Sustainability Series Op-ed: The Food Tech Revolution

By Christina
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The food industry is the largest economy in the world, its market size around €2 trillion in 2015.  Cereals are the planet’s primary food source, fish provide three billion people with one-fifth of their animal protein intake, and consumption of dairy and meat is rising.

The world’s population is expected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, generating concerns about food supplies as more people will require additional resources. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that the food supply necessary to accommodate this population must increase by 60 percent.  This means, among other estimates, a 19 percent increase in agricultural water consumption, more than a billion tons of cereals in addition to existing supplies, and increased livestock production—already the largest user of agricultural land.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem.  However, business and technology are playing a role in helping to alleviate the issue, one small bite at a time.

Focus on waste

As the world looks to solutions that will alleviate stresses on the planet’s food resources, focus is being placed on food waste, estimated at 1.3 billion tons or a cost of $750 billion each year (excluding fish and seafood).

Consumers, grocery stores and restaurants all contribute to food waste.  Expiration dates that serve more as guidelines than as “laws to live by” mean that food is often discarded while still edible.  More food is purchased than is needed or supersized packaging delivers more food than would have been desired in the first place.  Much of this food waste and its packaging rests in landfills or pollutes the ocean.

The food tech revolution

Plug the computerTechnological advances have transformed industry over the past few decades, from airplane design to the size of our telephones.  Such developments have impacted the way in which we live.  Can technology help solve the world’s eventual food resources challenges?  Can the fusion of technology and food start a “food tech” revolution?

For many, we are already there.  Creative initiatives are now helping to avoid, reduce, repurpose or recycle food waste and make the food industry more sustainable.

A recent movement in France has inspired consumers to purchase malformed – yet perfectly edible—fruits and vegetables at a discounted price.  “Les Gueules Cassées” (literally “Disfigured Faces” and a play-on-words of the inversed expression “casse gueule” which means risky or dangerous) is an association of French food producers whose business model has now expanded from fruits and vegetables to include certain cheeses and cereals under this label.

LiquiGlide is a new, non-stick coating that can be used on the inside of a bottle, so that food never gets stuck inside (apparently the idea was born from research to solve industrial challenges like preventing ice formation on the wings of aircraft).  A German startup, Qmilk, is using sour milk to manufacture textiles.  Several online service providers deliver the exact amount of ingredients needed to make a meal, saving potential food waste and costs.

These are just a few examples, and the venture capital world is taking note.  According to Dow Jones Venture Source, approximately $1.1 billion was invested in food- and beverage-related startups in the U.S. in the first half of 2014.  Although these startups’ activities vary wildly—from food delivery to e-commerce with local farms—the basic message is still there: the investors who traditionally have been behind major shifts in technology and healthcare are now looking at food.

Software’s role in the food tech revolution

Software also has the potential to play a profound role in this revolution by taking it a step further:  focusing on sustainability before food even hits the marketplace.

Solutions can help make industries involved in food production or packaging more environmentally compliant by reducing their use of natural resources or improving their processes.  This has a “pay it forward” effect, reducing waste of water, air, plants and soil.

Orange juice fabrication processConsumer goods packaging companies are using new manufacturing techniques such as “lightweighting” to optimize plastic packaging design, reduce their use of virgin materials and lessen the environmental impact of their plastic packaging throughout its lifecycle. This involves 3D virtual design, finite element analysis, collaborative innovation and workflow management.

Industrial equipment manufacturers are focusing on green agricultural machines that help effectively use water and energy resources for a greateroutput with less input, such as energy or fertilizer.  This can be achieved through collaborative design processes that link mechanical, electrical and hydraulics engineers in a digital environment, before any prototype is made.  Also, stored and managed design data for a machine can be accessed to upgrade equipment and increase its lifecycle.

Drones are being explored for potential applications in farming such as providing data on field irrigation or crop health that help farmers make informed decisions.  High-tech designers and engineers can create complex 3D shapes using cloud-based design tools and social collaboration to enhance a drone’s structure, weight, stability, size, maneuverability and power.

