Better technology could take agriculture halfway towards climate targets

Unless greenhouse gas emissions from food consumption are reduced substantially, EU climate targets will not be met, according to a new study from Swedish researchers. Currently accounting for about 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, emissions from food and agriculture need to be cut by about three-quarters by 2050 to meet the targets.

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden studied a range of measures for cutting food-related emissions. Besides reductions in beef and dairy consumption, they found that technology improvements will be crucial. Under favorable conditions, better technology could cut these emissions by as much as 50 percent.

“Emissions from manure storage can all but be eliminated if the facilities are covered and waste gases are flared, says David Bryngelsson, lead author of the study. And emissions from fertilizer production can largely be avoided by using the latest technology. However, far more ambitious climate policies for agriculture are needed to make these technology improvements happen.”

The technological prospects for cattle are less promising, according to the researchers. This is a critical finding, since cattle account for a very large share of the emissions. The study therefore concludes that reductions in beef consumption are necessary for meeting the climate targets.

“But we don’t have to give up meat entirely,” says Stefan Wirsenius, co-author of the study. “Poultry and pork cause rather low emissions, in a range equivalent to 10 to 30 kilos of carbon dioxide per kilo of protein, while beef cause 200 kilos per kilo protein. So we can continue to eat large quantities of poultry and pork — provided that we cut back on beef.”

Cheese and other dairy products are also serious climate problems, according to the study:

“EU and US consumption of cheese and other dairy products is among the highest in the world and causes a climate impact equal to that of their pork and chicken consumption” says Stefan Wirsenius. “If we were to replace some of the dairy products with vegetable products, such as oat milk, we would have a better chance of meeting our climate targets.”

The scientists have also looked at the effect of reducing food waste. The results may be surprising:

“Although wasting less food is good for the climate, the impact of reducing waste is small compared to what’s required to meet the targets,” says David Bryngelsson. “Reducing the amount of food that goes to waste can only cut emissions from food and agriculture by five to ten percent. Reducing beef and dairy consumption is much more important.”

The findings are reported in the article How can the EU climate targets be met? A combined analysis of technological and demand-side changes in food and agriculture, in the journal Food Policy. Study authors are David Bryngelsson, Stefan Wirsenius, Fredrik Hedenus, and Ulf Sonesson.

Journal Reference:

David Bryngelsson, Stefan Wirsenius, Fredrik Hedenus, Ulf Sonesson. How can the EU climate targets be met? A combined analysis of technological and demand-side changes in food and agriculture. Food Policy, 2016; 59: 152 DOI: 10.1016/j.foodpol.2015.12.012

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Blockchain technology ushers in the “Internet of Value”

It was the buzz at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos. Wall Street banks are pouring money into it. And Mark Andreesen has called it the most important technology since the Internet itself.

What is it? The blockchain, of course.

Created by the mysterious hacker known as Satoshi Nakamoto, the blockchain—the distributed ledger technology that underlies the Bitcoin virtual currency—Blockchain has the potential to upend industries from finance to real estate to entertainment. has the potential to upend industries from finance to real estate to entertainment. That has Silicon Valley titans, global finance leaders and even indie artists scrambling to grasp the implications of the technology—and make sure they aren’t broadsided by it.

Tim Swanson, head of research at R3, a New York technology startup backed by a consortium of big banks, has described the blockchain as being “a bit like gluten—everybody is talking about it but no one knows what it is in great detail.”

In the simplest terms, the blockchain transfers value from one party to another over the Internet. That could be money, a share of stock, a property deed, a digital royalty—even a vote cast in an election.

Today, such transactions often pass through multiple intermediaries to be validated, cleared and processed, and are stored in central ledgers maintained by an authority, such as a central bank in the case of financial transactions or the Mortgage Electronic Registration System (MERS) for mortgages.

The blockchain distributes the validation and storage of transactions over many computers in a secure and public way, eliminating the need for a middleman. In doing so, it drastically reduces the time and cost to process a transaction to close to zero.

Alex Tapscott, CEO of Northwest Passage Ventures, an advisory firm in the blockchain space and author of an upcoming book on the subject, says blockchain technology represents the next generation of the Internet, what he calls the Internet of Value.Blockchain technology represents the next generation of the Internet- the Internet of Value.

