The world faces urgent challenges in the coming decades as climate change and a growing population make many of our current systems of production unsustainable. Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, former prime minister of Norway and former director general of the World Health Organization, addressed the 800 experts, leaders, scientists and professionals from 500 companies and over 80 countries attending the three-day event. She said: “There is no turning back. The need for private sector engagement is stronger than ever. We cannot solve all the challenges without the resources, the expertise, the technology and brain power of business.” Stefan Scheiber, CEO of Bühler Group, said: “We are ready to accept the challenge and in fact we are convinced that this is a pathway to building sustainable businesses delivering sustainable solutions. But we are running out of time. That is why we have increased our sustainability goals: our aim is to reduce energy requirements, water consumption, and waste by 50 percent in our customers’ value chains. No business can do this alone. We need widescale collaboration from every sector and part of the world.”
Bühler’s second Networking Days in Uzwil took place under the motto “Creating tomorrow together” and provided a forum for manufacturers, industry partners, scientists and start-ups to share ideas and inspire each other, focusing on the key questions: How can we feed a global population of nearly 10 billion people and help fulfill their mobility needs in 2050 whilst respecting the limits of the planet?
Industry must become part of the solution
“The challenges have accelerated dramatically. The world today is better, in many respects, than ever before. Yet the progress we have made comes at too high a price. We are using nature’s resources faster than our planet’s ecosystems can regenerate. We now have just 10 years to prevent irreversible damage from climate change,” said Stefan Scheiber, CEO of Bühler Group. “But today we have the opportunity to make a real difference and shift course. Business has to be part of the solution.”
The earth’s population is predicted to grow to 9.8 billion by 2050, with 70 percent living in urban areas. These shifts will put a strain on food and transport systems unless we make fundamental changes. Speaking at the event, Sunny Verghese, Group CEO of Olam International Limited and chair of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, underlined the importance of the challenges: “You cannot produce the food, feed, and fiber that all of us need if we destroy the planet,” he said. “There has to be an alternative way to do this on a more sustainable basis. Business as usual will not get us there so do not accept the status quo.”
Good reason for optimism
The combined potential for change embodied by the businesses present at the Bühler Networking Days is enormous. Together they feed 4 billion people and provide mobility for 1 billion every day – a powerful lever for change. The food of the future could well be grown in the fermentation tank, rather than in the field and ocean. Both disruptive new companies and incumbents are investing to address the consumer needs of today and the future. They are developing new technologies using biomanufacturing and digital advances to revolutionize agriculture and increase yields to meet the world’s nutritional needs within the environmental boundaries.
Saint-Gobain, representing the building and construction sector, brought the perspective of heavy industry. “The built environment is one of the most emitting sectors, responsible for one third of the CO2 emissions in the world,” said Patrick Dupin, CEO of Saint Gobain Northern Europe. His company’s approach of pricing CO2 into innovation and investment projects was given as an inspiration for participants from other sectors. In mobility, participants shared ideas on how to achieve sustainability goals with advances in battery technology, shared mobility, and the development of autonomous vehicles, enabled by new digital technologies and increasing connectivity.
Actions taken by participants at Bühler Networking Days can have a significant impact. “In this room we have convened people that influence the three most important levers to make a change to carbon emissions,” said Ian Roberts, chief technology officer of Bühler. A third of global CO2 emissions are created by buildings, a third by mobility and a third by agriculture – the major players from each of these sectors were present at Bühler’s Networking Days 2019.
Digital technology and collaboration – the key ingredients
A theme throughout the event was the power of digitalization to help meet these challenges. “Digitalization has changed the world. It allows completely new technical solutions, changes how we collaborate, communicate, and innovate. It is changing and disrupting our lives and, crucially, can help us to meet our sustainability targets,” said Ian Roberts. Bühler is already leveraging the power of IoT, Artificial Intelligence and big data to enable faster, smarter, better decisions. Bühler Insights, the first cloud platform dedicated to the food and feed industry, is helping to drive up yields, reduce waste, and improve food safety.
“Technology has a huge role to play,” said Ian Roberts. “But it cannot solve these challenges alone. We also need to think and work across value chains and systems. We cannot achieve our targets by working in isolation. Collaboration is no longer an option – it must be a core competence in all businesses.” Bühler is already creating networks with industry partners, research institutes, universities, startups and not-for-profit organizations to broaden and deepen the knowledge and expertise focused on solving these challenges. Through its 29 application and training centers it has created a worldwide network for innovation.
This view was echoed by Stefan Palzer, executive vice president and chief technology officer of Nestlé Global, who said that his company—the world’s largest food company—has launched an accelerator this year and opened it labs and its expertise to startups, to help them advance more quickly to valid prototypes.
The first collaboration is agreed
The Bühler Networking Days 2019 provided the opportunity for much networking across and within industries, and was the impetus for new collaborations. After just one day it bore fruit: MassChallenge, the largest global startup accelerator and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, announced at the event that they had agreed to collaborate to identify climate change solutions. Minutes later, One Young World, a not-for-profit that promotes young leaders, offered their support. John Harthorne, founder of MassChallenge, said: “We will each get more value and impact out of the collaboration than we could get as individual entities.” Sunny Verghese, chair of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, said “What I like about Networking Days is it’s not all about Bühler; it’s about bringing us all together.”
How to become part of the solution
No one could embody better the sense of purpose shared by participants at Bühler Networking Days than Isabel Wijsen. At the age of 10, she and her sister founded a campaign group in their home, Bali, to tackle the issue of plastic waste. Bye Bye Plastic Bags succeeded in getting single-use plastic bags banned on the island and has since gone global – a perfect demonstration of the power and determination of young people to make change.
Bühler recognizes the potential in its own employees and already provides a platform for them to contribute their ideas about how the company should develop in future through Generation B. Kate Robertson, co-founder of One Young World, said: “When you see a company as efficient, as innovative, as driven as Bühler taking their young talent seriously, you begin to see what the world of business can actually do.”
Closing the event, Stefan Scheiber underscored the need to hand over a better world to future generations. “We recognize the urgency of the challenges and have dramatically increased our sustainability commitments. It is now our goal to reduce energy, waste and water by 50% in all our future solutions, and make a significant impact in the value chains of our customers,” he said. “As industries, companies and individuals, we all have to ask ourselves, today, how we can become part of the solution. We hope that Bühler Networking Days 2019 will be seen as a turning point. The challenges are demanding, but we can do it.”