These are just a few examples of software’s potential for sustainability.  In tandem with initiatives to reduce food waste once in the marketplace, technology in general, by attacking the entire food waste lifecycle, has the potential to create a digital disruption in the world’s largest industry.

Sustainability Series blog post: A Decade of Evolution in Sustainability — Q&A

By Christina
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Q&A with Valérie Ferret, Director Public Affairs & Sustainability, Dassault Systèmes

Valérie Ferret, Director Public Affairs & Sustainability, Dassault SystèmesIn 2014, for the first time, carbon emissions decreased over the previous year while the economy grew. Valérie Ferret, Director Public Affairs & Sustainability, Dassault Systèmes, offered her thoughts on this milestone and on the evolution of corporate sustainability. Environmental-responsibilityValerie joined the company in 2008 to develop the influencer network and promote our vision of providing businesses and people

with virtual universes to imagine sustainable innovations. This is the third part in our “Sustainability Series,” aimed to shed light on the importance of positive contributions to preserve the earth’s resources for future generations.


3DS: Ten years ago, how would you define the role of sustainability in the enterprise? What evolution have you witnessed over the past decade?

 VF:  Ten years ago, sustainability meant corporate responsibility.  Companies had not truly embraced the concept of product innovation as part of their sustainability strategies.  This has since changed, yet there is still progress to be made, as it is rare to find an enterprise that has defined an end-to-end sustainability model.

 3DS: In 2014, for the first time, carbon emissions decreased over the previous year while the economy grew.  Can it be said that advances in corporate sustainability are responsible? 

 VF:  Global carbon emissions come mainly from the energy, transportation, agriculture and forestry sectors.  There have been great strides made by companies to integrate sustainability into their operations, and we are now witnessing the fruit of these efforts.  For example, alternative powertrain development is rising in the way of electric vehicles and hybrids, or more efficient turbo-charged internal combustion engines.  Better equipment and infrastructure investment over the last 30 years has doubled fuel efficiency of freight railroads. Now we definitely need to accelerate and develop new business models to decouple economic growth from carbon emissions and resources use.

3DS: Is sustainability top-of-mind at corporations now, or is there still progress to be made? 

VF:  Sustainability is an important aspect of a company’s reputation, and it has become an important topic at the CEO level. Yet the sustainability function is not yet integrated into all aspects of an organization, from marketing, communication and operations, to product development.  Sustainable decisions go beyond the concept of carbon emissions.  They involve resource efficiency and a product lifecycle approach.  Businesses that understand upfront the resources consumption involved in production and in a final product, and how these will benefit nature and life, have a greater chance of succeeding in the marketplace in the longer term.

3DS: How exactly is corporate sustainability measured?

VF: Sustainability methodologies and science have been well developed over the past two decades.  These include lifecycle assessment methodologies at the product level, a balanced combination of environmental, social, governance, financial and innovation indicators at the corporate level, as well as carbon footprinting methodologies both at the product and the enterprise level. A number of notation agencies measure sustainability and recognize corporations that engage in sustainability programs based on their improvement rate rather than on performance, meaning that companies with an excellent performance and lower lever of improvement are not recognized as they should be.  In order to provide a better sustainability assessment, there are more and more standardization and sectorial approaches, which will allow for more accurate comparison between corporations. In addition, we need to progress on real data reporting.  Most methodologies such as carbon footprinting still rely on estimations and average data, which makes it difficult to create a competition market for sustainability. Lastly, product innovation should be at the heart of the assessment in order to create a sustainable economy.

3DS: What kind of influence do consumers have on corporate sustainability strategies?

VF: Sustainability isn’t just about the product and how the consumer uses it, it’s the entire process behind making that happen.  However, consumers are powerful industry drivers.  Public opinion provides valuable feedback—and often pressures—that can extend the corporate innovation system.  For example, consumer desires for alternative and greener transportation methods have inspired large cities like Paris and New York to install short-term bike rentals. However, many companies are still finding that sustainability is not yet a large market driver.

3DS: Technology trends are influencing the types of products that are developed.  Which ones are impacting sustainability and how?