While the technology—both the original Bitcoin blockchain and new variations of it—has sweeping potential to transform vast sectors of the economy, says Tapscott, the first blockchain applications are taking root in two areas: financial services and creative industries such as music and media. 

As a ledger system, the blockchain’s most obvious application is in finance, and banks have awoken to the threat and opportunity it poses. R3CEV, a blockchain technology company owned by a consortium of banks, has grown from nine members at its founding in September 2015 to more than 40 today. By one estimate, Wall Street spending on blockchain could reach $400 million in the next few years. By one estimate, Wall Street spending on blockchain could reach $400 million in the next few years.

Consider stock trading. In a market where competitive advantage is measured in nanoseconds, trades can still take up to three days to settle, notes Tapscott. Blockchain-based systems could cut that to seconds or minutes. That’s especially attractive for complex trades such as derivatives, where market conditions can change before a trade is settled, creating substantial counterparty risk. 

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is studying the potential application of distributed ledger technology to the derivatives market. And Nasdaq recently conducted its first trade using the blockchain. “Through this initial application of blockchain technology, we begin a process that could revolutionize the core of capital markets infrastructure systems,” said Nasdaq CEO Bob Greifeld in announcing the milestone. “The implications for settlement and outdated administrative functions are profound.”

Another financial market ripe for disruption is foreign exchange and cross border remittance. Nearly $500 billion a year is transferred between countries, often by people working abroad that send money home to relatives. That process is slow and cumbersome, with high fees that take a painful bite out of hard-earned savings. A startup called Abra has created a mobile app that uses the blockchain to streamline the remittance process, allowing individuals to transfer money from one continent and currency to another instantaneously and without hefty fees.

By collapsing the time and cost of a transaction, distributed ledger technology paves the way for true micropayments in increments as small as a penny. Such micropayments are seen as the Holy Grail for creative industries such as music and media that have been pummeled by the harsh economics of the Internet and an outmoded royalty payment system.

Blockchain-enabled technology could allow new artist-friendly business models to flourish. For example, musicians might be paid, say, a nickel every time someone listens to a song. Journalists, likewise, might be paid a few cents every time someone reads an article. Artists, most notably Grammy award winner Imogen Heap, are exploring the use of blockchain for music distribution and compensation.

Many creative assets, from films to songs, are produced by a team, and the blockchain could make tracking and paying royalties to these contributors more efficient and transparent.

Blockchain technology is still new, and like gluten, it has received a fair amount of hype. There are issues to be worked out—such as whether blockchain ledgers will scale without being overwhelmed. But these are “implementation challenges” that can be solved, says Tapscott.  Blockchain, he says, “is a big breakthrough that could ultimately change the nature of business and the corporation itself.”


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About Amy Cortese @locavesting

Amy Cortese is an award-winning journalist and the author of Locavesting (Wiley, 2011)

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HR technology heads to cloud in Finland

Organisations in Finland have been fast adopters of cloud services, and for human resources (HR) in particular.

They are moving to cloud-based HR IT systems to improve usability and mobility and give employees more power over their HR data. 

Mika Rajamäki, principal research analyst at Gartner Finland, said HR has become one of the fastest-growing sectors of cloud adoption for busineses, with Finland clearly taking notice. “Almost half of Finnish organisations [now] use cloud-based HR systems, at least to some extent,” he said.

One example is food and confectionery manufacturer Fazer. The 125-year-old company, which has more than 15,000 employees across the Nordics, the Baltics and Russia, decided to move from several outdated HR solutions to SaaS operator Workday in 2012. The system was rolled out in Finland two years ago and is now being deployed across Fazer’s other markets.

“Before this we didn’t have a unified HR system,” said Mika Videman, senior VP of human resources at Fazer. “Instead every country had its own not very advanced system. One of the biggest criteria for choosing the new HR information systems was that it wouldn’t be a system for HR, but for our managers. This made usability a major factor.”

Fazer uses Workday for core HR data, performance management and compensation data, and integrates it with local payroll systems. Videman said one the main benefits of changing to a cloud system is its mobile-friendliness, which makes HR data more accessible for people outside HR.

“Managers need to be able to access real-time, accurate data wherever and whenever they need, instead of calling HR to ask, for example, how much team members are paid,” Videman said.

