How two sustainability adventurers are getting companies on board to align profitability with sustainability

The Source
By: Lucy Frisch, Sun Mar 8 2020
Lucy Frisch

Author: Lucy Frisch

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In honor of this year's Academic Book Week* theme, 'The Environment,' we asked our book authors who have published research in related fields to share their thoughts on the future of the academic book as it relates to climate change, how they engage with audiences beyond their scholarly circle to make an impact, and much more.

Sveinung Jørgensen and Lars Jacob Tynes Pedersen are researchers and sustainability adventurers, who travel the world to study, teach and talk about circular and sustainable business models. In this interview, they talk about why they chose to write, publish and share RESTART Sustainable Business Model Innovation as an Open Access book.

Why did you choose a book as the medium for publishing your research?

Early on in our academic careers, we decided to share our knowledge in a wide variety of mediums, spanning from traditional academic papers and books to different social media platforms and online videos. When we finished our masters’ degrees from business school in the early 2000s, the topics of corporate responsibility and sustainability were barely even mentioned by our professors. We decided to change that, and during and after our PhDs, we started exploring how companies could align sustainability and profitability.

In our research, it has always been important for us to work closely with corporations and other decision-makers. We also try to engage our students with new courses and teaching methods. For instance, together with colleagues at Copenhagen Business School and ESADE Barcelona, we have made a video-based, free, open access, teaching platform, about sustainable business models. Thus, RESTART, the free, accompanying, Open Access book is a perfect match, and in this way, we can reach out to the whole world with knowledge about the most important issues of our time.

How has the book been received so far?

It always makes our day when we wake up to messages from entrepreneurs, business leaders, students or fellow researchers who have read the book somewhere on the other side of the planet. RESTART has close to 200 000 downloads From its webpage at Palgrave, and it is also available for free at Kindle. The book has received great reviews from researchers and business leaders, and most importantly - from students. We use the book in our master course at NHH Norwegian School of Economics, where almost 400 students a year now choose a master-level elective in sustainable business models. In addition, we use the book in various executive programs and we run workshops with companies who want to learn how to redesign their business models and make them fit for the future.

What do you think the future of books looks like, especially those on topics related to climate change?

In the last decades, businesses have invested billions in a linear “take, make and dispose” economy, and we are seeing the devastating results of this way of conducting business. But we are also starting to see signs of a more circular economy, in which products, components and resources are reused, repaired and recycled. However, the linear business models, fueled by non-renewable energy, still have the stronghold. As a consequence, we need not only one, but many books that can challenge outdated thinking.

In our own work, we have been highly inspired by many different books. One example is “Cradle-to-Cradle” from 2002, by Braungart and McDonough, which was printed on sheets made by reusable plastic. Thus, the book was not only groundbreaking in its content - it also lived as it preached and told an even stronger story about making things in a smarter way. We are quite optimistic about the future of books, but we think that today it is not enough to publish a book and hope it will find readers out there on its own. For books to reach a wider audience and make an impact, authors and publishers need to work together to engage readers and the wider community of managers, politicians, researchers and other important stakeholders.

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What impact would you like to see your book have?

We like to say that we believe in knowledge. And as extroverted researchers, teachers, strategic advisors, and active speakers, we are continually in contact with people in various positions who use the RESTART-framework. Our experience is that even rudimentary knowledge about the circular economy, and on how to redesign business models using new technology and finding new partners, make a great difference. Our students tell us about how the book changes the way they see the world and how businesses can become problem solvers instead of problem creators. We also see many examples of companies that in a short matter of time are able to use their competence in new and innovative ways.

How do you engage with practitioners, policymakers and/or the general public to make a difference through your research?

We engage actively on various media platforms in order to reach out, learn and try to make a difference. For instance, when we recently published a paper in the Journal of Business Ethics, we followed up with this blog post in London School of Economics Business Review, and with an op-ed in a Norwegian business newspaper. Moreover, we plan to make a video to share on our YouTube-page and on our webpage about the findings in this paper. We also aim to engage in discussions online about our research at our pages at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. In addition, we are active speakers at conferences, we run a research program with colleagues partners in different businesses, and we of course engage with the research community as reviewers, participants at conferences, and so on.

What is the next step for you now?

We have experienced a great shift in the 15 years we have been on this sustainability adventure. There is now a huge demand for more knowledge, and many of our former students have become Chief Sustainability Officers or work with sustainable innovation in other ways. Our business school has even chosen “Together for Sustainable Value Creation” as its mission statement, and we are now running research projects with colleagues, PhD-scholars and students in close collaboration with different kinds of companies. Lots of work has to be done in order to restart business and develop a more sustainable and circular future. Our job now is to keep studying, developing and sharing knowledge, and to encourage people to become sustainability change agents.

Learn more about open access books and chapters at Springer Nature.

About Jørgensen and Pedersen 

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Sveinung Jørgensen is an Associate Professor at NHH Norwegian School of Economics. He works closely with companies to give research-based advice on how to align sustainability and profitability in innovative and circular business models. He is an active public speaker, serves on several boards and does extensive research on sustainable business. Twitter: @ungJorgensen

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Lars Jacob Tynes Pedersen is an Associate Professor and Head of the Centre for Ethics and Economics at NHH Norwegian School of Economics. He does research in two main areas: (1) the design and innovation of sustainable business models, and (2) lab and field experiments on economic decision making, with a particular emphasis on socially and/or environmentally behaviors. He is an active public speaker and strategic advisor to business organizations. Twitter: @LJTPedersen

*Academic Book Week is a celebration of the diversity, variety and influence of academic books throughout history run by the Booksellers Association, returning for a fifth year from 9-13 March 2020. The theme for 2020 focuses on the environment, a topic which strongly aligns with Springer Nature's commitment to supporting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We aim to share the discoveries that address the world’s challenges of sustainable development, which is more easily achievable through publishing open research.

Lucy Frisch

Author: Lucy Frisch

Lucy Frisch is a Senior Marketing Manager leading the Content Marketing Programmes team, based in the New York office. She has a passion for storytelling and works to humanize the research published across Springer Nature with a focus on the researcher experience.