During my studies in Brazil, as a mechanical engineer, I always saw sustainability as a topic related to the preservation of nature. Even though it is highly related, upon coming to Chalmers as a student of Entrepreneurship and Business Design, I was surprised to see how broader the meaning of the word is, and how important it is to understand its facets to actually create sustainable ventures. I started to realise that sustainability is also about balance and that we can and should apply it to our daily lives, bit by bit, becoming more healthy and conscious.
In relation to my education, Chalmers taught me to always see sustainability through three different lenses: social, economic and environmental. Here, I learned that the first thing a business must reach is its economic survival so that it can truly impact on the other aspects. Engaging social and environmental issues are expensive and may not yield any foreseeable profit, so in order to do it effectively, a company must have steady revenue, otherwise, it will fail.
To create a model that will allow the maintenance of its employees and customers with innovative solutions was the goal of my first-semester assignment. We had to come up with a business model starting from a patent portfolio developed at Chalmers Science Park, with extra points for those who engaged the UN Sustainable Development Goals
. In the end, the proposed models were incredibly creative. My group came up with a plan to substitute natural oils used in the cosmetic industry with a compound produced by genetically modified yeast. We calculated that this compound has the same properties as the natural oil, but has a higher carbon efficiency and the production price is lower, yielding a more sustainable outcome.
Another aspect that is getting more relevance is the social impact that companies have around the world, meaning that companies now have to understand the effect of their business on the surrounding communities, as well as on the customers’ and employees’ lives. They must provide a healthy environment for their workers and invest on in local development so that their success trickles down to the people around them, who will eventually become their customers and even part of their company. company.
I began to reflect on this aspect, and realised that the reason companies are becoming more active on corporate responsibility is because the consumers are no longer buying products the same way. With access to information, we have started to choose not only based on price but on the impact that the product and brand have over society. Due to the threat of climate change and the disparity of income around the world, consumers are shifting to brands that actively fight these problems, and those that are not on board are gradually losing space on the market.
It seems like a lot to juggle when we contextualize to what affects our modern world. Yet the solutions that I have seen at Chalmers and around Gothenburg are truly inspiring. For example, the Re:cycle project
, in which students get abandoned bikes from housing companies, reform and sell them to other students for a very accessible price, or the electric buses that are my favourite to use because of their silence and comfort, and the fact that it goes directly between two Chalmers Campuses.
In conclusion, I am extremely glad to have put on the sustainable goggles and to now be able to evaluate the issues we are facing with a more informed perspective. It made me start doing the small actions that will create a big difference if collectively done, such as using public transportation or cycling, buying products with less packaging and that are locally produced. Most importantly, the possibility of creating a solution that explores the social, environmental and economic aspects made me hopeful and gave me the ability to see the current problems as opportunities to be tackled. I believe my most inspiring learning was that the change in people’s behaviour is happening and at a fast pace. What makes me realise that, is the awareness of young people, especially in Sweden, when choosing to travel by train instead of a plane, consuming fair trade products and supporting sustainable initiatives. The way I see it, our responsibility is to spread this change by doing it on all aspects of our lives.
Banner picture by Bernard Maillard
Electric bus picture by Johan Bodell