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

On the Way to Sustainable Tourism?

The UN Climates Change Conference 2021 took place last November, and the world is still digesting the results of the Glasgow Climate Pact. What is certain is that big things need to happen in all the fields of life for us to have a liveable future on this planet. The global tourism industry is one of the key players in the much-needed change.

The global tourism industry is responsible for approximately eight percent of the carbon emissions of the world[i] Tourism is mostly about intangible experiences utilizing the multifaceted cultural and natural environments. Nevertheless, tourism accelerates nature loss via, e.g., land use, erosion and producing garbage. The division of the carbon footprint of global tourism consists of many sectors of hospitality, even construction and mining, as can be seen in the picture below by Sustainable Travel International.

Picture 1. Carbon Footprint of Global Tourism

More than 300 tourism stakeholders launched the “Glasgow Declaration of Climate action in Tourism” during the climate conference in November[ii]. This is a good start but, of course, still, a modest one considering pre-pandemic travel and tourism accounted for 10.4% of global GDP, being also a significant employer whose’ direct, indirect and induced impacts accounted for 1 in 4 of all new jobs created globally[iii]. However, tourism is and has been a significant socio-economic booster and in many times the sole contributor to well-being in, e.g., rural areas.

Covid-19 pandemic has treated the travel industry severely all over the world with a state of zero tourism for weeks if not months in many destinations. In Finland, tourism and hospitality industries have also suffered greatly, although domestic tourism, especially during the summer months, has been able to compensate for some of the damage. However, Covid-19 has given us all an opportunity to re-think our priorities, values and travel patterns[iv]. The pause also made the consumers realize the positive and negative impacts of tourism[v]. An independent report commissioned by Booking.com argues, “83% of global travellers think sustainable travel is vital, with 61% saying the pandemic has made them want to travel more sustainably in the future”[vi]. Results by a study at Turku UAS suggest that the values and travel motivations by Finnish customers support sustainability. As travellers, Finns respect nature and understand the main principles of sustainable tourism. They are also interested in nature and local, authentic culture. More than half are willing to pay more when services and products are sustainable[vii]. However, studies also reveal that a responsible attitude is regrettably unlikely to materialize as concrete and sustainable choices of consumption. For example, every third traveller confessed that their main aim during a holiday is to relax and not to worry about the negative impacts of tourism[viii].

Case Finland

Sustainable tourism cannot be at the discretion of the travellers only. It is the responsibility of the tourism and hospitality companies, Destination Management Organizations (DMOs) and other service providers to be in charge of sustainable supply and make it easy for the consumers to make sustainable decisions. The objectives and incentives have to come from the top level. Finland and the City of Turku are both in the forefront of preventing climate change with aspiring objectives. Finland aims to be carbon neutral by the year 2035[ix]. In addition, it wants to be the world’s first fossil-free welfare society as well as a leading sustainable tourism destination. How to get there?

Visit Finland has launched a program called “Sustainable Travel Finland” (STF)[x] designed for Finnish tourism destinations and companies. The idea is that a tourism company first has to be certified by a recognized label. There are approximately 20 different certifications that are accepted currently, varying from national to global and covering various fields of tourism, e.g. accommodation, boat harbours, golf courses and events to whole destinations[xi]. Once the certification is in place, the journey towards STF mark stars. There are seven steps: 1) commitment 2) training 3) development plan 4) communications 5)verification and measuring 6) certification and audit, and finally 7) closing and continuous improvement[xii]. The aim is not only to encourage individual businesses but whole tourism destinations to become sustainable. The “carrot and stick” mentality used by Visit Finland may mean that those companies who are not changing the way they act will not be included in international marketing activities in the future.   

The City of Turku aims to be carbon neutral by the year 2029[xiii]. Its Destination Management Organization, “Visit Turku” together with Turku Business Region – a regional development company[xiv], are the mentors of the local tourism and hospitality industry who advise, train and even help finance the sustainability change in Finland Proper region. It is encouraging to see that the change is happening and sustainable choices are possible. Travellers can search for alternatives, e.g. via Visit Finland’s links: https://www.visitfinland.com/sustainable-finland/sustainable-travel-destinations/

It is not possible to stop travelling altogether. Therefore, it is the duty of the industry to make the change happen, but also the travellers have to stay alert and demand for sustainable solutions.

