Electric vehicles – the saviour of the planet?

Climate change is a global concern; hence it affects all countries and regions, however, with different magnitudes and rates [1]. The biggest driving force influencing climate change is fossil fuels, which include coal, oil and gas, contributing more than 75% of all greenhouse gas (GHGs) emissions, including almost 90% of all carbon dioxide emissions [2]. The transport sector, especially road transport, accounts for around a quarter of global energy use and related GHGs. To keep the long-term increase in the global mean temperature below 2°C, it has been suggested that reductions in global GHGs emissions of 50% to 85% from levels noted in 2000 must be made by 2050 [3].

However, how to achieve this result since it is estimated that by 2050 the number of cars will double?

High potential in GHGs emission reduction is associated with electric vehicles (EVs). New gasoline and diesel vehicle sales were prohibited beginning in 2040, according to announcements made in the summer of 2017 by the UK and France. This restriction has already been advanced until 2030 by the UK. Therefore, it is already possible that internal combustion engines will no longer be used for personal transportation. This summer, Volvo, a Chinese-owned automaker, announced starting in 2019, all of its vehicles will be either electric or petrol hybrid driven. By 2025, Volvo’s Chinese owners, Geely, hope to sell one million EVs [4]. It would be a huge success, considering that in 2021 Volvo sold 698 700 cars, of which 56 883 were electric cars (both plug-in and fully electric) [5].

EV is not a new invention. The technology has been developing for a long time; the first attempt to create an EV was made in 1832 by Robert Anderson [6]. The biggest advantage of modern EVs is energy efficiency; 75-95% of the available energy is converted into motion. While internal combustion cars can only put up to 30% of the energy contained in its fuel into motion, the rest is lost in heat and friction [4].

EVs are considered cars that produce no pollutants and no hazardous gases. Is that fully true?

The manufacturing process of EVs releases a similar amount of CO2 as the production of internal combustion cars, but only when battery manufacturing is excluded from the calculations. Production of batteries requires large quantities of rare metals lithium, cobalt and nickel [4]. Their mining is labour-intensive and necessitates chemical input and large quantities of water, frequently from water-scarce regions. What is more, it can produce toxic waste and impurities [7]. Additionally, the cost and the difficulty of recycling processes causes that lithium-ion battery recycling is still very low, at less than 5%, the rest ends in landfills [8]. Regulations are predicted to play a significant part in this process since recycling play a crucial role in the future of the industry because it helps to increase sustainability and lessen resource scarcity.

Engineers and scientists are trying to find different solutions for gathering energy, like sand batteries, which seem to be a promising technology. Sand, when heated to 600℃, can become a battery and, with the application of thick insulation, can keep the temperature inside even when it is freezing outside. Not only does sand have a much lower environmental impact than lithium, but it also does not involve any chemical reactions and does not degrade like lithium-ion batteries. The drawback of this technology is that sand batteries can store 5 to 10 times less energy than chemical batteries. However, the generation of 8 MWh of heat energy by sand battery costs $200 000 while the generation of the same amount of energy by lithium-ion battery costs $1 600 000. The main question is whether it is possible to scale up this technology to produce a considerable amount of electricity in addition to heat [9].    

Indirect pollution is related to the type of electricity grid used to charge batteries. A gas-fired power plant emits 350–400 grams of CO2 per kWh, but a coal-fired power station releases ~650 grams of CO2 per kWh. When considering the emissions produced during the manufacturing process of renewable energy sources like solar panels or wind turbines, the emissions produced per kWh are approximately 36g CO2 [7]. Research demonstrates that even after accounting for these electricity-related emissions, an EV often emits fewer GHGs than the typical new gasoline vehicle. However, the overall GHGs associated with EVs might be significantly lower if more renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, are employed to produce electricity [10].

Another important aspect is related to the pollution emitted from tires. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, tires are one of the main sources of microplastic pollution in oceans [11]. Because of the use of battery power, electric cars are much heavier than combustion engine cars and, together with the instant acceleration and, therefore, instant torque, because more stress is put on the tyres. Engineers are trying to capture the pollution from tires into the boxes placed above the tire, which on the way of electrostatic forces, could collect shed tire particles. However, until now, it is at the prototype stage [11]. Moreover, manufacturers of tires are trying to improve tire quality to increase their longevity and reduce the amount of noise and pollution emissions.

Personal transport is one thing, but a reliable freight transportation infrastructure that can move goods effectively, safely, and sustainably is an essential component of a sustainable society. Diesel trucks have only a 4% share of the total road transport. However, they are responsible for almost half of the transportation sector’s smog-forming pollution and a quarter of all climate emissions [12]. There are some attempts made to change internal combustion heavy trucks into electrical ones. Volvo started series production of electrified truck Volvo FM, FMX, and FH series, that could operate at a combined weight of 44 metric tons [13]. Nevertheless, it should be noticed that the kilometres range of an electric truck is equal to 380 km, then it needs to be charged, while an internal combustion truck can be driven over 2000 km using only one tank of 630 L. Although EVs seem to be the right step towards sustainability and GHGs reduction, challenges still remain.

Written by Magdalena Fabjanowicz, Gdańsk University of Technology

References:

  1.  EPA. International Climate Impacts. Accessed November 26, 2022. https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/climate-impacts/international-climate-impacts_.html
  2. United Nations Climate Action. Causes and Effects of Climate Change. Accessed November 26, 2022. https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/science/causes-effects-climate-change
  3. H. Ma, F. Balthasar, N. Tait, X. Riera-Palou, A. Harrison, Energy Policy, 44 (2012), 160-173, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2012.01.034.
  4. YPTE. Electric cars. Accessed December 5, 2022. https://ypte.org.uk/factsheets/electric-cars/what-are-the-downsides-to-electric-cars#section
  5. Volvo cars. Press Releases: Volvo Cars reports sales of 44,664 cars in July. Accessed December 29, 2022, https://www.media.volvocars.com/global/en-gb/media/pressreleases/303268/volvo-cars-reports-sales-of-44664-cars-in-july
  6. Energy.gov. Timeline: History of the electric car. Accessed November 28, 2022. https://www.energy.gov/timeline/timeline-history-electric-car
  7. Climate Portal. How much CO2 is emitted by manufacturing batteries? Published July 15, 2022. https://climate.mit.edu/ask-mit/how-much-co2-emitted-manufacturing-batteries
  8. AZO Materials. Worldwide Regulations on lithium-ion battery recycling. Published January 24, 2022. https://www.azom.com/news.aspx?newsID=57992
  9. BBC. How a sand battery could transform clean energy. Accessed December 29, 2022. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20221102-how-a-sand-battery-could-transform-clean-energy
  10. EPA. Electric Vehicles Myths. Published October 18, 2022. https://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/electric-vehicle-myths#Myth1
  11. The Japan Times. When driving, tires emit pollution. And EVs make the problem worse. Published September 4, 2022. https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2022/09/04/business/tech/electric-vehicles-tires-climate/
  12. GreenBiz. A new way o track truck pollution. Published October 5, 2022. https://www.greenbiz.com/article/new-way-track-truck-pollution
  13. CNBC. Volvo starts series production of heavy-duty electric trucks, targets 50% of sales by 2030. Published September 14, 2022. https://www.cnbc.com/2022/09/14/volvo-starts-series-production-of-heavy-duty-electric-trucks.html

Twin Transition: Coupling Green and Digital Transitions

Digital and green transitions have been on Europe’s top agenda as solutions for the biggest challenges the world is experiencing today, ranging from climate change to food security. While these two processes are distinct and require unique actions and steps to their end, they can also reinforce each other in fulfilling the EU Green Deal and global sustainable development goals.

