29 March 2017

PhD defence Sjors Witjes

More sustainable businesses based on past successes

If you really want your business to become more sustainable, you need to look at the total picture of previously successful methods that have resulted in more sustainable processes, concludes PhD candidate Sjors Witjes. He was awarded his PhD in the University Hall of Utrecht University on 4 April.

Major industrial developments have a positive impact on human welfare in the West, while seriously undermining the environment and living conditions of people elsewhere on Earth. This is why sustainable development is becoming an increasingly important factor for companies wishing to improve their organisation. Reflecting the wider debate in society, we aim to achieve a positive impact in terms of people, planet and prosperity (the triple P). This includes, for example, better working conditions in factories, fewer emissions from production processes and fairer distribution of profits among employees in developing countries.

In this debate, businesses are still often seen in a negative light. By using the triple P to make their organisational processes more sustainable, businesses can not only enhance their image, as innovation scientist Sjors Witjes demonstrates in his dissertation, but also improve their performance as a whole.

Forgetting to consider the past

“Although businesses have a clear image of the future when attempting to make their organisational processes more sustainable, they forget to look back at the earlier organisational changes that have already made a successful contribution,” explains Witjes. “For some businesses, it helps if the director stands on a soapbox and for others a massive scoreboard of indicators in the factory hall can make a difference. But one thing applies to everyone: a clear understanding of successes from the past ensures that a strategy towards more sustainable operations is more realistic.”

Tekening: Niels Bongers
Companies forget to look back at the earlier organisational changes that have already made a successful contribution."

Witjes has developed a method for measuring the success of organisational changes that aim to make operations more sustainable. He concludes that a joint and shared vision of sustainability among all employees within a business brings about positive changes in what happens in the company on a daily basis.

Discussing and learning from successes

Energy reduction is a prime example. A clear, shared vision makes it possible for employees not only to make their own contribution, but also to do so in collaboration with others. Discussing and learning from successes in energy reduction from the past prevents the need to reinvent the wheel and results in an understanding of both positive and negative consequences. For example, reducing energy consumption not only results in a more positive image and the reduced impact on the environment, but can also lead to lower production volumes.

Closer to employees and the organisation

“Discussing the total picture of previous successes achieved not only helps people to understand the potential consequences, but also results in actions that are closer to employees and the organisation and therefore face less resistance when introduced,” says Witjes. “By learning from the successful organisational changes from the past, businesses can determine a more realistic and more successful strategy for more sustainable organisational processes.”