Written by Susanna Saari, Turku University of Applied Sciences


References:

[i] https://sustainabletravel.org/issues/carbon-footprint-tourism/

[ii] https://www.unwto.org/news/tourism-unites-behind-the-glasgow-declaration-on-climate-action-at-cop26

[iii] https://wttc.org/Research/Economic-Impact

[iv] Glusac, E. (2021) Global Wellness Trend Report. The Future of Wellness. Global Wellness Summit.

[v] Gybels, M. (2021) Sustainable Travel Report 2021. Booking.com

[vi] Gybels, M. (2021) Sustainable Travel Report 2021. Booking.com

[vii] Haapaniemi, T. (2021) Kuluttajien arvomaailma matkailutuotteita ostettaessa. Turun ammattikorkeakoulu

[viii] Gybels, M. (2021) Sustainable Travel Report 2021. Booking.com

[ix]https://ym.fi/en/climate-neutral-finland-2035#:~:text=Government’s%20climate%20policy%3A%20climate%2Dneutral,and%20strengthening%20our%20carbon%20sinks.

[x] https://www.businessfinland.fi/en/do-business-with-finland/visit-finland/sustainable-travel-finland-label

[xi] https://www.businessfinland.fi/suomalaisille-asiakkaille/palvelut/matkailun-edistaminen/vastuullisuus/sertifioinnit–ohjelmat

[xii] https://www.businessfinland.fi/suomalaisille-asiakkaille/palvelut/matkailun-edistaminen/vastuullisuus/sustainable-travel-finland

[xiii] https://www.turku.fi/en/carbonneutralturku

[xiv] https://turkubusinessregion.com/en/

Circular Economy: A Way to Reach Sustainable Development

The world is currently facing environmental degradation and consequently negative repercussions on human well-being. This situation can be mitigated if modern economies and societies are willing to take the finite resources of the planet into consideration and start moving towards an alternative model that can lessen the risk of resource scarcity and respond to climate change challenges, as assured by the Circular Economy (CE) model.

The circular economy “is a model of production and consumption, which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible. In this way, the life cycle of products is extended.” (European Parliament, 2015). The EU currently places the transition towards the CE model on top of its agenda in order to reduce the 2.5 billion tons of waste it generates annually. (European Parliament, 2015).

The CE measures, such as waste prevention, eco-design and re-use, are expected not only to reduce the total annual greenhouse gas emissions, decrease pressure on the environment, improve the security of the supply of raw materials, increase competitiveness, stimulate innovation; but also, it is expected to save money for the EU companies, boost economic growth as well as add  0.5%  growth rate to gross domestic product (GDP) and create more than 700,000 jobs in the EU alone by 2030 (EU Parliament, 2020).

Source: EU Parliament (2015)

That being said, the European Commission adopted the new circular economy action plan (CEAP) in March 2020. This action plan is one of the foundational elements of the European Green Deal, which aims to attain the EU’s 2050 climate neutrality target and halt biodiversity loss (European Commission, 2021).

Recognizing this, several industries and organizations embarked on more sustainable practices within the new CE framework. However, the businesses and technological innovations alone are not sufficient to achieve a complete transformation to CE. Citizens awareness is crucial in that regard, given that some of the obstacles facing this transformation are associated with attitudes such as perception of sustainability and risk aversion (Ritzén and Sandström, 2017) and cultures, for example, the lack of consumer interest and awareness. Citizens perceive themselves unaccountable for that transition and believe it is only governments and businesses responsibility (Kirchher et al., 2018). Therefore, a paradigm shift cross-cutting the individual behaviors reaching to the collective societal adaption of the CE principles through a bottom-up approach is the viable option to internalize CE principles. This can only be accomplished by education, to equip the people to become themselves the agents of the evolution towards CE (EU Commission, 2020).

The EU-funded TOO4TO project, hence, contributes to this goal by embedding the desired knowledge about circularity and sustainable economy in its modules. The course entails the necessary information about the circular economy, economics, sustainable production concepts and the concept of planetary boundaries. Students will get familiar also with the influence of public policy on the transition process to CE and the techniques of evaluating the business actions in terms of sustainability.

Practically as observed by Rodriguez and Marcote (2020), including circular economy and sustainability into the educational modules of the students altered their perception about their role and contribution to the CE transition and raised awareness with regards to the change in daily habits. As stated by Rodriguez and Marcote (2020: 1361)

“Students have sought out, developed, and provided solutions that have improved their impact on campus (water and energy saving, longer use of devices, less waste and more recycling). This critical view of their consumption is necessary to make the transition to the CE. Students can understand how their purchasing decisions have direct and serious consequences on the planet. They also recognized their inconsistency when shopping without need, just for fashion. The transition to more sustainable consumption patterns and levels will require reinforcing new habits through education”.

