Sustainability

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supply chain

Managing the global and local supply chain

The term glocal, used to describe global and local actions together, is used in several ways by business today. Many people supporting the local movement, such as local food advocates and those proposing ways to use local business for community building, suggest that some business activities should always consider transportation to the end market, including supplies in the supply chain. In an effort to reduce carbon footprint associated with shipping costs, the closer to home a built, manufactured, or grown product can be sold and used, the better. Global communication allows language, culture, news, and other exchanges of human knowledge and expression to be freely shared across cultures.

Maintaining a local business across the supply chain is quite difficult to do, even for artisans and those in the cottage industries, but for many the needed changes that will come with the local movement are worth the extra effort and expense to source goods locally. But for business, the use of glocal also suggests the cultural influences in attempting a new product launch into a global market.

A new startup develops a prototype and finds manufacturing partners that meet needs for productivity, supply, cost, and collaboration. When the product is ready for launch into other markets, local cultures will dictate how a product should be advertised, marketed, presented, and sold, as well as legal and regulatory issues. A piece of wearable tech designed to help women get pregnant by using biomarkers will be marketed differently in Kenya, Japan, and Iceland, for example.

Having specialists on board who are attending to anticipated glocal needs for a product launch early in the planning stages is important, but at the time of product launch, local partners will probably need to become involved. Continue reading

nanofarm

Small scale farming and Nanofarming improving

How are we going to feed ourselves in 2050, when the population of the world reaches 9.7 billion? How are we going to manage resources, when the majority of fresh water in the world goes to farming, and nearly half of farm produce ends up in landfills? Food waste of various types is the leading cause of methane gas production from landfills, which is contributing to climate change and impacting our access to fresh water. Across the world, being overweight (rich countries) and underweight (poor countries) is causing loss of life and human potential, and an enormous burden on health care systems. Will a kitchen still be used?

These strangely circular global problems can be broken down into these: unequal land and water resources; systems of agriculture that will require infrastructure development for storage and shipping of food in the developing world; systems of food shopping and eating behaviors in the developed world that perpetuates waste and obesity.  It might seem like a simple problem with simple solutions, to have half of the world ill from poor nutrition and vitamin deficiency, and half dying of diseases caused by obesity. Even stranger to have people going hungry while half the food we produce goes to waste. But these are problems of different systems, and changes in one system, while impactful, do not necessarily cause change across the board.

The challenges of agriculture, infrastructure development, storage and shipping of food, and nutrition in the developing world, are related systems that can be affected by resources, research, and hard work. In the developed world, resources, research, and hard work are also needed to affect change. But what is it that we need to change? Patterns of behavior, cultural standards, entitlement, habit? Are we all just spoiled brats who want what we want, and if it isn’t right, we throw it away in a snit? Will we have to face a global Armageddon on fresh strawberries and the decimation of the artisanal cheese industry before we start showing some care about our food?

We can leave the whole charged issue of spoiled brat/snit to the sociologists. The rest of us want to do better. We want to eat healthy food, and we want to eat ugly squash and tomatoes to save them from an afterlife in the landfill, covered with flies and making methane gas. We don’t want to throw away food, but we also don’t want to overeat, and after two weeks in the fridge, the Chinese food take out really needs to go. We would all probably eat less meat and more quinoa if we had a clue how to cook it, or what you were supposed to do with it in reference to a pot of chili. And we all want to support local organic farmers and reduce the carbon footprint of monoculture farms, but some mornings we just need to grab a muffin and go, and we don’t care how far that muffin had to travel to get into our hands.

These are guilt-laden conundrums, in which we take on responsibility for the fate of the planet as a direct consequence of how far our coffee beans were forced to travel. It’s no wonder that eating, tasting, growing, a simple cob of corn comes with a mantle of blame and quiet desperation before we even begin to douse it in butter and salt. It’s ridiculous, but it’s us.

But individual changes in behavior, while helpful, are not going to change a system that is unsuited for the current population growth v. resources issue as we understand it. At this time, most of us have kitchens in our homes or apartments. We shop for groceries in the grocery store, and take food home to cook for meals. We eat out in restaurants or fast food places a couple of times a week. In this system, farmers are going bankrupt, farm workers who pick produce are starving, fast food and restaurant workers are living below the poverty line, and grocery stores are showing huge profits. In addition, much of the food we buy is better travelled than we are. Those crazy jet-setting grapes, that arrive in the store after a long ocean voyage from South America!

