Rising to global challenges together

01 July 202215 min reading

In a demonstration of the commitment of businesses to be at the forefront of tackling the climate crisis to protect and restore nature and biodiversity, and close the gap in wealth distribution, 1,000 representatives of the world’s leading companies from 95 countries gathered in Uzwil at the Bühler Group’s global headquarters this week to discuss the urgent need for business to come together to accelerate the transition towards sustainability.

Representing companies that between them feed 4 billion of the world’s population, and who move 2 billion, delegates attending the Bühler Networking Days 2022 event on June 27-28, heard from leading academics, business leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators about how businesses can best meet today’s global challenges.

Opening the event, Bühler Group CEO, Stefan Scheiber, told guests from the food, animal feed, and mobility sectors that despite businesses recently facing myriad obstacles, the examples of vaccine research, advances in digitalization and the development of communication at scale during the lockdown all demonstrated the capacity of business to rise to global challenges when required. “We have experienced the power of science and innovation with industries collaborating at a new scale,” said Scheiber. “In our industries – in animal nutrition, food, and mobility – the innovation rate has never been as high as it is today, which creates impact because we need new technologies and widespread collaboration to tackle new challenges, and at the same time secure the future of our businesses in a responsible way. We need technologies, we need collaboration, and responsible leadership to shape the future.” 

Bühler Group Networking Days was launched in 2016 and is held every three years. The 2022 event with the motto “accelerating impact together” focused on leadership, the need for corporate purpose, education, technology, and innovation, along with examples of how companies are leveraging technology to protect biodiversity, improve food security, and promote social equality.        


Ranjay Gulati, Harvard Professor of Business Administration, and author of “Deep Purpose: The Heart and Soul of High-Performance Companies”, warned company leaders not to get wrapped up in complex metrics around Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) when companies achieve far more impact by having a clearly articulated social purpose. “The first way in which purpose can accelerate impact is by providing direction,” explained Gulati. “Purpose creates a compass and an oriented framework around where you are going in turbulent times when you have lots of things going on around you.” He added that focusing on social purpose also motivates and inspires employees while a clearly expressed business motivation often provides useful clarity and orientation for business partners. Gulati cites Bühler in his book on deep purpose as an example of a company that has successfully adopted this approach. Once a social purpose is decided on, it must be properly explained to all stakeholders both internally as well as externally, so that it becomes part of the corporate DNA and can be expressed in all of a company’s actions.   

Another example of a company that has embraced Gulati’s philosophy is Dole Sunshine Company which defines its purpose as creating “a more equitable world where everyone irrespective of their age, race, income, location or gender has the right to nutrition that comes from the goodness of the earth.” Speaking at the event, President of Dole Sunshine Company, Pier Luigi Sigismondi, outlined some of the actions the agricultural multinational corporation, formed in 1851, has recently taken. “We at Dole came out of 30 years of being a victim of being focused on short-termism and thinking the only responsibility we had was to deliver profit,” said Sigismondi. Describing how the company had transformed during the global pandemic he added: “In the Covid-19 crisis we asked ourselves: ‘What can we do to drive our business with success and with purpose in a way that we can live with our conscience and be meaningful for all of us?’” Over the past two years, Dole has partnered with NGOs, businesses, and start-ups to drive change by improving nutrition and sustainability levels. Initiatives include a target to remove fossil-based plastics from packaging by 2025, turning fruit waste into fibers to create fashion products, improving accessibility to nutritious fruit-based snacks for children, and raising public health awareness by projecting malnutrition facts onto the sides of building and trash cans in New York, Los Angeles, and Baltimore. Dole Sunshine Company is about to replicate the awareness-raising campaign in London. 


Swiss entrepreneur and owner of CN & Partners AG, Christoph Nyfeler, told the conference about opening the first commercial malting house based in Switzerland for 90 years. Despite a challenging market he plans to leverage the circular economy to help him develop local supply chains by producing plant-based meat with the waste material from the brewing process and launch Circular Food Solutions Switzerland. He has teamed up with a Bühler spin-off to produce plant-based meat from spent grain. “All malt is transported into Switzerland as it has almost no value, and yet I believe local production to be part of today’s solutions,” explained Nyfeler. “Local production is more expensive, but if I can buy the spent grain back, I can give an economic benefit to the breweries.”  


In a session on how good business leadership is needed to mitigate climate change, Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, said that in uncertain times leadership qualities could be distilled down to three key attributes: he told delegates that when assessing future leaders at Microsoft he looked for their ability to generate energy, deliver results under constraints, and create clarity when none exists. “We live in a complex uncertain world, there will always be ambiguity in our work, true leaders always bring clarity and make a call even during uncertain times,” said Nadella.  