Written by Ashrakat Fouda, Global Impact Grid

References:

https://ec.europa.eu/environment/strategy/circular-economy-action-plan_en

https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/europarl/circular_economy/circular_economy_en.svg

https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/ENVI-PR-652387_EN.html?redirect

https://epale.ec.europa.eu/en/blog/transition-circular-economy-role-education-youth-higher-education

Ritzén, S. and Sandström, G.Ö. (2017), “Barriers to the circular economy – integration of perspectives and domains”, Procedia Cirp, Vol. 64, pp. 7-12.

Kirchher, J., Piscicelli, L., Bour, R., Kostense-Smit, E., Muller, J., Hublbrechtse-Trujens, A. and Hekkert, M. (2018), “Barriers to the circular economy: evidence from the European union (EU)”, Ecological Economics, Vol. 150, pp. 264-227.

Rodrigues, A., Marcote, P. (2020), “Circular economy, sustainability and teacher training in a higher education institution”. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 21 No. 7, pp. 1351-1366. Retrieved from: https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/IJSHE-02-2020-0049/full/pdf?casa_token=0DPVaO9GfywAAAAA:RNd9KN4b72-BJMC_Z1wkZx1oFyGT__8hwsK_-uLnIt_tHqU1zdPydrJuBk76kQI6IKevjgsKyZ89Yg8mYUe3mYjvh0Je_MONPM-R8KxL6MgfSSHtng

Paper cups – are they really “green”?

Paper cups – easily available, fast and hygienic solutions to drinking coffee outdoors are very challenging materials in terms of sustainable utilization. Each country is trying to find ideal paper cups management. What is the best?

Photo by Endlich Grün on Unsplash

Paper coffee cups are available almost everywhere, on airplanes, at petrol stations, in cafes, allowing to take coffee in a fast, convenient and hygienic way. Most consumers consider paper coffee cups to be environmentally friendly. However, one should realize that a 100% paper cup could not fulfill its role. Each paper cup needs to be coated with the polymer layer, which is usually polyethylene, in order to be waterproof, fatty acid resistant and to preserve coffee aroma. It is estimated that 16 billion polyethylene coated paper cups are used each year. Their production uses 6,5 million trees, 4 billion gallons of water and energy of the amount equivalent to the amount of energy required for 54 000 homes [1]. Moreover, only 1% of the disposable cups are recycled. Low recovery of used coffee cups is related with the ineffective and inconsistent recycling schemes with the limited availability of systematic collection points and not adjusted processes of many recycling facilities to process food contaminated waste streams. Due to this fact most of the used coffee cups end at the landfills (where paper is consumed by composting microorganisms and polyethylene is breaking into smaller and smaller pieces, transforming into microscopic fragments that can be transported through whole the ecosystem) or incinerated, while they can be successfully recycled [2]. In order to shift waste management into a sustainable direction, the European Union established a target for all the EU countries to increase the recycling of packaging plastics up to 65% by 2025 and up to 70% by 2030 [3]. What is more, Australia is going to remove the use of single-use plastic by 2023 and Taiwan by 2030 [2].

Hence, the biggest problem is not related with the recycling process itself but with the collection system. Many countries, cities around the world are hardly trying to find the way for a sustainable and efficient paper cups management system.

In the UK, The Paper Cup Recovery & Recycling Group tried to increase the awareness of the population regarding paper coffee cups recycling, by increasing the access to the information, schemes and facilities for sustainable paper cups recovery. They increased the number of collection points significantly for more than 4500, municipalities that collect paper cups up to 115 and what is more they involved 21 waste collectors who actively participate in a given action [2]. 

Austria introduced the project “myCoffeeCup” which is based on reusable cups available to a wide range of partners willing to reduce the use of disposable coffee cups. Customers drinking coffee from the reusable cups can return them directly to the partner involved in the project or to the returning machines located at the central hubs. Moreover, there is an app created for the purpose of the project which indicates where the participating partners and returning machines are located. Cups used in these projects can be reused up to 500 times [4].

Lithuania focused on the problem of waste cups generation during outdoor festivals and events. Ms. Valdone Šuškevičė initiated a unique startup “CupCup” in order to introduce a reusable cups system in public events and cafeterias. It is already observed that it helped to reduce the amount of given waste by 0.5 t per season [5].