Food waste happens in the current system in several places: at the farms, unattractive fresh fruits and veggies are not even picked–too expensive, and no market. At the grocery store, the nice-looking stuff goes fast, while the asymmetrical squash sits until it is past prime.  And when those lovely grapes are on sale, we take home a huge bag, and after several days of gorging on grapes, we let the rest of the bag sit until it starts to form raisins, even in the fridge, and we throw it away. There are several nonprofit groups who are developing systems to deal with food waste, including rescuing ugly produce and delivering it to food banks. While these groups are doing good work, they are not changing the system that is producing the problem. Continue reading

geoengineering

Climate Engineering basics

Geoengineering, also called climate engineering, is a group of technologies that are seeking to mitigate the effects of climate change by two methods. The first of these, CDR, stands for carbon dioxide removal. The second is SRM, or solar radiation management.

CDR technologies are trying to remove the excess carbon stored in the atmosphere–greenhouse gases and emissions. When businesses and activists talk about the “carbon footprint,” they are talking about the total carbon emissions from a human activity. Positive carbon footprints mean the excess carbon we produce is hanging over our heads, stuck in the atmosphere.

What exactly is geoengineering? Engineers are working on technologies that will slow or reverse the consequences of climate change. These are two basic types: carbon dioxide removal, or CDR—this tech removes emissions and greenhouse gases. The second type is solar radiation management, or SRM. This tech reduces the amount of solar energy warming the planet.

Two concerns are at the top of a long list of concerns regarding efforts to reduce or reverse climate change. Do we understand the effects of a single change introduced into a complex system? Does complexity itself predict that we cannot know the consequences of a single change introduced into a system of great complexity, such as the atmosphere of the earth? Continue reading

ecommerce

etailers vs retailers

In the etailers versus retailers war, the etailers are winning. Market shares for everything ecommerce are growing. Tech solutions have concentrated efforts on customer management and marketing software for ecommerce platforms. Consumers have responded by shopping online in their pajamas in the middle of the global night from every possible corner of the world.

Big data analysis and trend and pattern prediction using deep neural networks will continue to form a growing part of planning and market analysis. Human-AI hybrid management teams will become more common. We may see something similar in the way stakeholders are planning and implementing complex infrastructure development now. Business may find itself regularly collaborating with government, education, and the private sector to plan, manage and fund business projects. This collaborative organizational model will allow the heavy burdens of regulatory compliance, funding, public opinion, environmental impact, and other challenges to be met by a team with a variety of skills. This new collaborative model can reduce the risks associated with the digital transformation of business.

There are, however, some limitations and challenges that remain. Some industries are very well suited to ecommerce, and some are less so. Who are the winners so far?

Medical and Legal Ecommerce

Consultations with experts–doctors, lawyers, accountants, and other specialty information brokers are very well suited to ecommerce applications. In the US, the federal government recently passed a bill allowing insurance reimbursement through Tricare, one of the federal insurance programs, for telemedicine. This bill signals tacit approval for these services, and they have responded by developing very workable systems for both medical and mental health visits. Tech such as video conferencing allows face to face meetings, and systems have been put into place to limit the possibility of diversion or misuse, such as the restriction on prescribing controlled substances through a teleconference. Tech which allows interstate prescribing electronically to drug stores who are in the system, such as the chain drug stores and those registered with the large insurance providers, means medicines are available immediately after a visit. New technologies allow home-bound patients to deliver results of weights, blood pressure readings, and blood samples to the medical provider through electronic systems.

Continue reading

stratecta

Gender Identity for AI

Artificial neural networks have given AIs the functionality for complex problem solving and pattern recognition, and they have entered the workforce, particularly in areas of big data analysis and global finance. As we begin to interact with and study these new learning machines, interesting questions arise. Are they going to take on human behavioral and gender distinctions (gender identity), because they have been programmed with data sets that have unconscious bias? Will those who are giving the learning machines feedback to focus their problem solving allow behavioral constraints into the teaching? If we give the AIs a woman’s voice, and a woman’s name, will we interact with her as if she was a woman? And does that mean she will in turn internalize those social expectations and become more female?

Naturally we are interested in all things having to do with gender. It is the first sentence the world places upon us, when the midwife announces boy or girl. We love gender. We give our teddy bears genders, and can describe in detail why we think-no, why we know that our little darling is a boy or girl. We give our cars genders, names, and personalities. It’s just because we’re human, and we want to humanize the things we love, and that surround us. And part of humanizing inanimate objects is to give them a name, a gender, and shower them with affection.

