To Anne-Marie Tillman, professor at Chalmers, utilisation of academic research is about transforming knowledge into practise. She wishes to see her knowledge on sustainable development of product chains used by actors in society and she always strives to develop relevant knowledge. Most of her research projects are conducted in collaboration with industry or have an industry advisory board connected to them in order to secure usefulness and applicability.
“It is important for us that we are addressing issues that someone outside academia is interested of, and can benefits from. Research in my field risks not being relevant if there are no users involved”, says Anne-Marie Tillman.
Anne-Marie Tillman has always had a strong interest in environmental issues. As a researcher in the field she wants to make a contribution to a sustainable society. Having stakeholders on-board from the very start of a project is one way of achieving this. But relevance and potential for action are not the only reasons for stakeholder involvement in research processes. The expertise of external actors, e.g. about processes and products, are important contributions in many of her research projects.
SKF has been one of the companies Anne-Marie Tillman has been working with during the years. In early 2012 the SKF–Chalmers University Technology Centre for Sustainability (UTC) was initiated. The UTC is a partnership for research and close cooperation, hosted by the Division of Environmental Systems Analysis at Chalmers and led by Anne-Marie Tillman.
The SKF–Chalmers UTC aims to contribute to a future where mainstream business meets the global challenge of sustainability through providing new knowledge that challenges established perspectives and ways of working with industrial sustainability. Or as Dr Alan Begg, senior vice president of SKF Group Technology states: “Through the UCT we are able to focus our R&D investments on sustainability. It gives us access to leading expertise from Chalmers within the area of sustainability and environment”.
By exploring problems and topics identified together with actors outside academia, Anne-Marie Tillman is able to interlace the role of a researcher with on-going advice supporting organisations in her network towards a more holistic view on products, as being part of whole product chains.
In general we all need a better understanding of how what is done at one end of a product chain influences what is happening in other parts of the chain. For instance, how consumer choices may affect the way products are produced, or how producers and product design may influence how consumers behave and use (and discard of) products.
"Such understanding gives potential for positive influence far beyond the own organisational boundaries", says Anne-Marie Tillman.
But the crux is that governing product chains requires a new type of logic. Product chains are not under complete control of any of the entities that we are used to think about in terms of control, such as single companies or countries.
"Instead we must think about the physical flow of materials along the product chains, how they are handled and how actors together organise the material flow”, she adds.
Text: Niklas Fernqvist
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