February 21, 2020
The Future of Farming is Circular: Reflections from Davos 2020
For the past several years, I have had the privilege of attending the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, where having been on the Global Agenda Counsel for Water Security and Co-Chairing the YGL Circular Economy Taskforce for the forum I spend the majority of the trip strategizing through the most pressing global issues of our time with many of the world’s most influential leaders from both the public and private sectors. I was proud to be part of the launch of the UN SDG Ambition lunch with Accenture, which provides a roadmap of moving thoughts to action to deliver on the SDGs and continue to serve on the Global Internet of Things Council.
Last year, the major focus at Davos was the state of our environment and the solutions that urgently needed to be put in place by corporations, NGOs and governments to slow down and reverse climate change, and I had the honor of hearing then-15-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg’s poignant speech. One year later, our house is still very much “on fire,” but the overall energy at Davos felt different – I was sincerely encouraged and inspired by other leaders taking a stand for our planet & society in tangible, impactful ways.
Two attendees whom I had the good fortune of hearing firsthand were Satya Nadella of Microsoft and Larry Fink of Blackrock. Microsoft recently unveiled plans to invest $1 billion to support companies working on technologies to remove carbon from the atmosphere and to shift Microsoft’s data center to renewables, a powerful move that puts planet first and sets precedent for responsible business-as-usual. This move echoes Fink’s bold message in his recent letter to CEOs, where he stated that “climate risk is investment risk” and with the “impact of sustainability on investment returns increasing, [we] believe that sustainable investing is the strongest foundation for client portfolios going forward.” As a certified B Corporation, we at AeroFarms applaud these initiatives, and fundamentally believe that smart, responsible business design and practices are some of the most powerful forces for affecting change in our global, interconnected society.
Another powerful headline this year is around the need to invest in healthy, livable, resilient cities. Cities have a disproportionately high carbon footprint, representing 50% of the global population but 70% of the world’s GHG emissions. With 70% of the global population projected to live in megacities by 2050, initiatives that focus on healthy cities and city dwellers are essential. With our HQ and largest commercial farming project to date in Newark, NJ, a city at the heart of the NYC Tri-State Area, we are keenly aware of the challenges that face urban dwellers and the need for rapid and meaningful innovations that help mitigate pollution, decrease carbon footprint, provide access to healthy food, promote biodiversity, and increase overall wellbeing.
Finally, one of the most meaningful initiatives that I am excited to be a part of is the launch of the Circular Economy Handbook, co-authored by Peter Lacy of Accenture, and for which I was privileged to write the forward. I have been deeply inspired by the Cradle to Cradle philosophy and Bill McDonough’s work over the last few decades, and closely involved in circular economy thinking for many years through both AeroFarms and my previous companies. While adopting circular business principles and leveraging disruptive technologies has been a discussion point for small- and medium-sized companies in the last decade, this year there was a major focus on large-scale, industry-wide adoption of circular business models with major implications for both cost savings and environmental impact. For example, analysis by Accenture has found that the fast-moving consumer goods industry can capture up to $110 billion by 2030 by optimizing its packaging for circularity.
At AeroFarms we work to design our operations and our business to embody circular and cradle-to-cradle thinking. Our aeroponic growing towers are a closed-loop system, recycling and using less water and nutrients while misting the roots of our plants with targeted nutrients, water while optimally oxygenating the roots. We can grow plants faster and more efficiently than in the field, with zero pesticides. After testing over one hundred types of growth media for our plants, we have developed a reusable cloth medium made out of 100% recycled materials for seeding, germinating, growing, and harvesting. Moreover, our company’s mission and activities are in complete alignment with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal #2, to achieve Zero Hunger by 2030: to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture for all.
This is the year of going beyond ideating and into the sphere of doing–making tangible strides toward our goals through collaboration & partnership within our industry and beyond. I look forward to being a part of the ecosystem at Davos for years to come, and working towards a future based in responsible, circular business models that is healthier and more resilient for all.