Image Source: https://euinasean.eu/eu-green-deal/

Twin transition refers to the interplay between digital and green transitions: If properly used and managed, digital technologies can help economies become (more) resource efficient, circular and climate neutral. Similarly, green transition in energy and industry sectors can help meet the growing energy needs and reduce the environmental footprint of the digital sector.

For twin transitions to be successful and inclusive, understanding the synergies between digital and green transitions, and implementing proactive and inclusive policies and management mechanisms are needed. Promotion of twin transitions, therefore, requires engagement of players from all sectors: Thanks to its economic share, the private sector will have a big role in implementing twin transitions. However, to boost the benefits and minimize the negative side-effects in digitalization and greening processes as much as possible, engagement of the public and civil society sectors will also be needed.

Indeed, the JRC report on ‘Towards a green & digital future’, published earlier this year emphasizes the importance of  “successfully managing the green and digital ‘twin’ transitions” for “delivering a sustainable, fair, and competitive future”. The comprehensive study analyzes the green and digital technologies in the context of twin transitions and shows how they can reinforce each other. This is done in reference to five industries (namely: agriculture, building and construction, transport and mobility, energy, and energy-intensive industries) and by giving concrete case study examples.

Image Source: https://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/handle/JRC129319

For instance, in the agriculture industry, “with environmental monitoring and tracking, digital tools can help gather knowledge of areas such as biodiversity deficits and prioritize actions to preserve it” (p. 25). In the energy industry, for example, “Simulation and forecasting using digital technologies can speed up research and development cycles for new materials, products, processes, or business models in areas where zero-carbon and green  technologies are not yet competitive” (p. 44).

Image Source: https://unsplash.com/@dereksutton

The report also presents the social, economic and political factors that influence the twin transitions, by referring to the recent crisis we have been experiencing, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia-Ukraine war. Finally, it presents the main challenges against successful twin transitions in social, technological, environmental, economic and political contexts, and discusses what can be done to cope with these challenges. For example, “ensuring ethical use of technology” is critical for addressing concerns related to data protection and surveillance. Similarly, “ensuring diversity of market players” is important to cope with capacity- or market-entry-barriers, especially for smaller organizations (p. 75) [Read More: Towards a green and digital future].

It is well known that innovation is indispensable in finding solutions to the sustainability-related challenges we experience today. Coupling the design and implementation of digital technologies with sustainability initiatives, in other words twin transitions, can contribute to solving these challenges. It is therefore important that the concept is well understood and accepted by actors from public, private and social sectors; and promoted by higher education institutions through (further) research and training offers in the field.

TOO4TO project aims at supporting students and professionals in expanding their knowledge and skills in topics related to sustainability and sustainable management. The link between emerging digital technologies and sustainability is one of the topics that has been addressed in the TOO4TO training curriculum and e-learning modules. Follow our project and its outputs to learn more about sustainability-specific topics.

Written by Global Impact Grid

References:

JRC Report on ‘Towards a green and digital future’. Available at: https://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/handle/JRC129319

Image Sources:

Image 1: https://euinasean.eu/eu-green-deal/

Image 2: https://publications.jrc.ec.europa.eu/repository/handle/JRC129319

Image 3: https://unsplash.com/@dereksutton

Fast Fashion is out of Fashion. Reusability – New Trend in the Textile Sector

The textile and apparel sector is of high importance and complexity. The transition to more sustainable and circular textile systems affects various stakeholders through the whole value chain and life cycle of the product. The EU is concerned about those challenges, and therefore the corresponding strategies and regulations are developed in order to guide the stakeholders. This paper is oriented to light upon the reuse as an option of the extension of the life cycle of the products. What kind of transformations are needed in order to make it effective and scalable as a promising tool for the circularity of the sector?

EU consumption of textiles is mostly based on imports. It has a significant negative environmental impact: the 4th on climate change and the 3rd on water and land use from a life-cycle perspective (EEA, 2022). 5.8 million tons of textiles are discarded in the EU each year, approximately 11 kg per person per year (EEA, 2019). Landfilled or incinerated textile results in huge losses of textile primary resources. It also leads to losses related to production processes because of the usage of millions of tons of water and kilowatts of energy, and work hours (Aus et al., 2021). In solving the problems of the waste sector, the EU has determined that every member state must introduce a separate collection system for textiles from January 1, 2025 (2008/98/EC, 2018), in order to reduce the amount of textiles to be landfilled as waste and promote their recycling and reuse rates. 

Up to 2.1 million tons of second-hand clothing and textiles are collected separately for recycling or reuse in the EU each year, representing around 38% of all textiles placed on the EU market (JRC 2021). It varies considerably in the EU member states, e. g. 5% of used textiles are collected in Latvia, respectively 11% in Lithuania and Italy, 30% in Estonia, 40% in Norway, 42% in Denmark and 70% in Germany. The rest of the textile products are discarded as mixed municipal waste for landfilling and/or incinerated (Nordic, 2020; Sandin & Peters, 2018).

However, the collection of used textiles (as waste) separately does not ensure higher recoverability or lower environmental impact. Organizations operating in the used textile collection sector report that there is a small share of textile products suitable for the reuse market. Meanwhile, there is a huge lack of recycling technologies and a market for low-quality textiles (Nordic, 2020). The development of recycling technologies and the implementation of national or international systems is a long-lasting process. Therefore the life cycle extension strategies are getting more and more relevant in the EU market in order to foster the transition towards circular textile systems.

According to the (WRAP, 2017) report, the reuse of textile is the most popular in Denmark, where 17% of the population try out second-hand market options before buying new clothes. However, the EU Waste Prevention Report (EEA, 2018) shows that the average reuse rate is below 9% in Denmark and below 5% in other EU countries.

The European Commission adopted the EU strategy for sustainable and circular textiles (Strategy) in March 2022, addressing environmental, waste and social challenges in this sector and opportunities for more sustainable development. The Strategy recognizes that extension of the textile lifetime is the most effective way to significantly reduce its negative impact (EC, 2022). The strategy seeks to solve the current situation of consumption patterns: consumerism and decreased quality of apparel. The main reasons why consumers discard textiles are the low quality of clothes and short usability. The fast fashion trend includes mass production of garments, quickly responding to the latest fashion trends and enticing consumers to keep buying at low prices.

Figure 1 Sustainable textile life cycle (www.circularstories.org, 2022)

As indicated in the strategy and proved by the researchers, the most important instrument for the extension of textile products’ lifetime (fig. 1) is prevention based on the Eco-design Regulation for Sustainable Products (Regulation). The design of product determines up to 80% of its life-cycle environmental impact (Commission et al., 2014) and based on the following regulation requirements products will be more sustainable, reliable, reusable, upgradeable, repairable, maintainable, refurbishable, recyclable and energy, resource and socially efficient (European Commission, 2022b).

