In Southeast Asia, where extreme weather is common and climates vary, digital farming solutions are powerful tools in any farmer’s arsenal. So, what’s holding farmers back from adopting these tools?
In this Sustainability in Focus feature, we chat with The Sustainability Speaker, Susanna Hasenoehrl, to understand how her deep professional experiences – in the digital, mobile and agricultural industries – have shaped her understanding of sustainability. She also reveals how digital farming may hold the answer to securing ASEAN’s agricultural future and how Yara International is shaping up to help farmers thrive and feed the world, while protecting the planet.
29 June 2021 / By SGN
The International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasted, in April 2021, that energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are on course to rise by 1.5 billion tonnes for the year – the second largest increase in history – driven by a strong rebound in demand for coal-based electricity generation.
This amounts to more than a reversal of the drop in emission levels – by 6.4% or 2.3 billion tonnes – in 2020 due to the drop in demand for economic and social activities amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.
That is why, even in the face of the pandemic, the United Nations has continued to stress that global climate change is not on pause. It is the same sentiments shared by Susanna Hasenoehrl, a Finnish expatriate based in Singapore since 2010, says, “Climate change is the biggest existential threat to humanity — and there’s no vaccine for it.”
Better known by the title of The Sustainability Speaker, Susanna has made it her life’s work to engage with corporate leaders to tackle the imminent climate risks by harnessing sustainable business opportunities. She says that the systemic changes needed to fix the global climate issues are getting more urgent day by day.
Susanna asserts, “To have a real shot at achieving the Paris Climate Agreement, we need to essentially decarbonise within this decade.”
Building the Business Case for Solving Social Issues
For Susanna, her dedication to making sustainable business a reality is not just a calling but also a matter of moral obligation. The mother of two explains, “It is a question of intergenerational justice. There’s no time to lose. We owe it to our children and their children.”
As a sustainability advocate, Susanna knows that there is a strong business case to be made to senior executives about running a sustainable business. “Even most economists agree that it’s cheaper to avert a climate catastrophe than trying to adapt to its grave consequences.”
Yet, in her numerous engagements with business leaders, Susanna has observed an association with higher costs for running a sustainable business. “While polluting and emitting greenhouse gases is still largely free, sustainable performance pays off over time”, she shares.
Susanna cites an index of the world’s 100 most sustainable companies by Corporate Knights, a Canadian organisation. The Index demonstrates that companies with high-ESG – or Environmental, Social, and Governance metrics – have steadily outperformed their peers in terms of stock market value. Around the world, companies are increasingly making voluntary and mandatory ESG disclosures that enable investors screen and compare potential investments based on sustainability merits.
A table showing the top 10 most sustainable companies around the world, according to Corporate Knight’s 2021 Global 100 Ranking Index. As shown, most of these corporations have made climate commitments in accordance with 1.5oC SBTi, short for Science Based Targets initiative – denoting companies that have set clear science-based targets to limit goal warming to either 1.5oC or 2oC . Adapted from Corporate Knights, 2021.
Within the broader ESG umbrella and outside of environmental sustainability, Susanna is also a fierce and passionate advocate for the ‘S-factor’ or social factors. She founded Gravista Leaders in 2014, a peer group for international female leaders in Singapore which facilitates leadership development by providing a regular forum for sharing, learning, and mentoring.
Besides championing female leaders and enabling them to achieve success as business leaders, Susanna also sees the group as a means to nurture better gender equality in the workplace.
To this end, she believes serious progress can be made if promotions within the workplace are based on merit instead of biased perceptions of future potential, which are often gender-based. “Many companies can also still improve a lot in terms of developing talent pipelines that do not favour one gender over the others and put more focused effort on developing a diverse workforce by understanding the needs of various employees.”
Aside from the environment and female empowerment, Susanna is also a strong advocate for causes that are close to her heart. She also feels strongly about innovating new ways to combat the rise of childhood obesity with her own venture, JOICE Nutrition. She remarks, “It was really a calling for me. There are more than 42 million overweight or obese children under five years of age in the world – more than half of them in Asia.”
As a sports lover, Susanna says that it pains her to see children who cannot move or run properly because of too much weight. At the same time, she acknowledges that it can be challenging for working parents to find sustainable ways to nourish a family with healthy food while keeping to their busy work schedules.
“That’s why I developed a new kind of nutritionally-grounded search engine, called JOICE of Cooking, to help families figure out what to cook in just few clicks, based on what they like, how much time they have and their nutritional goals.”
JOICE Nutrition provides evidence-based food ratings to consumers and businesses from the cloud. Its flagship service, JOICE of Cooking, provides health-conscious families with nutritionist-grade recipe recommendations based on the ingredients that families have at hand.
All 50,000 JOICE recipes are machine-rated and presented according to specific health benefits, such as boosted immunity and healthy digestion, based on peer-reviewed, scientific evidence that is built into the search algorithms.
