Eva Niesten is a Full Professor of Strategy and Sustainability at SKEMA Business School and the Director of the SKEMA Centre for Sustainability Studies. She is an associate editor at Cleaner and Responsible Consumption, editorial board member of Strategic Change and editor of a Special Issue at Organization & Environment. Her research interests revolve around Sustainability, Circular Economy, Clean Technologies and Environmental Alliances.

Could you tell us more about your field of research, particularly Sustainability in Business?

I study how firms create environmental and social value, and thus how they create a positive impact on nature, communities, ecosystems etc., while also capturing benefits for the firm, such as a greater competitive advantage and legitimacy. I focus on different sustainable technologies, but most often on renewable energy and sustainable transport. Since most firms are not able to achieve a positive impact on their own, I analyse how firms work in partnerships and networks to collectively create sustainable value.

What results surprised you the most?

Together with former colleagues from the University of Manchester, we have just published a paper in Industrial and Corporate Change on how and when energy utilities, such as EDF, transition to more sustainability. We have studied this transition for a 30-year period and analysed close to 9000 investments of the largest utilities In Europe, and found that the vast majority of investments are in traditional energy activities, including coal, gas and oil. Even after studying sustainability for a long time, the extent of greenwashing in the energy industry still surprises me. Mostly smaller utilities with some financial slack and a greater (more diverse) experience with sustainability invest more in renewable energy and divest fossil fuels. 

What is the research you are currently carrying out?

Together with Albert Jolink, we have started a research project on sustainable vineyards, that feeds into our GEMBA teaching. We study vineyards that have had an excellent triple bottom line with exceptional investments in sustainability. However, and especially in the last three years, they are negatively impacted by global warming and the climate emergency. Their harvest is substantially reduced due to exceptional heat, drought, and in the same year, unpredictable storms, and frost. 

We study how collective solutions, in business ecosystems, can help these sustainable vineyards survive. 

How will this study impact society at large?

This study is aiming at creating solutions, in the form of novel business models, collaborations, and business ecosystems, to enable sustainable firms to cope with the grand societal challenge of climate change.

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