Speaking in the same session keynote speaker Christian Klein, CEO of SAP, the German multinational software corporation with over 400,000 customers globally, spoke of the need for leaders to thoroughly understanding their industry and business, especially when it comes to complexity within supply chains. “We are all on social media sharing data all the time and yet when it comes to businesses, how much do we understand our supply chains? I am convinced this is where we must come together to share data and trace material flows,” explained Klein. “End-to-end traceability means you can think about how to measure demand in real time and adjust your inventory right down to the raw material.” He added that it is only when supply chains are fully understood that it is possible to improve standards on issues like human rights and properly address Scope 3 emissions.   


Delegates also heard from three start-ups driving sustainability through high-tech advances in cellular agriculture, satellite monitoring of restoration projects, and carbon removal. In a historic moment, Stephanie Michelsen, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Jellatech, a cutting-edge technology company producing animal-free collagen and gelatin in the laboratory, presented to the Networking Days event the first sample of sustainably grown animal-free collagen to ever be seen outside a laboratory. As key ingredients for the pharmaceutical, bio-medical and the food industry, the market is worth USD 8.4 billion annually and is currently solely reliant on animal by-products. To rapturous applause Michelsen told delegates that cellular agriculture has the potential to eliminate all the environmental damage caused by rearing livestock. “Collagen and gelatin are just the starting point for us, there are so many other exciting proteins from animals and nature that we can now grow in a lab,” she told delegates. Jellatech is currently fundraising to move the technology from laboratory to a pilot and beyond. 

Clara Rowe, CEO of Restor, a non-profit start-up that uses satellite imagery to monitor restoration projects globally, pointed to three statistics that outline the climate contribution potential of restoration. “Forest restoration alone is estimated to be able to prevent up to 60% of species extinction that are expected today, to improve food security for over a billion people around the world and to be able to sequester about 299 gigatons of carbon, that is about 30% of the carbon that has accumulated in the atmosphere since the industrial revolution,” said Rowe. By providing greater transparency to restoration projects Rowe argues Restor has the potential to build trust and accountability, inspiring additional investment.     

Dr. Christoph Gebald, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Climeworks, described how his company is removing CO2 from the atmosphere and permanently storing it in the ground to help reverse climate change. Launched 13 years ago, Climeworks now operates the world’s largest plant capturing CO2 from the atmosphere built in Iceland. “This technology is here to stay and in 30 years from now this industry will be very big, it will be removing CO2 on a gigaton level from the atmosphere, and it will operate synergistically with other climate change technologies like solar and wind,” explained Gebald.  


In a move to help achieve its own climate change targets to have solutions ready to multiply that reduce energy, waste, and water by 50% in the value chains of its customers by 2025, Bühler announced that it had assessed the impact of its different processing solutions, on waste, energy, and water consumption, land use and CO2e footprint, along with assessments of how the technological advances impact on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the benefits for circular economy. “By evaluating the impact of our solutions, we can then start tracking their overall accumulative impact,” said Ian Roberts, Bühler CTO. An important contribution is optimization of the industry’s installed asset base and Bühler is learning to monitor the reduction in CO2e footprint resulting from services at its customers’ sites. So far, 30,000 tons of accumulative CO2e reduction have been calculated across only 11 of the Bühler services in customer processes. “We are going to expand that calculation across the whole service portfolio to better understand the impact we can bring together on that CO2e footprint and then verify the calculation as we build better data sets,” said Roberts.  

Bühler is also using new technological solutions to track avoided CO2e emissions. Roberts told delegates that Bühler is now able to provide a service by working with customers to quantify their CO2e footprint. “We can do product assessments and look at where the processing hot spots are and build action plans to drop your CO2e footprint and we can have it externally certified,” he explained. Holger Feldhege, Bühler’s COO, addressed the audience and explained Bühler’s global internal CO2-reduction targets, and how the defined actions will be implemented in Bühler’s operations through a global program which will be implemented starting now until 2030.


In one of the event’s expert talks, Sujit Pande, Bühler Global Marketing and Product Manager for Rice Solutions, described the complexities associated with processing rice given the thousands of different varieties and weather conditions under which rice is grown. “It is estimated that rice feeds around half of the global population and yet when compared to other energy sources such as wheat, maize barley and sorghum, rice forms roughly a quarter of the energy source of the world,” explained Pande. The discrepancy between energy source and population dependency is due to rice being a key subsistence crop and so solely used as a food source. Rice is also linked to food security and so has a direct impact on the political security of a country and tends to be eaten in regions of high population density.   