Connecting the Dots: Our Food, ASEAN Farming and Climate Change
Susanna’s focus on food as the founder of JOICE Nutrition and sustainability as The Sustainability Speaker complement another role she holds. She is also the Director Growth and Commercialization, with a focus on sustainable agriculture through Digital Farming in in Asia with Yara International, a global Norwegian firm specialising in agricultural products and environmental protection agents.
It is a role which gives Susanna a unique perspective to creating digital solutions that address the impact of our food chain on global climate change.
On a personal level, technology and digital tools have always been a big area of interest for Susanna, who started her career in the world of mobile technologies with industry leaders like Siemens as its Global Account Manager and Business Developer with Nokia in the early 2000s.
In her current role at Yara, Susanna works with her team in the region to conduct in-depth user-centric research about the problems confronting small-holder farms in ASEAN and device innovative technological solutions for such farms.
These farms are defined by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (UNFAO) of the United Nations as farms that have limited resources — in terms of land size or livestock. The UNFAO adds that whatever these farms lack in terms of land size, they make up with their contributions to global food security, supplying up to 50% of the world’s cereal, 60% of the world’s meat, and 75% of the world’s dairy production.
On a broader scale, farming as an economic activity releases significant amounts of two of the most potent greenhouse gases (GHGs) — Methane and Nitrous Oxide – into the atmosphere. These GHGs can originate either from livestock during digestion or from stored manure and organic and mineral nitrogen-based fertilisers.
That is why Susanna shares that agricultural firms like Yara are investing in R&D and technology, to support smallholder farmers with solutions that can help them rise to the challenge of climate change. She points out that as an example, “Yara has launched a digital tool that can be used on smartphones to determine the sufficient level of nitrogen in a plant and optimal nutrient application requirement. This way, no fertiliser needs to be wasted, which has a positive impact on the environment and saves the farmer money.”
However, many smallholder farms, at least in the ASEAN region, are still slow to adopt apps and digital tools suited to the agricultural industry. NGOs like Singapore-based Grow Asia found that only 2.5% of farmers in ASEAN actively use industry-specific apps.
Susanna says that this is because some companies are still trying to offer digital farming tools that are intended for more advanced types of farms. “They’re failing to understand the unique challenges in these markets.”
Smallholder farmers seen working on the fields tending to their crops, often under scorching weather for 6 to 7 days a week from sunrise to sunset, observes Susanna. She believes that one way we can show appreciation for their hard work is to avoid contributing to food waste.
She cites the existence of white-spots – areas where internet or mobile data access is poor or non-existent. “Also, in many ASEAN countries, there are a lot of elder farmers – a demographic which has a lower propensity for new technology adoption.”
But this is steadily changing with the emergence of typically younger and more digitally-savvy farmers who are actively adopting smart technology-enabled tools to supercharge their farming processes. Susanna stresses, “Such farmers play a key role in helping their fellow farmers to catch up on the best practices and tools, disseminating knowledge and providing ‘social proof’ for innovations.”
COVID-19 and Global Warming: Designing A New Sustainability Roadmap in Asia
The path to realising sustainable business in Asia remains a long and challenging one, observes Susanna. The current global pandemic is also further compounding this complex issue.
She points out that in her interactions with senior leaders of late, many of them have stressed that a lot of their time and resources have gone towards dealing with COVID-related emergencies like finding new ways to keep employees safe and engaged while working remotely.
While this is a necessity, she reiterates that companies’ COVID-19 response should not come at the expense of making meaningful progress in adopting sustainable business practices.
Susanna explains, “The challenge with climate change is that it kind of creeps up on us little by little. That is why many do not take notice of the subtle, yet continuous aggravating changes occurring in the environment around us. So, time after time, we need to remind ourselves not to lose sight of the big picture.”
That said, there are signs that the global business landscape is shifting in favour of embracing sustainable business as the norm, especially in Europe where more stringent environmental regulation is currently being introduced. Susanna remarks that this is driven by increasing consumer demand for more sustainable products and services.
Asia, however, remains a mixed bag. She notes that while some countries have made considerable strides in developing renewable energy projects for example, some of them are also adding more coal plants at the same time.
“Protecting our ecosystems – and ultimately our food chain – from microplastics is yet another major challenge that I wish Asian leaders would take more seriously, both in the political as well as in the business world.”
Another item on her wish list for Asian businesses and authorities? Increasing the adoption of regenerative or circular business models which will go some way to reducing Asia’s waste problem – Susanna points out that this is a huge business opportunity that remains largely untapped.
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Susanna is a Finnish expatriate who has been based in Singapore since 2010 with her partner and two daughters. She is best known as The Sustainability Speaker, who has made it her life’s work to engage with business leaders to help them make sustainable businesses a reality.
Aside from the environment, Susanna is a strong advocate for causes that are close to her heart like combating childhood obesity with her venture, JOICE Nutrition. She is also championing female leadership through an international women’s leadership peer group she founded in 2014, called Gravista Leaders.
She is also the Director Growth and Commercialization, with a focus on sustainable agriculture through Digital Farming in Asia with Yara International, a global Norwegian firm specialising in agricultural products and environmental protection agents.
Connect with Susanna here.