Personal leadership challenge

Soon after I started my studies in Cambridge I identified my personal sustainability leadership goal to be focused on increasing local food production in Iceland with geothermal energy. This matter is both of high significance for the local population as well for the company I work for.  The company produces around 75% of all electrical energy in Iceland, and we have a very high surplus of thermal energy that goes to waste. An energy that is perfect for food production.

Over the past year, I have managed to discuss this topic with a number of important people in my home country that can influence this on a governmental level. I have presented this case at a number of conferences and was invited to be a plenary speaker at a geothermal conference in Iceland to talk about food production and geothermal energy (https://geothermalworkshop.com/invited-speakers/).

I was elected as the chair of the Geothermal Association of Iceland in 2018, as an effort of my behalf to promote the possibilities for increased food production with local energy and I have used that position to advance this goal as much as possible. Such as presenting this subject both on international conferences as well as on special visits to other geothermal countries such as New Zealand. Where cooperation on governmental level regarding the topic has been discussed.

Within my company, I have managed to influence both my coworkers in the geothermal group as well as people in the business development department to include this in our active marketing strangely toward new customers. My focus around creating value out of energy we consider waste has become one of the focus points of my day to day job. The topic has been put on the agenda as a priority goal for my department and has reached the board of the company has one of our focus points for more sustainable geothermal operation.

I designed my final dissertation on the topic as well. The focus of the dissertation is to study the question if indoor farming can become a major industry in Iceland and become an industry that better fits with the vision of the local population about sustainable future, compared to a past focus on heavy industry. My research is designed around promoting the topic, in the sense that I interview stakeholders in Iceland about the potential of indoor farming and educate the interviewee about the topic at the same time. To really make this work I have designed my study around high-level stakeholders, such as members of parliaments, heads of institutions and CEO´s. People that really have a say when it comes to the future of energy, industry and sustainable development in Iceland.

Some believe that building up indoor-farming industry in Iceland is unrealistic and does not make sense. There point is mostly based on how expensive the cost of labour is. But Iceland probably has the highest labour cost in Europe, and to that point, I can agree. Even though energy is abundant in Iceland the cost of labour makes food production expensive here compared to places such as southern Europe. However, with the fourth industrial revolution at hand, I think this will completely change within a few years. With sensor technology, robotics and artificial intelligence the labour factor in food production is going down and then the competitiveness of Iceland will grow as a location with abundant clean energy available for food production as well as cold climate, but the plus side of that when you are growing plants is that you don’t have to use pesticides or other non-desired chemicals since the pathogeneses don´t live in the cold climate outside of the greenhouses.

Advertisements

The power of social media

With the social media revolution at hand, direct communication between people has the potential to change things at a rate that we have not seen before. Sometimes specific issues or topics go viral and almost everybody gets involved in the discussions about it, some comment on posts about it, some post pictures, videos or share other peoples posts about it, this is then followed up with direct discussions at workplaces and other places where people come together. The topic of interest at the time goes high on the agenda for a few days, weeks or in some cases for months. And then it fades out.  One interesting such a “topic of the week” here in Iceland was packaging. Around one or two years ago, people in Iceland started to share pictures of things they saw in stores that had excessive, and in most cases unnecessary packaging. Such as double or triple layers of packaging. This went viral and most people pitched in a picture or two of something they saw from the daily shopping trip and some people talked about changing there choose because what they normally bought was too wasteful. This mostly happened on Facebook and to some degree, Snapchat and a special group were created around it, where close to 4% of the local population in Iceland signed up.

Even though this was short-lived, like most internet ” flavour of the day” this really was picked up by most of the relevant stakeholders, the public, the food producers and the retailers, and it had a long-lasting effect. Speaking personally, this really stuck, I am now very aware of  avoiding products with excessive packaging when I go shopping.  Of course, excessive packaging, the use of plastics and so on is being discussed all over the world and high on the agenda for many companies as their priority sustainability and environmental task to tackle. But for many people in Iceland, I think this unorganized internet event that happened over the period of few weeks did things to change peoples behaviour in a way that a single company, government or any other organized body would not have been able to do. This happened somehow organically, and it worked. Now stores in Iceland are even offering facilities to throw away packaging in the store before you go home.

So how can we use the social media of the 21. century to address the sustainability challenges ahead? At least the revolution will not happen through technical reports or high-level talks.  People learn from other people, people want to behave like other people and people want to do the right thing.

 

unnecessary-wasteful-packaging-9-5ac483cf57194__605dsc9077.width-720

 

 

 

Personal leadership opportunity – taking the first steps

After the journey through the first year at Cambridge, I have become increasingly interested in the future of the food production and how we are going meet the needs of the growing population on earth for the upcoming decades, as well as to fix some of the broken value chains of the food industry toward more sustainable future. I read somewhere (sorry can´t find the reference) that we need to produce more food for the next 40 years than has been done for the past 8000, or since humans started agriculture. I am not in the position to validate this, but it does not come as a surprise to me as the exponential increase in population does put an unbelievable strain on all resources. And one of the more important ones is energy.  To increase food production, especially sustainable food production, we need renewable energy and a lot of it. And one of the most underdeveloped sources of it is the one below our feet’s – Geothermal energy.