The production, consumption and extension of the life cycle of sustainable textiles will gain meaningful benefits through the whole value chain of textile products by the introduction of a digital product passport. The main aim of it is to collect and provide valuable data on a product’s environmental performance and its suitability for reuse, repair, recycling and other circular options. Application of the extended producer responsibility (EPR) principle expected in the Strategy would oblige producers and suppliers to the EU market to take responsibility for the textile waste they generate, resulting in an additional need on the part of the producer to find solutions for sustainable product design, new recycling technologies and wider reuse activities, thus ensuring the prevention of textile waste and the longest possible use of textiles as products. EPR systems for textiles are active in two EU Member States: France (since 2008) and Sweden (since the beginning of 2022). EPR for textiles will start in the Netherlands in 2023. However, the EU is supposed to provide consolidated guidelines for all of the EU.

The Textile Strategy also focuses on strengthening responsible consumption and awareness among consumers so that the demand for sustainable textiles would increase not only from the political strategies and regulations but also from the consumers’ “bottom-up” intentions. The Strategy facilitates the development of responsible consumption behaviour by implementing the following measures: manufacturers publicly disclose information on how they dispose the unsold or returned textiles; using only credible eco-claims and correct eco-labelling and considering the introduction of a digital label; the provision of information to the consumer at the point of sale on the products’ commercial durability guarantee, reparability level, etc. 

Although the Strategy was adopted on March 30, 2022, the transition towards a sustainable textile economy has already begun quite efficiently. 12.5% of the fashion industry is committed to circular fashion, and many leading retailers have set bold targets and increased consumers’ awareness about fashion’s environmental impact (Global Fashion Agenda, 2018). Thus, the decoupling is on the process in different stages of the value chains: starting from the resources’ use when the textile industry is looking for solutions for new-garment designs, sustainable materials, and advanced recycling technologies, but also implementing new circular business models that are reuse-oriented (Fashion for Good & Accenture., 2019) (figure 2). The circular business models (renting, end-of-life collection services, second-hand clothing collections, resale, repair, remaking, etc.) aim to optimize the life cycle stage of usage and provide more opportunities for textile products to be reused after the primary use phase (UNEP, 2020).

Figure 2 Textile reuse center in Alytus, Lithuania

A study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2021) found that the global value of reuse businesses in 2019 was 73 billion USD (figure 3), and it represented 3.5% of the global fashion market revenues. It was estimated that the share of the reuse market could increase up to 23% of the fashion market (USD 700 billion) by 2030. It would lead to a 16% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The study estimates that these business models will grow faster in Europe and North America and could account for around 43% of total fashion market revenue in Europe by 2030.

Figure 3 The economic value of reuse businesses 2019 – 2030 (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2021)

After a brief overview of textile waste prevention in the context of reuse, the Textile Strategy will be one of the key documents guiding the direction and means of building a sustainable and circular textile economy. Inspired by eco-design requirements and the application of producer responsibility, the textile industry will stimulate and influence the search for innovative alternatives to prolong the product life cycle, which will allow the expansion of existing textile reuse models and the creation of new ones. Reuse is a much more promising strategy, which will be supported by the EU and national institutions. Therefore, investing in the textile service and reverse logistics activities is an opportunity for the various stakeholders within the value chain and their cooperation. The consumers and environment will gain many positive effects out of this transformation from fast fashion towards the extension of the usage of higher quality textile products and services.

Written by Agnė Jučienė, Inga Gurauskienė, Institute of Environmental Engineering, KTU, Lithuania

References:

2008/98/EC. (2018). Directive 2008/98/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of November 19, 2008 on waste and repealing certain Directives (Text with EEA relevance). https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=celex%3A32008L0098

Aus, R., Moora, H., Vihma, M., Hunt, R., Kiisa, M., & Kapur, S. (2021). Designing for circular fashion: integrating upcycling into conventional garment manufacturing processes. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40691-021-00262-9

Commission, E., Energy, D.-G. for, & Industry, D.-G. for E. and. (2014). Ecodesign your future: how ecodesign can help the environment by making products smarter. European Commission. https://doi.org/doi/10.2769/38512

EEA. (2018). Waste prevention in Europe — policies, status and trends in reuse in 2017. https://doi.org/doi:10.2800/15583

EEA. (2019). Textiles and the environment in a circular economy.

EEA. (2022). Textiles and the environment: the role of design in Europe’s circular economy. https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/textiles-and-the-environment-the

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation. (2021). Circular business models: Rethinking business models for a thriving fashion industry. https://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/fashion-business-models/overview

European Commission. (2022a). EU Strategy for Sustainable and Circular Textiles. COM (2022) 141 Final. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A52022DC0141

European Commission. (2022b). On making sustainable products the norm COM (2022) 140 final. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:52022DC0140

Fashion for Good & Accenture. (2019). Driving circular business models in fashion. https://fashionforgood.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/The-Future-of-Circular-Fashion-Report.pdf

Global Fashion Agenda. (2018). 2020 Commitments. https://www2.globalfashionagenda.com/commitment/#

Nordic. (2020). Post-consumer textile circularity in the Baltic countries: current status and recommendations for the future.

Sandin, G., & Peters, G. M. (2018). Environmental impact of textile reuse and recycling – A review [Article]. Journal of Cleaner Production, 184, 353–365. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2018.02.266

UNEP. (2020). Sustainability and Circularity in the Textile Value Chain: Global Stocktaking. https://wedocs.unep.org/20.500.11822/34184

WRAP. (2017). Mapping clothing impacts on Europe: the environmental cost. http://www.ecap.eu.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Mapping-clothing-impacts-in-Europe.pdf

www.circularstories.org. (2022). circularstories.org. https://circularstories.org/009-circular-fashion-berlin-startup/

Individual and team level reflections as tools for sustainable learning

Today, almost every organization operates in virtual and even more complex environments. The Sustainable Management: Tools for Tomorrow (TOO4TO) project has addressed this challenge and contributes to the goal of better and more sustainable virtual leadership by integrating the development of virtual team leadership and sustainable leadership skills in a sustainable management e-learning course. In addition, the project promised to develop learners’ skills needed in virtual teamwork. 

TOO4TO course provides learners an opportunity to form multidisciplinary and multicultural virtual teams and work on an authentic real-life sustainable management case. Pedagogical approaches are applied in these authentic learning activities and environments (e.g., Lakkala & al. 2015).  However, we know that it is quite common that in a project-based course like this, the student teams have strong task orientation and focus heavily on the final output (see Jaime & al. 2019). This usually lowers the importance of developing sustainable team working and leadership skills (soft skills). The risk of low importance on developing teamwork and leadership skills risk can be reduced by using reflections as tools as part of learning activities. Both individual level and team level reflections are included because virtual collaboration is seen as a team construct, consisting of the individual members’ thoughts and experiences of working in a team (Liao 2017).

To enhance project-based learning experiences in the TOO4TO-course, the reflection of learning is knotted into the learning process. 