It was a similar experience for Riikka Kämäräinen, delivery service manager at Finnish multinational engineering company Outotec. Back in 2011 the company was looking to improve the user-friendliness of its HR systems and implemented a hybrid model where master data resides in SAP HR, but other HR tools come from SuccessFactors (owned by SAP) and its cloud-based HR management suite.

Outotec first adopted SuccessFactors for basic employee profiles and performance management and has subsequently added compensation, learning and development management modules. The new system has been of particular value in harmonising payment processes across 27 countries, but Kämäräinen also highlights the usability improvements.

“A clear benefit has been that we don’t have to worry about the hardware, unlike, for example, with SAP,” she said. “Also, if somebody finds a bug in SuccessFactors and it’s fixed, then the fix will automatically update for all its customers.” 

While the trend towards cloud-based HR services is a global one, Finnish HR leaders seem to have a particular focus on technology. A Human Capital Trends 2015 study from professional services firm Deloitte found that Finnish respondents rated HR technology, people analytics and simplification of work as of most value. In fact, 74% of the Finnish respondents said HR technology was important or very important.

By contrast, the global trend list was topped by leadership, work culture and engagement as well as learning and development.

Eva Tuominen, director of HR transformation at Deloitte Finland, said although the study had only 35 Finnish respondents it did mirror attitudes in an engineering-oriented country. She gave a few reasons for the technology focus.

First, Finnish companies have started to recognise that traditional HR systems do not always align with the growing focus on personnel and the ability to attract talent as major competitive factors. Second, Finland has a strong tradition as an SAP-oriented country, and in many companies existing HR systems are reaching the end of their lifecycle.

“SAP HR has a very strong position in Finland and after SAP acquired SuccessFactors [in 2011] most Finnish companies have been forced to rethink their HR technology roadmap,” Tuominen explained. “They have either done this in the past few years or are now starting their re-evaluation.”

According to Tuominen, SuccessFactors is one of the big three cloud-based HR management services dominating the market in Finland, alongside Workday and Oracle.

The adoption of new technologies is also having a strong impact on day-to-day HR functions. As HR systems and tools get easier to use and require practically no coding experience, some of the tasks traditionally associated with IT are moving into HR’s domain.

Kämäräinen, who herself has experience in both HR and IT departments at Outotec, emphasised the changing demands for HR personnel. “For example, in SuccessFactors there are a lot of admin tasks, which have traditionally been something IT has configured, but now that is done by HR. HR needs people who understand HR processes, but who are also technically oriented.”

Videman at Fazer agreed that competences required from HR are changing, with system knowledge becoming a vital part of HR roles in Finland and abroad, but thought there are benefits in this. As Fazer has gained experience in running Workday, most configurations can now be done within HR, eliminating the need for external consultation.

“We have our own small team of Workday super-users and they don’t reside in IT, but in HR,” Videman said. “We have a good relationship with IT, but we strain them significantly less now than with the legacy HR systems. HR truly has ownership of this system.”

Many of the changes in HR today arise from personnel. There is a growing need to access data on the move, while new generations entering the job market expect to be able to use similar services and applications both at work and in their free time.

“All HR tools used by managers and employees should inherently be available on mobile, because the workforce today is mobile,” said Jukka-Pekka Heikkilä, researcher into entrepreneurship and e-HRM at Finland’s Aalto University.

His stance is backed up by a 2010 Eurofund study that found 45% of Finnish workers are so-called ‘e-nomads’: workers who use ICT for work and do at least part of their work off the premises of their employer or their own businesses. If the study were to be repeated in 2016, this percentage would probably be even higher.

But this just the start. Big data, analytics, virtual reality, machine learning and other hot IT topics are all making their way into HR in Finland.

In Finland employees are already training in a virtual environment wearing VR glasses Jukka-Pekka Heikkilä

“It is already a reality that in big companies no one reads every job application any more – everything is scanned,” said Heikkilä. “In addition there is a lot of talk about virtual reality [VR]. In Finland employees are already training in a virtual environment wearing VR glasses, and this opens up new opportunities for training.”

Despite the rapid advances in technology, the consensus seems to be that technology is not an end in itself but a gateway to greater advances, which depend on the individual company and its personnel.

“This should be motivating for HR people,” said Videman. “We are moving away from manual typing and instead talking with business units and solving complex issues with them. In these hard times every function needs to be able to improve its efficiency and bring more added value.”

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