In order to increase the collection rate of reusable cups in Germany, an 1 euro deposit has been introduced within 100 participating businesses  [2].

Similar action is introduced in Poland, where 5 PLN deposit has been introduced for the coffee cups marked with the label “Take!Cup”. Given cups are available in three sizes 0.2L, 0.3L and 0.4L. Moreover, the cup is 100% recycled and does not contain melamine. The idea is similar to the other presented, once someone is taking a cup of coffee in such a container needs to pay a 5 PLN deposit which is returned while the cup returns to one of the partner businesses or can be exchanged for another cup of coffee [6].

Both recovery and recycling of the used coffee cups is technically possible, can be economically viable and can reduce the carbon footprint by 54%. However, even the most efficient recycling or recovery process is always related with the transportation of the material to the recycling plant, additional water and energy usage, thus additional greenhouse gas emission and environmental load. Perhaps the best choice would be to change our habits and instead of taking disposable coffee cups we should bring our own ceramic or heat-insulating mugs or find 15 min a day to drink coffee in a nice place in cafes in a nice company of our friend, book or newspaper?

Written by Magdalena Fabjanowicz, Gdańsk University of Technology

References:

[1] V. Suskevice, K. Grönman; MDPI Proceedings (2019) 16, pp 58
[2] N. Triantafillopoulos, A. A. Koukoulas; BioResources (2020) 15(3), pp 7260
[3] The European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy, https://www.europarc.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Eu-plastics-strategy-brochure.pdf
[4] Sustainable Coffee Cups for Vienna, https://smartcity.wien.gv.at/en/mycoffeecup/ (accessed: 03.10.2021)
[5] Bio Plastic Europe, https://bioplasticseurope.eu/news-events/eu-commissioner-virginijus-sinkevicius-opens-1st-meeting-of-the-hiscap-network (accessed 07.10.2021)
[6] Take Cup, https://www.takecup.pl/ (accessed 04.10.2021)

Insights in #CorporateSocialResponsibility and #CSR in Social Media

Engage your stakeholders in dialogue

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is not all about charitable activities and events. CSR is not only that businesses take into account the economic, social and environmental impacts of their operations, but also about taking the responsibility. Also, about taking the responsibility in developing the society. This happens by envisioning future plans for socio-economic justice and being conscious about companies’ responsibility for the welfare of society around them. 

CSR manifests in communication with stakeholders. CSR activities that are effectively communicated to stakeholders are likely to have good returns on investments and increase companies’ social legitimacy and reputation.

Social media has become a standard communication tool for companies to inform about their socially responsible activities. Social media has allowed organizations to communicate in entirely new ways through dialogue type of communication utilizing value- and performance-driven motives. However, it is stated that social networking platforms are most utilized in traditional one-way company-to-consumer communication. Unfortunately, this pattern still predominates in the social and digital era where interactivity and engagement are key. It is true that with a monologue type of communication one can campaign participation and spread e-WOM, electronic Word of Mouth. However, participating in dialogues in social media can reduce stakeholders’ scepticism towards the company’s CSR activities and lead to active stakeholder engagement. Moreover, through discussions and listening, companies can hold active dialogues and identify the sentiment of the discussions. This is relevant because emotional messages tend to be diffused more widely than neutral ones. Sharing emotional content is an intrinsic part of social media behaviour. In addition, emotions are used for promoting dialogue and engagement. Therefore, emotions are crucial elements for achieving stakeholder acceptance, commitment, and participation regarding CSR issues.

#CSR and #corporatesocialresponsibility in social media

We used hashtag and sentiment analysis to identify the main topics and their sentiment in social media discussions (i.e., Twitter or Instagram) related to corporate social responsibility. We chose hashtags #CSR and #corporatesocialresponsibility. We used a free version of social searcher and the data was limited to timeline 1.9 – 14.9.2021. Only social media mentions in English were included and inadequate data was removed.

Table 1 shows an overview of the social media posts related to corporate social responsibility during the two first weeks in September.

Table 1 Descriptive statistic of discussions (prepared by the authors, 2021)

Table 1 shows that #CSR is used more often than # corporatesocialresponsibility and it has also more users. Analysis of both hashtags showed that Twitter and Reddit are popular channels. Differences in the chosen channels are found, for example, daily motion is actively used for #CSR but not at all for #corporatesocialresponsibility. Surprisingly, channels like YouTube and Facebook had under 25 posts during the given timeframe.

