LUSEM students winner of sustainability thesis award

Below you can read the interview, which Susanne Arvidsson (Director of Lund Institute of Sustainability Impact) did with Olivia Johnsson and Annique Snel, the winners of RiseB thesis prize in sustainability and business ethics.

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Congratulations to the RiseB thesis prize in sustainability and business ethics! What an achievement! How did you react when you found out that you won the prize?

Thank you! Annique was the first one to find out and immediately facetimed Olivia in Stockholm from Amsterdam. We could not believe it was true considering the record amount of nominations this year. Caroline Hellström (director of studies at LUSEM) that nominated us, had told us before that the competition would be very tough, so the news came as a big surprise. All in all, we are very honoured and proud!

What is your thesis about?

The purpose of our study was to explore what logics incumbent versus small entrepreneurial companies follow as they attempt to transition into a circular economy. By researching the mental and institutional barriers for circular economy adoption, we managed to show how adoption of circular business models enacts conflicts between the dominant economic paradigm and the logics of circularity and regeneration. Consequently, this highlights the need for nuance and critical analysis of circular business models, in theory and practice. Individual circular initiatives and organisational forms are too aligned to traditional business thinking for them to really advance the sustainability agenda. Therefore, we concluded that a systemic change on the level of governments, consumers and financial institutes is necessary.

Writing a master thesis is a perfect opportunity to become sort of an expert within a subject. Since we both were and still are very keen on incorporating sustainability in our careers, the choice was quite simple.

Why did you choose to focus your thesis on sustainability issues?

Writing a master thesis is a perfect opportunity to become sort of an expert within a subject. Since we both were and still are very keen on incorporating sustainability in our careers, the choice was quite simple. While doing group work early on in the masters we learned we both had a growing passion for sustainable business strategies and innovation processes. When the time came to orientate on thesis topics, we went on several inspirational evening seminars in Lund, and after one of them it became clear to us that the circular economy was a combination of our interests. The critical perspective grew during the process, as we interviewed people and read more about the novel idea of circular economy. Something that winning this prize has taught us is that writing your thesis on what you find really interesting is also highly rewarding.

Have you taken many courses where sustainability themes/perspectives have been integrated in the curriculum?

We both followed the course Re-imagining Capitalism, taught by our supervisor Ester Barinaga. 

During this course we were challenged to have a critical perspective on our dominant economic system, and this made us feel more confident to take a critical stand and to think outside the box. Furthermore, Annique took the elective course Global Business & Sustainability during the International Strategic Management master degree. During this programme we were often offered the opportunity to write about things that interested you as a student, so we could tweak the education a bit, which often also led Olivia into sustainability topics.

Sustainability cannot be the last, random additional slide to a lecturer’s presentation, like a note that can be left out when time is up. Instead, it is rather something that should be the basis in business education.

What themes/perspectives related to sustainability would you like to see more of in courses and programs?

Sustainability cannot be the last, random additional slide to a lecturer’s presentation, like a note that can be left out when time is up. Instead, it is rather something that should be the basis in business education. It is a business faculty and its lecturers’ responsibility to prepare students for the upcoming business reality, in which we have to take responsibility for our people, and our planet with finite resources. In general, we think that a system thinking perspective in every course would help students to see the responsibilities that we as a society need to take for ourselves and future generations.

How can your findings be used by e.g., companies?

During our research we noticed that adopting circular business models is to a high degree influenced by traditional business thinking. Our research will hopefully make companies aware of the mental and institutional barriers that can exist, and consequently, being aware of these influences, make decisions that result in a thriving business with a lot of positive impact. We hope that businesses will start asking themselves whether they are focusing their circular initiatives in a way that they actually make a societal and environmental impact for the better. Also, our findings show that circular economy is not a one man show, so as soon as businesses acknowledge that, collaborative platforms and a network perspective can be achieved.

Learn more about RiseB thesis prize in sustainability and business ethics, as well as the nomination process, on Umeå University's website

Last published: 2021-05-31