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Sustainable Ecosystems: Innovating Towards Environmental + Economic Flourishing

Nick Reinke is a true leader in the agri-business space, building pathways to environmental sustainability while also examining the importance of economically sustaining our businesses and communities. Nick was featured in our latest newsletter as a contributing author, where we focused our entire issue on sustainable living and working. You can check out his wonderful piece, "3 Ways Everyone Can Help Build a More Sustainable Future" here.

We took the time to ask Nick a bit about his background, areas of expertise, and advice for building a future where our planet and its inhabitants can thrive. Nick's intelligence, experience and passion are inspiring, and you'll surely walk away invigorated to create your own ripple of impact- happy reading!

What does the word 'sustainability' mean to you, and how has it been relevant in your career?

I have come to appreciate the fact that true environmental sustainability will not be realized without economic sustainability. Many of us who have a driving passion to create a more sustainable future focus very much on the ecological side of things but risk the same pitfalls often faced by nonprofits where the idealistic cause overshadows the need for economic sustainability. As such, impacts are often reduced from their ultimate potential due to the lack of focus on creating strong solutions that don't just do the right thing, but find a way to do so feasibly and maybe even profitably.

Explain a time when you were impacted by or had an impact within a sustainable business. Why was this experience significant?

This spring, I had the pleasure of pitching an ag tech startup at a startup comp, which resulted in us winning $25k for R&D to work toward a series A raise in the next 12 months or so. The company I worked with is Reap and their Herder product, which provides live location and health tracking for rangeland cattle to reduce loss due to disease and predation. I love this application of technology because by reducing loss, this innovation can have a significant impact on the sustainability of the food system without having to modify consumer behavior or supply chain. Solutions like this are beautiful because their path to impact and implementation is direct, easily understood, and does not require a process shift that can often be the reason that great ideas die.

How did this experience change the course of your life, your career or your outlook?

This really crystallized for me the idea that sustainable innovations don't necessarily require disrupting everything about our food systems. Things obviously need to change in a big way, but there are so many ways like this that we could innovate for efficiency that leave room for profitability and reduce the number of challenges faced in delivering sustainable solutions. The key here, I believe, is recognizing that changing our food ecosystem requires an ecosystem approach. Some changes like this will exist within current systems, while others will be more extreme and disruptive, but they all need to come together to create the sustainable future we're after.

What would you say are the top three most important steps that students and young professionals can take today to lead more sustainable lives and careers?

First, just become aware. Learn the causes of climate change and figure out how your everyday choices impact them, and be able to share that learning with others.

Second, take to heart the importance of this problem. This has the potential to fundamentally change (or even end) civilization as we know it, and major action needs to be taken within this lifetime. Few problems this big have that kind of clock on them.

Third, be humble and empathetic in helping others catch up to the importance of the issue. There is a great deal of misinformation and resistance to change out there, and condescension or extremism will not help bring people around. Be curious and patient as you help others understand the importance of the problem and simple actions they can take to help.

Given your current passion for sustainability, if you could go back in time and give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

Everyone can make a difference and perfection is not required to do so. Do the little things and be an example, you never know what the ripple effect might be.

What are some words of wisdom that you would offer students exploring the possibility of an immersive experience within sustainable businesses?

The gap between academic ideas of sustainability and sustainable work in practice is significant, and there is no better way to understand this than to get firsthand experience working with it. It can often seem obvious and simple what needs to be done from the outside, so understanding the challenges and roadblocks associated is critical to devising solutions that can be operationalized in the real world.

What is your favorite quote?

"Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears." Marcus Aurelius

What's next? What are your next steps toward your own sustainable growth in 2019?

I am currently working on a startup to launch off-grid cold storage solutions in Sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, 40-50% of produce there goes to waste post harvest due to lack of storage and shipping infrastructure. Storage would not only reduce the inputs per kilo of food consumed by ensuring more gets to the end consumer, but would also reduce methane released by food rotting in landfills.

Nick has worked in and around agriculture his entire life, from an upbringing on the family farm in rural North Dakota, to a 10-year career in agribusiness insurance and finance. He is passionate about creating a future that is not just ecologically sustainable, but also economically sustainable for the men and women who devote their lives to putting food on our plates.


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