Part of our fascination with gender has led to some poor science, the popularity of which has trickled down into our collective consciousness. The idea that male brains and female brains are different in a significant way is probably not true, though the debate rages. Structure follows function, and hormones affect the developing brain. But even with minor structural and functional differences in the brains that are most probably hormonally-based, there is very little difference in boys and girl’s brains. There is a much wider variance between individuals than can be measured than between generalized groups based just on gender. We are more complicated than can be described in pop-science about hardwired aggression and nurture vs nature.

What is different between genders is communication, how we use language, and there the gender differences are significant enough to be measured. If we think of communication as the way we input data into our brains, we grow our biological neural networks with the complex range of human communication to which we’re exposed. And there are differences between male and female communication.

So with the science showing that biological neural networks- aka human brains- are more complex than can be measured, but are influenced by hormones, language, biology, and the wide range of human culture, we are left to consider if artificial neural networks will also be influenced by language and human culture. (This is assuming that the artificial neural networks that are biology and hormonally mediated are still a few years in the future.) Continue reading

stratecta beans

Disaster Brewing: Climate Change and Coffee Beans

Global stakeholders throughout the coffee industry, consumers, foodies and farmers are beginning to understand the catastrophic nature of global climate change: it is not just that the world is in danger, but our supply of high quality coffee beans is affected, and that catastrophe is happening right now. In the highlands of Ethiopia, coffee bean quality and yield had dropped. Costa Rica and India have had similar decreases in yields. Worrisome pests, disease, changes in global weather patterns, and the entire coffee ecosystem teeters on the brink of disaster. What is going on, and, more importantly, what is being done?

Coffee needs a relatively narrow band of climate, weather, and elevation to produce really superb beans, in the quantity needed for global demand. The cloud-forests and fragile, diverse mountain ecosystems that grow the best coffee have a unique blend of temperature, rainfall, sunshine, nurse-trees, companion plants, and pest and disease resistance. Even a change in global temperature of a degree can change rainfall patterns and promote diseases that can impact the coffee crop radically.

For many countries in the narrow tropical zone that supports the coffee ecosystem, this commodity product in one of only two that grow uniquely in these areas- the other being cacao- and entire political and economic systems depend on the revenue brought by this product. Climate change has the potential to destroy the coffee farms across this tropical zone.

What is being done to protect the world from what can only be described as a global catastrophe? The SCA, the Specialty Coffee Association, sponsored a conference in October in Guatemala City to address the challenges and look for solutions. With stakeholders from across the coffee supply chain, the conference, called Avance, sought cross-cultural collaboration and problem solving to address the changes in the industry. Topics under discussion included farm labor and the development of producer’s cooperatives, issues affecting profitability of coffee farms, including new markets outside of traditional commodity markets, and climate-smart practices for farmers. Some of the climate-smart practices, specifically developed to address the impacts of climate change, include reforestation, encouraging diversity, and safe pest and disease control.  Continue reading

startup

The New Capitalism

The New Capitalism brings together business values and practices to make a product, make some money, and change the world. The business values that are being built into these new companies from the beginning include fair labor practices, environmental stewardship, a supply chain with a conscience and transparency, and a social justice heart. They are also using new capital funding options such as crowdfunding to build sustainability into the bones of the enterprise.

Several successful textiles industry startups are using the new models to build companies that address, first and foremost, the issues of unfair labor practices and supply chain fixing. The textile industry is the source for some of our most shameful practices, including sweatshops that use child and forced labor and keep workers living in poverty, practices to fix prices of raw materials so farmers and shepherds continue to live in poverty without access to markets, and use of hazardous materials, such as heavy metal dyes for silk and other natural fibers that bring disease and environmental degradation to communities of craftsmen.

The new models are building environmental stewardship and fair labor practices into their companies through company values that address these areas, and many are structuring a business model with both profit and non-profit arms. Everlane is a clothing company that uses what they describe as radical transparency to give consumers a look into their supply chain and factories. They recently took their Black Friday profits and turned them over, providing worker-focused benefits. A couple of shipping container hydroponic gardens will be moving across the ocean to live outside the cafeteria of the factory in Ho Chi Mihn City, where many of their clothes are made, to supply the workers with fresh leafy greens. Continue reading