Every student is encouraged to post an individual learning reflection diary to the eLearning environment. Individual reflections impact learning and help learners to learn by 

  • increasing the depth of knowledge, 
  • identifying the areas that need improvement, 
  • personalizing knowledge, and 
  • helping learners see the structural connections in knowledge and creating social connections among them. (Chang 2019).

In the learning diaries students explain e.g., their knowledge of the course content, attitudes, feelings and learning strategies as well as connections and cooperation with other students. 

It helps to describe one’s own experience, which supports personal growth and helps to identify weaknesses and strengths related to learning (Humak 2022).

Every team will also reflect their teamwork at the team level.  Team level reflections keep the teams on course, strengthen team members´ abilities, and use problem-solving to examine teamwork. Teams also need rules and procedures as well as skills to identify and overcome interpersonal conflicts, deal with failures, and celebrate success as they work together. Team level reflections lead to 

  • operational cohesion,
  • collective orientation toward the task, 
  • close relationships within the team,
  • shared meanings, 
  • greater coordination,
  • clearer communications.

(Liao 2017).

However, it is good to note that students and student teams also need support in understanding the importance and technique of reflection (see Köpeczi-Bócz 2020). 

To sum up, 

  • both individual reflections and team level reflections are necessary for learning
  • reflections support students and student teams in transition from passive learners to active learners
  • reflections enable the teachers to follow the student teams´ progress and intervene in a timely manner if necessary.

Of course, the use of reflections as a tool is not only limited to education and training but is also a useful tool in working life. Virtual team members need routines like time set aside for teams to reflect together on what they are learning and what they might do differently (Dixon 2017). Applying reflections already in educational settings encourages students to continue their learning journey in real-life virtual projects leading to lifelong learning as one aspect of sustainable learning (Graham & al. 2015).

Written by Mervi Varhelahti, Marjatta Rännäli & Susanna Saari, Turku University of Applied Sciences

References:

Chang, B. (2019). Reflection in learning. Online Learning, 23(1), 95-110.

Dixon, N. (2020). Learning together and working apart: Routines for organizational learning in virtual teams. The Learning Organization, April 2017 Issue. Accessed on 08 February 2020 via ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/315592876_Learning_together_and_working_apart_routines_for_organizational_learning_in_virtual_teams

Graham, L., Berman, J. & Bellert. A (2015). Sustainable Learning: Inclusive Practices for 21st Century Classrooms. Cambridge University Press.

Humak (2022). Pieni opas kirjoittamiseen. https://humak.libguides.com/c.php?g=682305&p=4888060

Köpeczi-Bócz, T. (2020). Learning portfolios and proactive learning in higher education pedagogy. International Journal of Engineering Pedagogy, 10 (5). https://doi.org/10.3991/ijep.v10i5.13793

Lakkala, M., Toom, A., Ilomäki, L. & Muukkonen, H. (2015). Re-designing university courses to support collaborative knowledge creation practices. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 31(5), 521-536. https://doi.org/10.14742/ajet.2526

Liao, C. (2017). Leadership in virtual teams: A multilevel perspective. Human Resource Management Review, 27(4), 648-659

Sustainable Living: Caring for One’s Well-Being as well as That of the Planet

When we discuss sustainability, our focus is usually on corporations and governments; how they can decrease their negative impact on the environment / society and boost sustainable development and transformation. As single individuals, our environmental footprint may be quite low compared to those of institutions (such as companies); however, we can still make contributions in change towards a more sustainable future by making adaptations in our lifestyles and leading a (more) sustainable living.

Sustainable living can be defined as “understanding how our lifestyle choices impact the world around us and finding ways for everyone to live better and lighter.” [1]. It is an approach to decrease one’s demand on natural resources by, for example, stopping to use a certain product or service that is produced and delivered through unsustainable ways and have a huge negative impact on our planet; or by making behavioral changes in one’s everyday life to decrease one’s ecological footprint.

Sustainable living is closely related to the concept of sustainable consumption, which means “the use of goods and services that respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life, while minimizing the use of natural resources, toxic materials and emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle, so as not to jeopardize the needs of future generations.” [2]

The importance of sustainable consumption in achieving sustainable development is so important that it also appears in one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the United Nations (UN). SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production pursues “ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns” and “doing more and better with less”. [3]

Image Source: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/news/communications-material/

According to a few facts presented by the UN;

  • “Each year, an estimated one-third of all food produced – equivalent to 1.3 billion tonnes worth around $1 trillion – ends up rotting in the bins of consumers and retailers, or spoiling due to poor transportation and harvesting practices.
  • If people worldwide switched to energy-efficient light bulbs the world would save US$120 billion annually.
  • Should the global population reach 9.6 billion by 2050, the equivalent of almost three planets could be required to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles.” [3]

A simple online research on ‘how to lead a more sustainable life’ gives various ideas for small lifestyle changes that can change one’s impact on the planet for the better.

One example would be to decrease the consumption of animal-based products in one’s diet, which would not only boost one’s own health, but also that of the planet.

Image by Edgar Castrejon on Unsplash

According to Dr. Michael Greger’s videos on Which Foods Have the Lowest Carbon Footprint? and Diet and Climate Change: Cooking Up a Storm “In California, including more animal products in your diet requires an additional 10,000 quarts of water a week. That’s like taking 150 more showers each week. Instead of eating meat every day, if you skip meat on weekdays, you could conserve thousands of gallons of water a week and cut your daily carbon footprint and total ecological footprint by about 40 percent.” [4] “The foods that create the most greenhouse gasses appear to be the same ones that contribute to many of our chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension.” [5]

Another example would be to stop contributing to the growth of the fast-fashion industry and shopping for what is really needed and going for sustainable brands or second-hand clothes. The fashion industry is indeed known as one of the main pollutants of our planet. According to the Deutsche Welle Documentary on Fast fashion – The shady world of cheap clothing, “Our planet is being swamped in clothes with some 56 million tons sold every year. The number sold in Europe has doubled since the turn of the millennium”. [6]

Image by Becca McHaffie on Unsplash

According to Prof. Nikolay Anguelov, who presents interesting facts in the documentary, it is estimated that “by 2030 the industry will expand by an additional 60 percent”, which is very worrying considering, among many other issues, the amount of dumped clothes every year. Indeed, as Prof. Anguelov puts it, “Fast fashion is the commerce of very inexpensive clothing that you are expected, or you are ready to replace very rapidly. It’s very typical for the fashion forward buyer to never wear an outfit that they purchased. You will wear something once or twice or maybe never.” [6]

It is important that each individual is aware that one’s actions and choices do have an impact on climate change -among many other social and environmental challenges we experience today- and gets informed about the small changes he/she can make for a more sustainable lifestyle. To start with, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) presents a footprint-calculator, a questionnaire through which one can calculate his/her individual ecological impact and makes the first step towards a more sustainable living.

