NobleAI recently had the pleasure of attending and sponsoring the American Cleaning Institute’s (ACI) annual convention in Orlando, Florida. The event was host to thousands of business executives and innovators sharing the latest advances in chemical technology and manufacturing.
The team had a great week meeting new colleagues and participating in several activities, including attending informative sessions and the ACI’s much-anticipated rubber duck race.
While a lot was discussed and learned, we found the following three takeaways to be particularly pertinent:
1. Sustainability is at the forefront of new product innovation
In a recent McKinsey report, executives make it clear that sustainability is a top priority. Consumers are demanding more sustainable products, and employees want to work at organizations where environmental stewardship is important. However, it’s also clear that many companies are in the early stage of their sustainability adoption journeys. Just 27% of respondents in the McKinsey survey state that they feel sustainability initiatives have been integrated to their core R&D function. McKinsey describes this as the “gap between values and action.”
At the ACI event, we saw organizations committed to closing this gap. The ACI 2022 Sustainability Report clearly outlines a plan to embed sustainability in core R&D efforts. The plan consists of four goals:
- Contribute positively
- Increase transparency
- Value nature
- Reduce emissions
Each of these four goals was in action at the conference. NobleAI sponsored the Networking Lounge in Orlando, where the ACI had set up an assembly line to continue their efforts contributing positively to the world. ACI members assembled hygiene kits consisting of free cleaning goods to send to their non-profit. The industry that helped us through the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly maintained its focus on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) and giving back to the community.
One of the main drivers of sustainability is consumer sentiment, and ACI members are investing heavily in increasing transparency to consumers. Take the SmartLabel initiative as an example. This mobile application allows users to scan barcodes, and access detailed information in a uniform and consistent way, such as where ingredients were sourced and the carbon intensity of supply chain processes used to create a product. As per ACI’s 2022 Sustainability Report, 22% of ACI household product formulators use SmartLabel, including The Clorox Company, Colgate-Palmolive Company, Henkel Corporation, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt, Seventh Generation, Inc. and Unilever. This is one example of how members are integrating sustainability across the value chain, ensuring consumers understand the sustainability initiatives throughout their business. Furthermore, there were multiple sessions at the ACI event in Orlando focused on further improving this labeling technology.
Perhaps most importantly, we saw an incredibly strong emphasis on goals 3 and 4 of the ACI sustainability plan: valuing nature and reducing emissions. For ACI members, valuing nature means:
- Eliminating waste (e.g., reducing packaging)
- Advancing water stewardship (e.g., ensuring fewer chemicals go down your drain)
- Optimizing the use of natural resources (e.g., lowering total emissions throughout the supply chain).
We attended multiple presentations on new chemical product launches that achieved these goals. Amit Sehgal of Solvay introduced Actizone, an anti-bacterial that lasts on surfaces for 24 hours. By extending the life of the anti-bacterial, Solvay has achieved a more sustainable cleaning alternative that also acts against viruses that might linger on household surfaces. Additionally, Kraton presented SYLVASOLV, a 100% bio-based oil with high-solvency power. By using bio-based ingredients that are byproducts of upstream processes, Kraton has created a cleaning ingredient that eliminates waste and makes better use of natural resources. We walked away from the sessions confident that new chemical product launches in 2023 will protect and preserve our environment.
2. Companies are in the early stages of embedding AI into their R&D processes
We spoke with numerous organizations throughout the week regarding the current state of AI deployments in their R&D organizations. While companies certainly do not lack the modeling capability and talent to deliver performant predictive models, most are still exploring the ideal use cases for AI versus other methods (statistical DOE, lab experiments, simulation, etc.). Additionally, when AI is applicable for a given use case, R&D organizations are investigating the right approach to building a platform that scales the predictive modeling effort across the organization (rather than doing one-off projects with bespoke data). AI and predictive modeling were at the forefront of every innovator’s mind at the ACI event and will be a strategic priority as we enter the new year.
3. Companies are rightfully cautious regarding build vs. buy decisions
With the incessant buzz around ChatGPT, people are rightfully skeptical of the AI hype. Furthermore, R&D professionals at ACI member organizations are technically highly capable people, intimately familiar with statistical modeling techniques. For these reasons, R&D organizations are carefully evaluating if and how to partner with third parties on their AI initiatives.
At NobleAI, we encourage that thoughtfulness and find that tried and true principles remain the same. This article from HBR says it best:
“If buying the software you need just isn’t possible, building it may make sense. But there’s no denying that’s a difficult path, and only worth it if the upside is big. Before you build, make sure you understand the real costs to succeed over the long term, and only embark on those code-writing efforts you’re sure your business is capable of.”
Thank you, American Cleaning Institute, for hosting such a catalyzing event. We look forward to the next year of advancements in sustainable chemical formulation. And for those curious, unfortunately, Noble.AI’s Einstein duck did not bring home the Shell Chemicals Duck Race ribbon this time, but he’ll be back next year, motivated and ready.