Sylvia Grewatsch: Delivering Sustainability With a Smile

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NBS Staff discuss their interests, their goals, and what drove them to pursue business sustainability.

Studies sustainable innovation

Since July 2019, Sylvia has been an Assistant Professor of Strategy at the Goodman School of Business, Brock University. Her research interest lies at the intersection of sustainability, strategy, and innovation. Sylvia’s research work is motivated by the grand environmental and social challenges of the 21st century. She is interested in questions on how sustainability concerns affect organizational strategies and technology innovation, and reciprocally, how organizations and innovation affect the emergence and trajectories of such concerns.

Prior to joining Brock University, Sylvia was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Ivey Business School, Western University. During her Postdoc, Sylvia explored and analyzed innovation processes at multiple Canadian organizations, in order to develop sustainable innovation processes and practices for shared value creation. Sylvia’s collaboration partners on this project were Professor Tima Bansal (Ivey Business School) and Professor Joel Gehman (University of Alberta).

Before coming to Canada for her Postdoctoral work, Sylvia lived in Aarhus (Denmark) where she did her Ph.D. in Management (May 2016) and Master of Science in Strategy, Organization, and Leadership at Aarhus University (October 2012). Her doctoral research work tackled the business case of sustainability and the research questions when and how does it pay to be good for organizations? Her dissertation supervisor was Professor Ingo Kleindienst.

Interest in sustainability stemmed from her family in Germany

“I was raised up with the idea of being conscious of the environment and ongoing changes in the world.” Her family owned a company that built recycling machines. When Sylvia was little, her dad would take her on many business trips to explain her the processes underlying waste reduction, landfills, and incinerators. From him she learned that innovations are key to tackle grand environmental problems.

Sylvia is highly concerned about the environmental issues of the 21st century. “I’m a nature person,” she says. “and I am concerned about the future of our planet. Our planet Earth is so beautiful, but our ideas of a flourishing society and economy are not compatible with the  planet’s well-being. Modern life has become disconnected from nature.”. Therefore, Sylvia spends a lot of time outside. She is a passionate runner and she loves water sports: kite surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, and swimming. “As often as I can, I go in or on 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.”.

NBS and Sylvia are a natural match: Sylvia has extensive experiences working together with managers on sustainability issues and facilitating stakeholder dialogues. 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, but at the end we all strive towards the same goals”. 

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 in any situation.”

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