Written by Ela Kurtcu, Global Impact Grid

References:

[1] https://www.unep.org/explore-topics/resource-efficiency/what-we-do/sustainable-lifestyles

[2] https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/economics-econometrics-and-finance/sustainable-consumption

[3] https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-consumption-production/

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWKCvP1XCjA

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gu5NKLxqTak

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhPPP_w3kNo

Winery by-products as a source of essential compounds

The consumption of wine has a great economic and cultural significance. According to The Food and Agriculture Organization statistics from 2016, the grape is the most widely cultivated fruit crop [1]. The biggest grape producers in 2018 were: China (11.7 million tons), Italy (8.6 million tons), the USA (6.9 million tons), Spain (6.9 million tons), and France (6.2 million tons) [2]. Among the others, grape crops are used for fresh fruit, dried fruit and juice production. However, the majority of production is focused on wine [3]. In 2019, the world wine production reached 292 million hectoliters from 77.8 million tons of grape crops. It is assumed that 30% of the total amount of vinified grapes are by-products during the wine production, including pomace – skin and seed as well as rachis and lees, as shown in Figure 1 [4].

Figure 1 By-products generated during different stages of the winemaking process [5].

In 2018 alone, vitiviniculture generated around 23 million tons of waste. Moreover, most of them were discarded without any treatment, causing an environmental and economic load. Biowaste generated during the winemaking process has one significant feature making them difficult to dispose of. They are rich in phenolic compounds, which decrease the pH and increase resistance to biological degradation [5].

Should they be considered waste?

Growing people’s interest in sustainability and circular economy is a driving force for the wine industry to look for innovation and an alternative way of winery biowaste utilisation. Winery by-products, especially grape pomace, present a rich source of essential compounds such as antioxidants, dietary fibres, polyphenols, flavonoids, essential minerals, showing health-promoting properties. It is documented that these bioactive compounds possess antibacterial, antitumor, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant effects preventing chronic diseases. Thus, they are highly interested in the food, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical industry [6]. More and more literature evidence shows an increasing number of possible reusing and recycling of winery biowaste. The extract of grape pomace can be used in various industries like:

  • the food industry, where it can be added to prevent food products against oxidation and lipid peroxidation, to limit colour deterioration and prevent against the antimicrobial activity, thus food spoilage;
  • the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industry, because of significant polyphenols content it could be a new, cost-effective source in the cosmetic sector due to their anti-ageing properties or dietary supplement rich in antioxidants;
  • agroindustry as soil conditioner once the grape pomace is composted or it can be reused in animal feeding [5].

Instead of being disposed of away, winery by-products can be used as a fuel (biomass) to generate methane gas, which can then generate electricity [5]. Moreover, grape stalks can be used in wastewater treatment to remove heavy metals, including Cd, Cu, Cr, Ni, Hg, Pb [7].

The discussed number of wine pomace applications demonstrates the significant potential of winery by-product valorisation in various industries. The results of the research are very promising; however, still, there is a long way to go until all of these residues have proven recovery pathways. This is a huge challenge for the future, to make the wine production process more sustainable, to change the wine waste chain in order to recover as much as possible and turn it into valuable products.

“Who will be the first to benefit from exploring the opportunities?”

Written by Magdalena Fabjanowicz, Gdańsk University of Technology

References:

1.          FAO-OIV FOCUS 2016 Statistical Report on Table and Dried Grapes. Available Online: (Accessed 16.03.2022); s.n.], 2016;

2.          OIV, 2020 Statistical Report on World Vitiviniculture. Available Online: (Accessed 8.03.2022);

3.          Bouquet, A.; Torregrosa, L.; Iocco, P.; Thomas, M.R. Grapevine (Vitis Vinifera L.). In Agrobacterium Protocols Volume 2; Humana Press: Totowa, NJ, 2006; pp. 273–285.

4.          Melo, P.S.; Massarioli, A.P.; Denny, C.; dos Santos, L.F.; Franchin, M.; Pereira, G.E.; Vieira, T.M.F. de S.; Rosalen, P.L.; Alencar, S.M. de Winery By-Products: Extraction Optimisation, Phenolic Composition and Cytotoxic Evaluation to Act as a New Source of Scavenging of Reactive Oxygen Species. Food Chemistry 2015, 181, 160–169, doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2015.02.087.

5.          Kalli, E.; Lappa, I.; Bouchagier, P.; Tarantilis, P.A.; Skotti, E. Novel Application and Industrial Exploitation of Winery By-Products. Bioresources and Bioprocessing 2018, 5, 46, doi:10.1186/s40643-018-0232-6.

6.          Gerardi, C.; D’amico, L.; Migoni, D.; Santino, A.; Salomone, A.; Carluccio, M.A.; Giovinazzo, G. Strategies for Reuse of Skins Separated From Grape Pomace as Ingredient of Functional Beverages. Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology 2020, 8, doi:10.3389/fbioe.2020.00645.

7.          Tripathi, A.; Rawat Ranjan, M. Heavy Metal Removal from Wastewater Using Low Cost Adsorbents. Journal of Bioremediation & Biodegradation 2015, 06, doi:10.4172/2155-6199.1000315.

Sustainable leadership in virtual project teams – Practices of building trust

One part of Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is employee wellbeing that can be supported by leadership focusing on creating a motivated and open work culture at today´s workplaces. However, during the last two three years leadership has been challenged by the Covid 19 and its accompanying transformation of the work environment. Today, almost every organization operates in a virtual and in even more complex environments. The TOO4TO project has addressed this challenge and contributes to the goal of better and more sustainable virtual leadership by integrating the development of virtual team leadership and sustainable leadership skills in the e-learning course it will produce.

Virtual team leadership

Employees often work in small teams and the success of virtual teams depends among other things on the size and structure of the virtual team, as well as team composition meaning individual differences and team leadership. Virtual team leadership is not so different from the face-to-face leadership; however, certain practices are emphasized:

  • solving conflicts,
  • supporting open and regular communication,
  • leading diversity,
  • being present to avoid social isolation,
  • giving feedback to maintain intrinsic motivation and
  • allowing autonomy to enable self-managing teams.
  • building trust to ensure knowledge sharing and creation

Working in virtual settings increases also the importance of sustainable leadership. Especially, in diverse virtual teams where the team members speak different languages, are of different ages and have different experiences, the team leader must ensure the wellbeing of the team members by leading in a sustainable way in the pursuit of trust.

How do we lead in a sustainable way in virtual settings?

The Sustainable Leadership Pyramid created by Avery and Bergsteiner (2011) (SLP) proposes a bundle of 23 integrated and mutually supportive leadership practices combined to enhancing performance outcomes by multiple measures (see fig.1). Key performance drivers refer to organizational behaviors, in other words – staff engagement, quality and innovation.

On the higher-level practices the focus is on the employees, and we can find corresponding practices that were mentioned being the most important in leading virtual teams. One of the most crucial practices is building trust. To be more precise, building both cognitive and affective trust, that correlates positively with the success of a virtual team.

Fig 1. The Sustainable Leadership Pyramid (Avery & Bergsteiner 2011)

It is said that trust is more difficult to establish and maintain in virtual teams (I.e., Sarker & al. 2011; Morrison-Smith & Ruiz 2020) and lack of trust is most pronounced during the initial stages of the virtual teamwork. Facilitating social exchanges early in the life of a project and creating opportunities also for informal interactions between the team members, can improve trust. In other words, the leader’s first responsibility is to build an employment relationship where team members are allowed to work freely and share their own expertise and knowledge with others. In this way, they feel a sense of belonging and make their best contribution to the success of the team. All these practices lead to increased trust between the team members and psychologically safe working environment.

