Sylvia Grewatsch: Delivering Sustainability With a Smile

Sylvia Grewatsch: Delivering Sustainability With a Smile

Sylvia has recently arrived at NBS and Ivey from Denmark for a two-year postdoc. She will be working with Tima Bansal on the NBS Innovation Project, one day a week, as well as on other research.

She has already spent time in London. Sylvia was at Ivey as a visiting PhD for six months in 2015. She likes Ivey’s open atmosphere, and the focus on sustainability; at her University, she was the only person working in the business sustainability area. “I look forward to returning to the sustainability community.”

Her PhD was on strategic perspectives on corporate sustainability and alternative perspectives on the business case for sustainability. She examined the benefits of sustainability for business, and different logics behind sustainability. In particular, she looked at capability development: how integrating sustainability into business areas can lead to development of companies’ capacities and skills. There has been a lot of work on whether a business case for sustainability exists; Sylvia’s focus is on the underlying factors shaping that relationship.

Interest in sustainability stemmed from family recycling company in Germany 

“I was raised up with the idea of recycling and being conscious of the environment and changes in the world.” Her dad took her on customer visits, where she saw waste reduction, landfills, and incinerators. Her undergraduate degree did not deal directly with sustainability issues, but she returned to the topic in graduate school.

Sylvia lives environmental issues. “I’m a nature person,” she says. “I do not just write about it, I also think about it, and try to live it.” She spends a lot of time outside. She is a runner, and has run half marathons. She also loves water sports: kite surfing and standup surfing. “As often as I can, I go in the water,” she says. “When you are on the water, you realize how small you are in the world – you cannot really control anything. You need to learn to read the environment – the water, the weather.” Her studies in Denmark were directly on the Baltic coast.

NBS is a natural match: Sylvia has extensive experience working with managers on sustainability. Working as a consultant, she supported stakeholder dialogue. For her PhD project, she contacted many firms in Denmark. “I like these interviews, and keeping in contact with the managers – because then I can see the differences in how they work on sustainability.” She’s attuned to the nuances of discussing sustainability with managers. Terminology may differ: sometimes you have to discuss the topic without using the specific term. There are many different aspects and ways of working on the issue.

NBS asks all staff: If you could invite 5 people from history to a dinner party at your place, who would they be? 

Sylvia’s response: “I would invite my grandparents. I never met my dad’s parents, and on my mother’s side, I miss them. The older I get, the more questions I want to ask them. As my final invitee, I would invite a famous German singer from that time - Hildegard Knef. I know both my grandmothers really liked her. She is the German version of Marilyn Monroe.” Sylvia adds that if she invited as guests important figures from history, “maybe they wouldn’t talk with me – they might just talk with each other. If it’s a dinner for me, I can arrange for myself to have a nice evening.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? 

Sylvia’s father used to say “if you have two similar products, go for the one that is sold in the best way – i.e., by a friendly seller.” People are more likely to buy or adopt something if it is presented by someone who is friendly and smiling. The lesson Sylvia has drawn: “be extra friendly to sell my work.”