Sustainable, ethical supply chains may not sound like the sexiest topic… BUT… what if I tell you that we’re talking about the future of shopping? Now that gets exciting! And it’s the same thing!
Steve joined me from Portland, Oregon to talk about his new start-up, The Provenance Chain Network. The Provenance Chain Network is going to change the way we shop, and the way that business is done in the future.
Using a combination of new technologies, such as blockchain and incentive mechanisms, supplier information will become clear, transparent, and honest. We will look at a product in the store, or online, and know exactly:
- where it came from
- what it was made of
- who made each part of it along the way
- was it made with child labor? forced labor?
- was it made with sustainable ingredients?
- was it tested on an animal?
- was it carbon neutral?
We can make our purchase decisions based on the values that are most important to us. I know many of us try hard to do this already, but it’s a lot of work, and a lot of research. And usually, we don’t actually know if a brand is lying, or not. We have to go off of their marketing, the information on their website, and sometimes a phone call.
With the Provenance Chain Network, we will know for sure that the promises a brand makes are true. And we will know in detail if a product matches our values, or not. Making the decision to purchase sustainable, ethical products really easy.
This technology benefits consumers and brands, and Steve’s team has also worked on ideas to benefit suppliers who are willing to get on board and share their information. We can easily see how these pieces coming together will clean up the murkiness of our supply chains. And everyone will be incentivized, every step of the way, from a seed company to the consumer. We will all come together to protect people, animals, and the earth. I can’t wait to see where this is in 20 years!
4 Simple Ideas To Make a Difference:
- Get to know new technology. Rather than fear technology, dive in and learn what it really is, and how it can be a sustainable solution to the world’s biggest problems. Steve’s book, “The Innovation Ultimatum” (affiliate) or his “5 Minutes into the Future Video Series” are great places to start.
- Pay attention to investigative journalism. Read the stories and exposes coming out about what is truly happening in the world. And learn.
- Socialize these issues with friends. Talk about the big problems in the world and how we can solve them. Keep them top of mind.
- Clearly define what we care about. Technology will be provided, to help us with our purchase decisions. But we should we ready to say what is most important to us (e.g. child labor, animal cruelty, carbon neutral, sustainable, etc.).
Steve exudes passion for technology and helping organizations embrace new technologies to solve real-world business problems. He helps these businesses become more innovative, more resilient, and more profitable.
Steve is British, but he moved to Portland in 1997 for an 18 month assignment and never went home! He spent 30 years of his career in high tech. Now he’s a consultant and speaker at Bald Futurist, and a co-founder of the startup, Provenance Chain Network.
Steve enjoys travel. He always tries to go to more countries than his age…67 countries so far! He also loves great wine, and making multimedia quizzes for his friends. How FUN does Steve’s life sound?!!
What is a Futurist?
A futurist is someone who looks at trends and how they come together over time, and then tells stories about the future.
Steve clarifies that he is not a fortune teller. Being a futurist is a discipline of study in which you really learn about people, technology and business.
- You study what people want and what they’ll want in the future.
- You study technology trends, such as what technology will make possible in a certain timeframe, or how technology that we have today will develop and have new capabilities in the future.
- And you study business trends. What are the ways that people will sell products in the future? What are the ways that they will monetize new revenue streams?
A futurist puts all of these things together and then models what will be possible 5 years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now.
Technology as a good part of the future:
People tend to be scared (me included) of things they don’t understand. And for most people technology is this weird, opaque world that is full of potential threats, exacerbated by scary Hollywood movies.
Hollywood movies such as “The Terminator” and “The Matrix” imprint in our minds, and we have to recognize that they are not reality.
Steve’s view is that technology is very powerful and can be used for good or bad. We as a society need to decide how it will work for us. And we as individuals need to decide where it’s going to show up in our lives, and where we are going to keep it out.