In addition, to build trust in an international virtual team in the best possible way, the virtual team leader should strive to create an open discussion by choosing the right kind of technological tools and taking cultural differences into account. Also, the members of the virtual team must be aware of the communication rules and etiquette and of the norms and values of different cultures. Moreover, as mentioned earlier, the various stages of team development should be considered, most effort is needed at the initial stages of team development. Not only open communication and technology but also demonstrating appreciation and respect for the team members is beneficial. Unfortunately, trust is often seen as a sensitive resource because it is demanding and time-consuming to build, but it can be broken down easily and quickly.

Ways to develop sustainability and sustainable leadership skills virtually

The TOO4TO project online course offers an opportunity to conduct group assignments in virtual teams across national borders. The intention is to elevate the learners’ sustainable leadership skills, such as building trust, as well as adaptability to new situations in conjunction with studying sustainability, which as an approach, is unique to all project partners.

The project has also published a “How to lead virtual teams” guide to increase competence and skills in the area of sustainable leadership and multicultural virtual teamwork. The guide is available on the https://too4to.eu/ website.

While changes in the work environment are seen as challenges, they are also great opportunities to re-think ways of working and to develop as a sustainable virtual team leader. Despite the work environment, it is still about the welfare of the team members.

Written by Mervi Varhelahti, Marjatta Rännäli and Milka Leppäkoski, Turku University of Applied Sciences

References:

Avery, G.C. & Bergsteiner, H. (2011), “Sustainable leadership practices for enhancing business resilience and performance”, Strategy & Leadership, Vol. 39 No. 3, pp. 5-15. https://doi.org/10.1108/10878571111128766

Bergsteiner, H. (2022) Institute for Sustainable Leadership. The Sustainable Leadership Pyramid (SLP). Accessed 16.2.2022 https://instituteforsustainableleadership.com/research/tools/sl-pyramid/#

Leppäkoski, M. (2021) The role of leadership in building trust in multilingual virtual teams. Turku University of applied sciences. Accessed 16.2.2022 https://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:amk-2021090917629

Morrison-Smith, S. & Ruiz, J. (2020). Challenges and barriers in virtual teams: a literature review. SN Applied Sciences, 2(6), 1-33.

Suriyankietkaew, S. & Avery, G. (2016). Sustainable leadership practices driving financial performance: Empirical evidence from Thai SMEs. Sustainability, 8(4), 327.

Teaching and Learning – Transformative Changes from the Blackboard to the Virtual Environment

Integration of IT technologies in universities’ education and research process is quite common for the last decades. The importance of IT infrastructure, digitalization, and virtual technologies sharply increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. The voluntary and innovative aspects of applying those technologies transferred to must have and survival of education process in time of lock-down. However, a huge outbreak of COVID cases raised a Hamlet dilemma for all lecturers “to be or not to be” with already a clear answer. A challenging period for students and a nerve-wracking period for some lecturers: when ZOOM embodied a whole classroom and “break-out rooms” function – team working space; questions “Can you hear me well?” or “Can you see the slides?” were used as a starting prayer of a lecture. “Frozen faces” became more common, and loss of the Internet connection was the most significant threat (and still is!) for the study process. Despite all these crazy moments, this experience brought a number of benefits with innovations and skills among lecturers and students in a time of digitalization – as new era of transformative education process. At the same time, it revealed the gaps on a national or organizational (university) level. So the questions arise, what are the benefits and what are the challenges of the changes towards the screen-based education?

Trends and guidelines towards technological development and increased digitalisation in higher education

The importance of this topic becomes also clear when considering that the EU institutions prepare documentation, initiatives and funding for better digital integration in the European Higher Education Area. 

The European Union set a policy initiative for 2021-2027, “The Digital Education Action Plan”, to better integrate IT technologies in universities. This plan aims to support the sustainable and effective adaptation of EU Member States’ education and training systems to the digital age. The plan has significant importance for including digital technologies into the teaching process, support for the digitalisation of teaching methods and pedagogies, and the provision of all necessary infrastructure for inclusive and resilient remote learning. There are three main priorities proposed in the document: 

1. Making better use of digital technology for teaching and learning.

2. Developing relevant digital skills and competencies for digital transformation.

3. Improving education systems through better data analysis and foresight.

The Action Plan sets out two following priority areas: developing a high-performing digital education ecosystem and enhancing digital skills and competencies for digital transformation to achieve these objectives. 

Moreover, during the Digital Education Action Plan preparation, stakeholders expressed the need for better cooperation and dialogue concerning digital education. Accordingly, at the beginning of January (2022) European Commission launched the Digital Education Hub. The Hub will provide visibility to the outputs of its community of practice, a dedicated space for its information-sharing needs and ensure synergies with the European Education Area initiative. 

Lessons learnt about digitalisation in higher education during the COVID-19 crisis

Scientists analyse the impact of the COVID-19 crisis in various scientific fields – environmental, educational, social, etc. Experts of Kaunas University of Technology provided insights on a few exciting research results about the usage of digital environments in the study process:

Positive environmental aspects of “work-study from home.”

Scientists of Frederick University (Cyprus) and Kaunas University of Technology (Lithuania) analysed “The role of Remote Working in smart cities: lessons learnt from COVID-19 pandemic”. This article analysed the case of university employees’ behaviour in different types of working (fig. 1). Therefore, it is highly related to the studies and its process. This work established impact indicators that demonstrate the contribution of remote working models in tackling energy and environmental challenges for the transition of European cities to smart energy regions. The study revealed that: “at least 4.0 litres of transportation fuel and 7.4 kg of carbon dioxide can be saved per hour of remote work per 100 employees for the case of Cyprus.” According to the study results, only one question could be raised – how much of transportation fuel and carbon dioxide emissions were saved by distance learning?

Figure 1. Working and studying options

The impact of digital technology on Lithuanian education and the difficulties it faces.

Another useful interview was carried out with Gytis Cibulskis – the head of Kaunas University

Virtual learning environments have been used extensively in universities and colleges before the pandemic. According to Gytis Cibulskis, the Head of Kaunas University of Technology E-learning Technology Centre: “The Internet has become an endless source of learning resources that facilitate the transfer of learning materials in the technology classroom; communication, collaboration, and diverse learning platforms are essential in organising the learning process remotely and in a hybrid way.”

According to G.Cibulskis:

  • More attention should also be paid to the development and accessibility of digital learning tools.
  • Higher education institutions should be encouraged to become actively involved in developing and implementing EdTech innovations.
  • Virtual labs, learning data analytics, artificial intelligence applications, and other innovations could be tested by universities in higher education.

The solutions tested could be replicated in the general education sector as well, involving teachers in the development of teachers’ digital competencies.” Despite some drawbacks the Lithuanian education sector faces, there are some good initiatives to be mentioned:

  • Teacher training packages the EdTech digital education transformation project has been initiated.
  • Hybrid teaching equipment is being procured centrally.
  • Other projects are being initiated.

¨It is to be hoped that the impetus given by the pandemic will have long-term positive consequences for the overall digitalisation of the educational sector”. 