The form of communication is mainly photographs. Based on the popularity of the posts (e.g. likes, shares) of both hashtags, the posts mainly include videos and photos. Video content is mainly webinars or recorded discussions with experts and company managers. Photos instead are related to campaigns and events and posted as announcements (Figure 1). However, the popularity of the posts reveals that engagement is not at a high level as a whole, because the amount of likes and shares is quite low. This may be due to the short two-week timeframe used. Some of the posts have been published while the analyses were being made, and so the followers have not had the time to react to the posts.  

Figure 1 Emotionally tagged post in Instagram (@biryanibykilo, 2021)

According to the sentiment analysis, the tone in social media posts is mainly neutral or positive. Related to #CSR Twitter and Instagram posts were most positive and Flickr and Reddit most negative. The same results concern #corporatesocialresponsibility.

It was found out that Reddit, Flickr, and Dailymotion are the most active channels based on the popularity count of #CSR when focusing on the social side of communication, dialogue, and interaction. However, Flickr and Instagram are the most active channels for #corporatesocialresponsibility. It should be mentioned that behind most engaging posts we found one organization, Trinity Care Foundation.

In addition, we found out that the most active days for communicating #CSR was Wednesday (38%) and for #corporatesocialresponsibility Tuesday (26%). Sundays were also active days for social media communication concerning both hashtags.

Themes were analysed using word clouds and analysis of words related to the posts. The themes related to discussions can be seen in Fig. 2. The first cloud represents the analysis of #CSR and the second cloud #corporatesocialresponsibility.

Figure 2 Themes related to #CSR and #corporatesocialresponsibility (prepared by the authors, 2021)

Word clouds are confusingly different. When #CSR discussions focus on business and workplace, #corporatesocialresponsibility discussions strongly indicate Covid -19 related themes.

This study is not enough to give us significant results. Only discussions in English were analysed and in a short timeframe. Moreover, channels like LinkedIn were not included in this study. We also must keep in mind that organisations discuss their responsible actions also without using the hashtag #CSR and #corporatesocialresponsibility. However, strategic use of hashtags is part of communication in social media. Hashtags are used to reach the target audience and encourage stakeholders in thematic discussions.  These indicative results give us many reasons to focus on communication strategies in the future.

What can we learn from these results?

Firstly, each social media platform is different, and what works on Instagram may not work on Twitter and vice versa. Secondly, the main issue in social media is that it works best for communication that is social in nature and manifests itself in interaction and dialogue. According to the results, communication on corporate social responsibility is mostly monologue style in a neutral tone and this will not engage stakeholders in dialogue. Finally, the good news is that there is a lot of space for strategic communication leading to openness in CSR activities and building a good reputation of organizations.  In addition, if it is in your interest, there is a good opportunity to profile yourself as an expert on CSR. You only need to know where your stakeholders are in social media and especially, what do they value.

Key takeaways!

  • choose appropriate channels
  • engage your audience in emotionally tagged dialogue. Both positive and negatively labelled discussions may lead to positive results.
  • use photos and videos
  • use both hashtags #CSR and #corporatesocialresponsibility, so people can find you. Add more relevant hashtags into your post to inform the theme you are discussing about.
  • be in active dialogue and listen to your audience! Especially on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays.

To be able to emphasize active stakeholder engagement and hear the bad and good bell will finally lead to an increase of trust in company CSR activities.

Written by Mervi Varhelahti, Rauni Jaskari and Susanna Saari, Turku University of Applied Sciences

References

Bialkova, S. & Te Paske, S. (2020). Campaign participation, spreading electronic word of mouth, purchase: how to optimise corporate social responsibility, CSR, effectiveness via social media? European Journal of Management and Business Economics, 30(1).

@Biryanibykilo (2021) in Instagram. Accessed 20.9.2021 at https://www.instagram.com/p/CTyjPm8PgsW/

Gómez, L. M. (2017). Social media concepts for effective CSR online communication. In Communicating Corporate Social Responsibility in the Digital Era (pp. 193-215). Routledge.

Jalonen, H. (2017). “A good bell is heard from far, a bad one still further”: A socio-demography of disclosing negative emotions in social media. The Journal of Social Media in Society, 6(1).

Kvasničková Stanislavská, L., Pilař, L., Margarisová, K. & Kvasnička, R. (2020). Corporate Social Responsibility and social media: Comparison between developing and developed countries. Sustainability12(13).

Keywords: social media, CSR, corporate social responsibility, dialogue, emotions