development of AI technologies.
In this article, we will explore the pros and cons of curbing AI tech advancements and evaluate whether it is a good idea or not.
Pros of Curbing AI Tech Advancements
1. Ensuring the safety and security of humans
As AI technologies continue to become more advanced, the potential risks associated with them also increase. This includes the possibility of AI systems causing harm intentionally or unintentionally.
For instance, AI-powered self-driving cars may malfunction and result in accidents that result in harm or even death. We can ensure that AI development is carried out in a safe and secure manner and reduce the hazards connected with these technologies by limiting the advancement of AI technology.
2. Preventing the loss of jobs
Many occupations could be automated as a result of the advancement of AI technology, which could result in a large loss of employment across a number of industries. As people struggle to find employment in a society that is becoming more and more computerized, this could cause economic and social unrest.
We can decrease the pace of automation and avoid the loss of jobs that are still essential to our economy by limiting the development of AI technology.
3. Addressing biases in AI systems
There have been numerous instances of racial, gender, and other biases in AI systems. This may have discriminatory effects and exacerbate social injustices already present. We may concentrate on correcting these biases and making sure that AI systems are fair and unbiased by limiting the development of AI technology.
4. Protecting privacy and human rights
AI systems have the capacity to gather and analyze enormous amounts of data, which can be used to violate people’s privacy and human rights. This includes the unintentional identification of persons using facial recognition technology or the discrimination against particular groups of people by AI algorithms.
We can create rules that safeguard individuals’ privacy and stop AI systems from being misused by limiting the development of AI technology.
Cons of Curbing AI Tech Advancements
1. Limiting innovation and progress
AI has the ability to transform numerous industries and open up new doors for advancement and creativity. AI might be used, for instance, to strengthen transportation systems, speed up scientific research, and improve healthcare outcomes. We risk missing out on the advantages AI can offer if we slow down its technological development.
2. Stifling creativity and innovation
In the arts, like as in music and literature, AI is also employed. We could reduce the possibility for new kinds of creative expression and innovation by limiting the progress of AI technology. AI algorithms, for instance, can be utilized to produce new musical compositions or visual art. We might inhibit creativity and innovation in these and other sectors by restricting the growth of AI.
3. Hindering scientific research
By restricting the development of AI technology, we could impede breakthroughs in a number of disciplines, including physics, environmental science, and medicine.
AI is an important instrument for scientific research. AI can be used, for instance, to examine huge datasets and spot patterns that are hard or impossible for humans to see. We could impede scientific advancement in these and other disciplines by restricting the growth of AI.
4. Falling behind in the global AI race
Governments all over the world are making significant investments in AI research and development; if we slow down the development of AI technology, we run the risk of falling behind in this race. Long-term economic and national security ramifications could result from this, since nations with advanced AI technology may have a competitive advantage over those without it.
Both the pros and cons of curbing AI tech advancements need to be carefully considered before any decisions are made. While there are valid concerns about the potential risks associated with AI technologies, it is also important to recognize the potential benefits that AI can bring to various fields.
The choice to limit the development of AI technology should ultimately be weighed against the possible advantages and disadvantages of doing so, with the necessary safeguards in place to protect the public.
Now over to you: In your opinion, is it a good idea to curb the AI tech advancements? Why? Please share your thoughts.
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