Further ideas for virtual teaching and learning process

Digital education has become an integral part and background of every study process. Therefore, the current challenge is to look for digital innovations, but not the digitalisation of the study process itself. The students and lecturers are getting more and more used to the virtual environment and online lectures. Therefore the development of the higher education will integrate digitalization, virtual and blended learning as one of the core resources, infrastructure and direction for the innovative and up-to-date competences providing institutions for the specialist of the future and nowadays. Transformative changes will be oriented not from the blackboard to the “black-screens” of the students (as it used to be in virtual lectures), but to the integration of innovative tools providing flexibility, individualization and all other benefits, the digitalization provides to the society. The question is HOW, but not WHY to be more digital in the education process. Therefore, the lessons learned at each institution and interinstitutional collaboration as well as orientation to the EU strategic guidelines will lead to positive changes and development of the quality of higher education.

p.s. Useful information for the lecturers and students, who are curious or still feel the need to improve the teaching/learning process, The United Nations prepared a list of programmes and websites called “Distance learning solutions”. The information and solutions include resources to provide psychosocial support, digital learning management systems, massive open online course (MOOC) platforms, self-directed learning content, collaboration platforms that support live-video communication, tools for teachers to create digital learning content, etc. The results of the TOO4TO project also could be seen as a set of useful virtual and digital tools for lecturers and students oriented to the development of sustainable management competences.

Written by Inga Gurauskienė, Kaunas University of Technology

References

Digital Education Action Plan (2021-2027). https://education.ec.europa.eu/focus-topics/digital/education-action-plan

Digital Education Hub. https://education.ec.europa.eu/focus-topics/digital-education/digital-education-action-plan/digital-education-hub

Gytis Cibulskis: learning process without technologies is unimaginable. https://en.ktu.edu/news/gytis-cibulskis-learning-process-without-technologies-is-unimaginable/

Kylili, A., Afxentiou, N., Georgiou, L., Panteli, C., Morsink-Georgalli, P.-Z., Panayidou, A., Papouis, C., & Fokaides, P. A. (2020). The role of Remote Working in smart cities: lessons learnt from COVID-19 pandemic. Energy Sources, Part A: Recovery, Utilization, and Environmental Effects, 0(0), 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1080/15567036.2020.1831108

Remote working can help solve environmental problems and develop smart cities. https://en.ktu.edu/news/remote-working-can-help-solve-environmental-problems-and-develop-smart-cities/

Researcher of KTU: online learning – will we be able to learn everything? (publication in Lithuianian: KTU mokslininkė: nuotolinis mokymasis – ar viską išmoksime?) https://ktu.edu/news/ktu-mokslininke-nuotolinis-mokymasis-ar-viska-ismoksime/

UNESCO. Distance learning solutions. https://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse/solutions

Sustainable Innovation in Businesses

Sustainability is the idea that goods and services should be produced in ways that use resources that can be replaced and without damaging the environment. Sustainability can also be viewed upon as minimizing the use of resources that cannot be replaced.

Innovation is all about creativity and novelty. An innovation often results in new products, services or processes.

Sustainable innovation couples these two concepts. It involves leveraging ideas, concepts, and products that achieve economic viability due to environmentally aware designs and practices. As per researcher Richard Adams (Network for Business Sustainability 17 May 2015), this can be possible by making deliberate and planned changes to a company’s products, services, or processes to generate long-term social and environmental benefits alongside creating economic profits for the organisation. It is innovation that serves public good, and is receiving greater attention even from the corporate world. Sustainable innovation serves sustainable development goals, helping create shared value, along with delivering commercial value creation.

Differences between sustainable innovation and traditional innovation

Innovation has been a buzzword for quite some time now, in various fields, be it in medicine, aviation, IT, education, services and so on. An analysis of sustainable and traditional innovation, led us to the distinction as summarized in the below table:

Content Source: Prepared with input from –
https://innovationmanagement.se/2017/04/18/five-ways-sustainable-innovation-is-different-from-normal-innovation/#:~:text=Five%20Differences%20with%20Sustainable%20Innovation,solution%20for%20customers%20and%20business

Sustainable innovation can at times be disruptive and it can result in better business models, improved processes, streamlined resource flows, reduced waste and cost, and create new market segments entirely, making it harder for corporations to defend the status quo. As consumers gain more knowledge on sustainability their preferences change and prefer to consume products and services that align with sustainable principles. Whether it’s fair working conditions or climate change, metrics are used to determine how ethical and sustainable an organization is and a key factor for consumers in choosing whether to support a business.

Why should businesses innovate sustainably?

Today, sustainability is the key driver of innovation. Incorporating sustainable practices can lower costs and increase revenues. In the future, companies that incorporate sustainable goals will achieve competitive advantage.

Challenges in innovating sustainability

Despite the benefits, pursuing sustainable innovation has its challenges. Achieving it takes time, commitment, and effort.

The following factors broadly represent the challenges in sustainable innovation.

  • Declining resources: Shrinking size of mature markets or lack of availability of new markets could contribute to the challenges.
  • Technical challenges and market reactions: Getting right the critical balance between scale, reliability, and cost
  • Regulatory, political, cost and supply chain uncertainties

Understanding these (and other challenges) becomes the first step to crafting an innovation strategy that fits the organisational efforts.

Ways to successfully innovate sustainably

Sustainable innovation can fall under the following broad categories:

  • Operational optimization
  • Organizational transformation, and
  • Systems building

Researcher Richard Adams and colleagues identified these different categories. They represent a continuum in terms of impact, with “systems building” creating the greatest change.

Firms can engage in three types of sustainable innovation; Source: Adams et al. (2015)
https://www.nbs.net/articles/what-is-sustainable-innovation-and-how-to-make-innovation-sustainable

Other ways to innovate sustainably are:

  • Changing operational processes. Sustainable innovation isn’t always inventing products/services but offering existing ones with changed processes. For e.g. design, production, marketing, and even HR. Fairphone, a Dutch social enterprise, changed production process using recycled and responsibly mined materials, providing workers fair wages and good labour conditions. Their modular design makes repairs and upgrades easier for reducing e-waste.
  • Expand the business canvas by mapping the wider ecosystem of stakeholders and societal issues in which the business operates.
  • Analyze future trends and build scenariosto envision different, versions of the future. Use these scenarios to predict how might environmental and societal issues change over time and the effects of these issues on the business model.
  • Explore scaling up the business. Imagine the business model at different scales of activity over a longer span of period. Predict the risks and address them sustainably.
  • Identify innovation “strategic intervention points” that changes the environmental or societal issues, with a positive impact. They reduce the vulnerabilities of the business model, or even create new business value opportunities.

Written by Radhika Prasad Suram, Global Impact Grid

References:

What is sustainability after all?

Photo by Dylan on Unsplash

Sustainability. We know it is important – something everyone should pursue and favour, but what are its origins, and how should we understand it?

Sustainability may be as old as human existence, even though its concept as a word with various meanings is much younger. It may also be impossible to pinpoint who first used the term ‘sustainability’. However, the concerns about natural environmental preservation in the economic circles were purportedly brought up first by a German accountant Carl von Corlowitz in the early 18th century, who was one of the first to use the term ‘nachhaltiger Ertrag’‘Sustained yield’ – in the context of forest management1. Already back then, environmental preservation meant that nature needed the time to regrow if we wanted to use it sustainably.