Leading representatives from academic institutions outlined the need for greater experiential learning for students and called on businesses to work with their local academic institutions to see how to best achieve this. “You can see companies absorbing a workforce prepared in universities or you can see companies being part of the education system, which is what we see at Bühler, and many other companies based in Switzerland,” said Joël Mesot, President of ETH Zurich. He described to delegates the merit of the Swiss education system and the recognition of the need for a social contract between companies and society to take care of the next generation for the good of the community.  

“It means we can send our students into industry rather than an academic laboratory or they can spend a semester in an exchange with a real company. It gives them exposure and allows businesses to see talent, which means together we bring up the next generation of talent,” said Martin Vetterli President of EPFL Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.  

Speakers warned that the traditional model of episodic education that ended with university was no longer fit for purpose when catering for a dynamic job market requiring constant reskilling. “The question to ask is: ‘How are you in your organization engaging in reskilling and upskilling and using university infrastructure to help do that?’” said Ranjay Gulati, Harvard Professor of Business Administration. “Learning is now a lifelong endeavor and companies need to ask how they are helping their employees to not get locked into a way of thinking about things and to keep constantly challenging themselves.”  


President and CEO of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Peter Bakker, described the three biggest challenges of our time as the climate emergency, loss of nature, and mounting inequality. “I think most of you will by now have got the memo on climate change,” he told delegates. “I would argue that you are not yet comfortable with your role when it comes to inequality. When we are all back in this room [in three years] inequality will be as urgent as climate change is today, society is no longer going to put up with big differences in wealth with deep structural difference in access to opportunities.” He warned the time had come for business to start talking about inequality, system transformation, the need to innovate, behavior change and financial flows.  


When it comes to improving diversity among new entrepreneurs, Izzy Obeng, CEO of Foundervine, a start-up accelerator dedicated to removing the social and economic barriers faced by today’s entrepreneurs, presented the Networking Days audience with some stark statistics. She told the conference that only one cent in every Euro of venture capital funding went to all female teams in 2020, with 15 cent in the Euro going to mixed gender founding teams. In comparison 84 cents in the Euro goes to all male founding teams. Only 38 black entrepreneurs managed to raise venture capital funding between 2009 and 2019, representing only half a percent of the total capital allocated over the 10 years. Obeng told delegates that no black led venture funds in Europe have ever raised significant institutional funding to invest in founders. Foundervine has to date helped over 5,000 leaders in the UK gain the skills to grow businesses and raise investment.  

Obeng told delegates that everyone needed to be involved in conversations around diversity and not just diversity and inclusion teams, adding that businesses also needed to invest more in their local communities. “As leaders we have a real opportunity to set the standards that give a voice to those that have traditionally not had one,” said Obeng. “Strengthen communities that have been historically marginalized and see where your companies and you as an individual can provide opportunities for financial inclusion and wealth building opportunities.” 

Wrapping up the conference Scheiber said: “These two days have proven how massive the potential is to drive meaningful change in so many important areas. I’m so encouraged by the countless interactions and the common desire to accelerate our impact, across industries and on a global scale. Together, we can, and we will, create a better, more sustainable, and fairer world for future generations.” 


The Networking Days Event also provided the opportunity for Bühler to announce a number of joint ventures and partnerships involving industry synergies and technological advances aimed at mitigating climate change. Bühler announced the following partnerships: A partnership with Endeco enabling complete solutions from crops to plant-based meat and dairy analogues and the building of a protein application lab in Uzwil integrating processes from raw material to finished product. A joint venture with Zeta, an engineering company serving the pharmaceutical industry, to produce a one-stop-shop to scale up bioprocessing from laboratory to industrial production. A partnership with Vyncke, facilitating the production of clean energy from biomass and recovered fuel. Bühler announced new application labs to support the latest technologies in milling. A new joint venture with Christopher Nyfeler supporting the circular economy. A partnership with IMDHER specializing in building turnkey plants for animal feed, aqua and pet food plants in Mexico. A partnership with Flottweg specializing in separation technology. A partnership with MMS providing membrane solutions across the food and bio pharma industries. Bühler has partnered with the car manufacturer Volvo to make sure it has the latest technology in its new plant based in Sweden. Partnered with Britishvolt in using continuous production technology in the fourth biggest battery plant in the UK. Bühler has also worked with partners Migros and Givaudan to create The Cultured Hub, to accelerate the future of cultured food processes. Bühler also announced the setting up of the National Board for Switzerland for “One Young World Switzerland” to enable all Swiss companies to access “One Young World” and identify the most impactful Swiss young leaders of tomorrow. 

Bühler announced that it has offset the carbon footprint of the 2022 Networking Days event with two of its partners, Climeworks and Restor.

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