If we look at the industrial revolution and moving people from working the land to working in offices and factories, we can see good changes in society. In the past 250-300 years, the average lifespan has doubled. The quality of life and wealth creation has gone up. But we still have a lot of work to do. And we need to use technology to benefit everyone in a sustainable way.
Steve leaves us with one last thought on this topic of fear, specifically about AI (Artificial Intelligence). It is likely that someone listening to this episode, or someone they love, will have their life saved in the future by a drug that was co-created between humans and an AI. There are many positive things that AI can do for our world.
Steve's start-up: The Provenance Chain Network
Their goal at Provenance Chain Network is to bring transparency to commerce, making it easy for us all to choose sustainable, ethical options. We will know where our products come from and what it took to make them.
We find ourselves passionate about environmental damage, pollution, climate change, deforestation, destruction of animal habitats, child labor, forced labor, and the list goes on. Steve asks, “what connects all of these things together?” It’s us. Humans connect all of these things.
But humans can’t be fully blamed for all of the impact on the environment, because supply chains are opaque. As consumers, we don’t necessarily know the implications of the products we are buying. As brands, we have to trust what our suppliers tell us. As a supplier, we could be forced into a choice based on the chain before us.
The goal of the Provenance Chain Network is to build a mechanism that allows consumers to look up the supply chain and buy their values. Steve envisions an app on a smart phone, or in smart glasses. When we look at a product through the app, it will tell us if it is consistent with our values. And we define those values ourselves.
For example, you may set your app to show you if any peanuts have touched the product. Mine may be set to check for gluten. Another option is to choose only carbon neutral products. Yet another choice could be to see proof that the product was never touched by child labor. We will program the app to match our personal values. And you can see how it will make it super easy to make sustainable and ethical choices.
This doesn't only help consumers. Brands benefit too.
Supply chains for brands can be opaque. Most brands outsource the manufacturing of their products and many different businesses touch them before they reach the brand to sell.
Brands can make promises to their consumers, but things can happen that they don’t know, which technically break those promises. Steve describes how supply chains are still very old school. Some still run on paper and handshakes. There’s no true digital trail of information.
With the Provenance Chain Network, the goal is to create this digital trail – a way of providing evidence of claims. Right now, the whole system is run on “claims”. For example, “I claim that there were no peanuts in my factory.” Or, “I claim that there were no children working in this factory.” In some cases there are reports and documentation, or inspectors, or certification. But this will provide real time documentation. The technology uses sensors, such as smart cameras and badge check in for employees.
In addition to this tracking, Provenance Chain Network has an incentive mechanism built into it. So a brand can say to a supplier, “if you do this, I will give you an extra incentive”. For example:
- “If you provide me with all of this specific documentation, I will give you extra money for doing it”.
- Or, “if you deliver this all on time, I will provide an incentive”.
- Or, “if you deliver exactly what you promised (e.g. 500 pieces in the box rather than 498), I will pay you a little extra”.
- Or, “if you can prove to me that you have a fair gender pay policy, and you’re meeting your stated diversity goals, I will give you something for it”.
- Or, “if you can prove to me that you’re offsetting all of your energy and are carbon neutral, I will give you something”.
The technology will begin to ratchet up the requirements that brands can have on their suppliers. Just as consumers will place those requirements on the brands. It creates alignment all the way through.
Brands don’t need to worry that their suppliers aren’t going to do what they said they would do. Steve shares an example of a big food company that claimed that their juice was non-GMO. And then it was found out that there was GMO fruit in that juice. And they were taken to court.
With Provenance Chain Network in place brand managers won’t need to worry about people getting sick from the end product. Or that the product will cause a safety issue.
This allows everyone in the supply chain to be fair, honest and open. And changes the tracking mechanism from claims, to evidence.
Suppliers being vulnerable:
I can imagine that opening up vulnerability among all suppliers in a chain would effectively change the fear and secrets that exist today. Right now if there’s a problem, businesses are almost incentivized to hide it. Sharing could lose them the order, or slow down delivery. It’s often better to send something less than perfect, to meet a deadline, and keep a brand happy.