Around the same time, an English economist Thomas Robert Malthus postulated that the environment has limits 2. He suggested that as the population grows, there would be diminishing food supply per capita, leading to lower living standards, eventually ending the growth (Figure 1).


Figure 1 Malthusian curve

However, the shortcoming of the Malthusian theory was that the total production curve was kept fixed. Malthus was unable to predict that the Industrial Revolution would enable a significant shift upwards in the production curve, which is why the human population has grown from about 800 million in 1750 to nearly 8 billion at the present day.

After the first half of the 20th century, various United Nations administrators, governments and scientists started sounding the alarm bells again about the limits3. However, it was not until 1987 when the Brundtland Commission Report mainstreamed the term ‘sustainable development’ and defined it as:

 “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”

Arguably, this is still one of the most accepted definitions for sustainable development. But what does it mean if we really try to understand it? Some could argue that the definition is elusive, which may also be one of the reasons for its wide acceptance. After all, the definition leaves much room for us to interpret and adjust it in ways that best suit different purposes.

Be that as it may, ten years after the Brundtland Commission Report, academia alone had produced over 300 different definitions of sustainability and sustainable development 4. Probably, due to a plethora of definitions, most of us have little understanding of what these terms mean.

Perhaps, from the practical point of view, it makes more sense to view sustainability as a framework rather than debating its definition. In this regard, there appears to be a consensus that sustainability comprises economic, social and environmental dimensions, which the English author John Elkington coined as the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) in the 1990s. Since its introduction, many businesses have adopted TBL at least as an accounting framework to communicate their non-financial impacts. Yet, many interpretations exist on how these dimensions should be understood and promote sustainability. In this regard, some general perspectives on sustainability are coined into specific models (Figure 2).


Figure 2 Often used models that conceptualise sustainability. Adapted and modified from Peet (2009)

Many of us from management disciplines have seen representation A, where the three sustainability dimensions are presented as pillars. The fundamental message of this view is that the dimensions need to be in balance to prevent sustainability from collapsing. This conceptualisation may also make it clear to understand that sustainability issues can be discussed and addressed separately.

The so-called Mickey Mouse model (B) also sees the sustainability dimensions as separate entities. This perspective focuses on the economic dimension, where economic activities influence the other two. It is arguably not the most dominant model in terms of how we want to view sustainability. However, it has been argued that this view underpins much of the current global economic and political decision making 5.

Then there is the TBL model (C), introduced by John Elkington, according to which sustainability is achieved when a balance exists in the intersect of the dimensions. Twenty-five years after its introduction, Elkington himself 6 has, however, started to doubt whether his model has been understood appropriately by businesses. Indeed, it seems many companies have interpreted the model as a “balancing act” where trade-offs between the sustainability dimensions are possible.

Finally, the strong sustainability model (D) views the human world as an integral environmental dimension. It recognises that social and economic systems exist as subsystems of the wider ecosystem, ultimately setting limits to growth. Therefore, strong sustainability can only work if the natural environment is sustained and human impact within it is manageable. 7

However, economic growth has dominated our current ways of living. This growth has enabled better infrastructure and higher life expectancy, positively contributing to our wellbeing. Hence, economic growth should not be seen as bad as such. However, the excessive economic growth stemming from our current lifestyles promotes increased material consumption, which has led to the depletion of the natural world and issues like climate change. The world has become a human-centric place, where strong sustainability seems impossible. 5

Should we, however, feel doom and gloom about our planet when we have governments and businesses committing more and more to sustainable development? After all, we read more news every day about innovations that will make life more sustainable in the future. Such innovations include lab-grown meat that grows in Petri dishes currently but will become available in grocery stores in the future. Sustainable development is also taking place in the fashion industry, where many fashion houses have started to add recycled materials into their textiles. These are only some examples that demonstrate that we are heading in the right direction. Therefore, we should stay optimistic. Right?

However, we should also realise that, in a way, the future is now and not tomorrow. After all, the actions and decisions we make today have consequences on our tomorrow. And unfortunately, due to human-induced climate change, the future will be unequal for us – especially for those living on ice or in coastal regions – let them be polar bears or humans. Let us also ask ourselves: Do we have that lab-grown meat in our local grocery stores now? The answer is no, and while we are waiting for it to become available, the world is consuming meat and dairy more than ever, which produce about 14.5% of global CO2 emissions8. And while the fashion industry is blending more recycled materials into their clothes, the average consumer also buys 60% of more pieces of clothing today than 15 years ago, and each item is kept for half as long, of which the majority ends up in landfills9.

To conclude, even though we see evidence of sustainable development, can we call this development sustainable in the big picture, within the limits of growth? The answer to this depends mainly on how we understand sustainability. Arguably, as a word, ‘sustainability’ holds different meanings to different people in different contexts. These meanings are not static either and are subject to alterations when various actors such as governments, scientists and business representatives communicate about it. Having said this, we should take the responsibility seriously for how we teach and communicate sustainability to others – even as an abstract concept. Although we may all have somewhat differing views on sustainability, we can still find ourselves sharing perspectives with some of the models presented in this blog post. The question is, which of the models do you wish yourself and the others to be advocating – the strong sustainability or the Mickey Mouse?

Written by Eljas Johansson, Gdańsk University of Technology

References:

  1. Grober U. Deep Roots: A Conceptual History of “sustainable Development” (Nachhaltigkeit). Vol No. P 2007.; 2007. https://www.econstor.eu/bitstream/10419/50254/1/535039824.pdf
  2. Zeder R. The Malthusian Theory of Population. Published 2020. https://quickonomics.com/the-malthusian-theory-of-population/
  3. Bansal P, Song HC. Similar but not the same: Differentiating corporate sustainability from corporate responsibility. Acad Manag Ann. 2017
  4. Johnston P, Everard M, Santillo D, Robèrt KH. Reclaiming the definition of sustainability. Environ Sci Pollut Res. 2007;14(1)
  5. Mulia P, Kumar Behura A, Kar S. Categorical Imperative in Defense of Strong Sustainability. Probl Ekorozwoju. 2016;11(January):29-36. https://ssrn.com/abstract=2858188
  6. Elkington. 25 Years Ago I Coined the Phrase “Triple Bottom Line.” Here’s Why It’s Time to Rethink It. Harv Bus Rev. 2018;June 25. https://hbr.org/2018/06/25-years-ago-i-coined-the-phrase-triple-bottom-line-heres-why-im-giving-up-on-it
  7. Peet J. Strong Sustainability for New Zealand: Principles and Scenarios.; 2009. http://scholar.google.com/scholar?hl=en&btnG=Search&q=intitle:Strong+sustainability+for+New+Zealand#4
  8. Kevany S. 20 meat and dairy firms emit more greenhouse gas than Germanu, Britain or France. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/sep/07/20-meat-and-dairy-firms-emit-more-greenhouse-gas-than-germany-britain-or-france  Published September 7, 2021.
  9. UNEP. UN Alliance For Sustainable Fashion addresses damage of ‘fast fashion.’ Accessed January 17, 2022. https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/press-release/un-alliance-sustainable-fashion-addresses-damage-fast-fashion