VF:  There are some technology trends which will help companies to have more integrated and ambitious sustainability strategies:

  • Cloud computing will enhance what we call the social industry. Companies will be able to work with an even more extended ecosystem to include not only the supply chain, but also research institutes, partners and consumers, in the innovation process. This will allow for systemic innovation which is key to achieving sustainability.
  • Big data and the Internet of Things will target end-to-end product experiences, from design to usage, for more delightful and efficient experiences.
  • Fablabs are changing production models towards more localized supply and demand.

Technology that can decipher consumer needs and wants and influence subsequent product development can later define new consumer uses, behaviors and experiences.

3DS: In 2050, the world’s population is estimated to surpass 9 billion.  What will be critical to meet the needs of such a large population?

VF:  We will need both scientific and economic innovation to define new business models which decouple resource use and carbon emissions from economic growth.  The world needs to think bigger in order to define targeted strategies.  Take urban infrastructure, for example. How will a city that was built for a population half its size be able to manage waste? With social and environmental pressures so great, virtual technology and process management are effective ways to understand, react to, and drive new initiatives.

3DS: In 2012, you launched Dassault Systèmes’ “sustainable innovation lab” to develop partnerships with customers and industry groups to share ideas and best practices on science, technology and business models for sustainability.  What was the inspiration for this?

 VF:  Sustainable innovation can be achieved by combining new design and manufacturing processes with new business and marketing strategies to create a sustainable and flourishing marketplace.  Our business experience platform, which is used by many businesses today for this, served as the inspiration for our sustainable innovation lab, in order to offer proof points of innovation and sustainability in industry.

3DS: Since joining Dassault Systèmes, what has been the most satisfying achievement in terms of sustainability? 

VF: From a corporate sustainability perspective, we’re proud to say that we have been included in the Corporate Knights Global 100 ranking of the most sustainable companies for four consecutive years, and we lead amongst software companies.  This is testimony to our dedication, and reinforces our mission of harmonizing product, nature and life.  Our focus remains on innovation for solutions to help the industry become more sustainable.  We are proud of every achievement: from helping a company reduce materials use through eco-design and simulation, and allowing a company be compliant with environmental regulations, to making its supply chain or its operations more sustainable.  Overall, we are committed to helping the industry define the best consumer experiences based on sustainable innovation.

Sustainability Series introduction: Buongiorno, Sustainability!

By Christina
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Green nature landscape with planet Earth

There are few events that can bring people together on a global scale.  One is the Olympics, another the FIFA World Cup, and a third is the World Expo, which takes place every five years in a different location — this year in Milan, Italy from May 1 to October 31, 2015.

The first World Expo was held in London in 1851 as a platform for visionaries in industry, technology, arts and sciences from different cultures to show off their pioneering wares.  Events of yore have given us technical feats as diverse as the x-ray machine, the dishwasher and the Eiffel Tower.

In the past few decades, expo themes like “Better City Better Life” or “Nature’s Wisdom” have reflected changing demographics, trends and the complex social, industrial and environmental fabric that influence our planet.  At this year’s “Expo Milano 2015” the theme of “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” examines the challenge of balancing nutrition for mankind while respecting the planet’s resources.

With a global population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, warmer climates, melting icecaps, farm droughts, overflowing landfills and polluted drinking water are issues that concern a global population and merit new and/or improved technological solutions developed with sustainability in mind.

One of the first steps towards remedying this is a greater awareness of the issues at hand.  Millions of Expo Milano attendees will discover traditions and technologies involved in food production from hundreds of exhibiting countries, in addition to participating in shows, conferences and meetings that address the environment and urbanization. After all, the food industry is a €2 trillion economy, the largest in the world.

Dassault Systèmes is proud to be an official sponsor of the Expo Milano, as its theme parallels our mission to harmonize Product, Nature and Life.  In order to play an active role in contributing to this awareness, over the next few weeks we will feature what we are calling our “Sustainability Series”—a selection of posts focused on environmental sustainability in our 12 industries that highlights challenges, groundbreaking moments, customer success stories and our own thought leaders, reminding us that everyone has a story to tell when the well-being of future generations is at stake.



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