But if it was just understood that mistakes happen, they are a part of doing sustainable business, and they are reported immediately because that’s what the technology does, it seems likely to me that the fear of telling the truth will become smaller and smaller. Especially if everyone in the chain is vulnerable and reporting openly like this. The problem could be addressed immediately, before it turns into something bigger.
If you’re a supplier, you have to decide if you want to be a part of this. A supplier may be making extra money by gaming the system right now. For example, l could be a purse manufacturer, making 1000 purses for a Louis Vuitton order. Let’s say that I run 100 extra, and then I sell those on the gray market. The profit for the 100 purses comes to me, and I can do this on the side of my production lines every once in a while for more money.
This new technology has to make it worthwhile for me to stop doing that. And this is why the incentive part of Provenance Chain Network is so important and makes the product sustainable. The business model shifts so that it’s not worth making a little extra on the side every once in a while.
The supplier is now a part of a whole network that is incentivized to do the right thing. And the right thing is determined by the consumer, not the brand, not Provenance Chain Network, and not any one supplier.
Realistically vote with your wallet:
We all say, “vote with your wallet” all of the time, and we try. But it’s really hard to know if our purchase is truly sustainable, ethical, and clean ALL the way through its supply chain.
The Provenance Chain Network will give us the knowledge we need to truly vote with our wallet. And that combined with the incentives should really accelerate change in the marketplace.
Brands are trying to do the right thing and tell their customers the right thing. But it’s hard to differentiate yourself in the current market with a tiny little tag that says all of the sustainable and ethical things you want to say. Consumers end up voting with their dollar on price, quality, and strength of marketing. Provenance Chain Network opens up a new way for brands to communicate with their customers, and to do the right thing, because customers can award them for their decisions with the sale.
Why did Steve start this project?
Steve worked at Intel for 30 years. He started as an engineer, and then spent a lot of his time on the strategic planning side of the business. He concluded his career with Intel as one of two futurists, working in the lab, modeling the future 10 years out. Intel could then design their chips to fit what people would be doing with computers in those 10 years.
He left Intel in 2016 so that he could help every company that was interested in having a futurist form their strategy. Steve is an applied futurist. So he works with companies to take ideas and make them into a practical business plan, with sustainable, specific tasks that will be changed to reach that goal.
Steve tells us of an afternoon drinking whiskey in Portland with his friend, Jeff Gaus. Jeff runs an organization called the Oregon Enterprise Blockchain Venture Studio that helps businesses in Oregon solve problems with blockchain technology. They were talking about supply chains, and that’s when this idea was born.
Steve jokes that he didn’t think much of it at that time, but Jeff took it and ran and decided to build this start-up. Steve jumped in with two feet, citing that climate change has long been a passion of his. He had been thinking about the issue for years, trying to figure out what he could do to help. And this idea was so exciting, with real, sustainable possibilities.
Just yesterday, Steve, Jeff and their team had their first paying customer cut a check and sign up to get started! How exciting is that? We’re hearing from Steve literally as this project gets off the ground. I can’t wait for us all to look back in 10 years and say, “I remember learning about that when they first started! And look at it now.”
Get in touch with Steve:
The best way to contact Steve is through his website.
Steve’s Website: BaldFuturist.com
Steve’s Email: steve@BaldFuturist.com
Provenance Chain Network: www.TheProvenanceChain.com
Linked In: @BaldFuturist
If you are interested in seeing my favorite sustainable, ethical brands, I’ve done a few roundups. You can find 50+ brands for conscious kids fashion, or my favorite conscious products on Amazon. I’ve also put together a list of ethical healing crystal sellers. I plan to do more. If you have a topic that would be helpful for you, please comment below and let me know.
You may also enjoy episode 11 of the podcast with Julie, from Julie’s Beet, in which we talked about artisan foods and how knowing the story behind food makes it taste better.