As a person that has been working on geothermal projects from the technical side for almost a decade, I decided to challenge myself as a part of the course and focus on the topic of food production and energy (with focus on geothermal energy) and how geothermal energy can play a bigger role in sustainable food production. I would like to explore and promote the opportunities of geothermal energy and wasted thermal energy in food production and will focus on this both in my thesis as well as take on new responsibilities where I can.

Two months ago, after I had been thinking intensively on what I could take on as a personal leadership challenge, I decided to run as a chair of the of the Icelandic Geothermal Association and focus my work toward innovation in food production with geothermal heat and electricity. But to put it into context, geothermal energy accounts for 53% of primary energy use in my home country, Iceland.

My next step will be a focus on a strategic way to bring attention to this topic and educate others on the untapped opportunities. My plan is to do this mostly with face-to-face meetings with relevant people and cooperation between the company I work for and a number of NGO´s and others, such as under the umbrella of United Nations SDG´number 17, focusing on a partnership for the solutions.

Personal leadership opportunity – Local food production

My focus is all set on food, as indicated in my last blog. Not just eating good food over the Easters but the food industry, local food production and how we are going to meet the needs of a growing population with sustainably made food. Being from the energy industry myself, food production is not something that we frequently think about, however, in this case, I believe it does make a lot of sense, especially through the lens of sustainability.

A tremendous amount of energy is used for food production globally and a total of around 30% of all GHG release is related to food production. As discussed in my previous post, I believe that there are big opportunities for production with waste thermal energy from industry and electricity production. In the case of Iceland, the thermal energy comes from the earth as geothermal energy, sustainable, green energy, available all around the country and currently contributing to over 60% of the primary energy use in Iceland.

Therefore, I have identified it as my personal leadership goal, to study, promote and to help develop opportunities for energy-intensive food production in Iceland.

This is both relevant for my company that would like to find use for the gigantic amount of thermal energy available at our geothermal power plants,  only minor proportion used for electrical production, as well as in number of places around Iceland, such as in my home town of Hveragerði, but the name of the town refers to „hver“ which translates to hot-spring, and steam venting hot-springs are found within town and number of companies are developing ways to use it to heat up green houses as well as for other uses such as ice cream and beer production.

By doing this I believe we can both replace imported food made with fossil fuel as well as promote the use of local resources and created local value in a sustainable way.

power plant
Future vision for geothermal power plants. Greenhouse attached to it using waste-heat from electrical production
olverk
A local brewery that uses hot-springs in the center of my hometown to brew beer

The future of food

One of the things you learn when studying sustainability is to think about systems instead of single objects and how everything is interconnected. You learn to think about the whole value chain, from the origin of the raw materials, material flow in the system and the faith of the products after its lifetime ends.

Moving away from thinking about standalone objects to a big dynamic system is a big revelation for me. Even though I have a background in geology and chemistry where everything is interlinked in natural processes and a part of bigger system one does not really think about all the complex things behind the things around you, Things you consume every day such as the food you eat.

 

Food production and food availability are becoming more and more important since we are reaching the threshold of many of the natural systems that current food production relies on. Declining fish stocks in the oceans, increased risk of crop failure due to climate change and deforestation due to agriculture has left us in a very difficult position.

This is of high importance for the upcoming decades. The ever-growing population needs to be fed and production has to increase. In a recent article from the National Geographic, it was stated that we have to produce more food in the next four decades that all farmers in history have done over the past 8000 years (1) and some have even pointed out that we are facing calorie shortage within a decade or so (2). 

Just like oil, food is one of the driver of the world of international business. By scanning over the dinner table tonight I could find food from 10 different countries, just in front of me. Well… being from a weather-beaten rock in the North Atlantic Ocean, close to the Arctic Circle, does not create rich culinary heritage.

Transportation of food between countries does not create the biggest carbon footprint of the food industry, however current system concentrates the production to certain areas and puts strain on the system. By focusing local we create a more diverse local economy, we distribute the pressure of resources utilization more evenly and we work toward more sustainable food production.

I believe if we are going to avoid hunger becoming the most challenging problem of the 21st century we need to focus on increased food production in a sustainable manner and we need to think differently. I believe that the key to reaching this is to focus on innovation and the circular economy, and to do so we need to use modern technology. Food production has to be a part of the fourth industrial revolution. We need to use everything, not waste anything, neither energy or materials, and we need to do focus and act locally.

A great example of this is the use of waste heat for food production and processing. Since energy production is currently the biggest sources of anthropogenic CO2 we need to focus on waste as little energy as possible. One of such project I heard about recently was a greenhouse that would be built next to power plant. It would be heated up with the waste energy from the plant and would use the CO2 from the power plant to spike the air in the greenhouse with increased CO2 to stimulate the growth of tomatoes, turning unused energy and greenhouses gases into food, that is an ideal future solution.

One of the best examples of such symbiosis already working on a big scale is the Kalundborg coal-fired power plant in Denmark. A whole industrial park has risen around it and all the energy and material that comes as a result of the power production is a raw material for some other products, such as food and building materials. This is exactly where we need to put the focus, we need to focus on what we can do locally and we need to innovate and innovate, that is our only way ahead. 

Symbiosis-diagram-06-1-DK

Kalundborg industrial symbiosis

(1) https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/09/holland-agriculture-sustainable-farming/

(2) https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/09/in-10-years-the-world-may-not-be-able-to-feed-itself?utm_content=buffer04bbe&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer