Sustainable business models explored at RSM Sustainability Forum 2017

Around 200 students, alumni and practitioners joined the fifth edition of the RSM Sustainability Forum at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) on Friday 31 March 2017 to investigate how far companies have come in developing sustainable business models. The plenary sessions were led by Mark Bras from BMWi and Thomas Rau from Turntoo, followed by seven break-out sessions. Read the full report.

The first plenary speaker, BMWi’s Marc Bras, said: “We plan to go down in history as pioneers of mobility.” Bras, an advisor board member of RSM’s Centre for Future Energy Business and manager of BMWi, the car giant's innovation sub-brand, told participants BMW has built its success on big engines, but that the company has been shifting its focus to its core brand of joy and fun, together with sustainability. BMWi focuses on developing eco-friendly urban electric cars, and aims to works towards autonomous cars. “We want more than evolutions,” Bras said. “We want revolution.”

Optimising broken systems

“The problem we have now is the sum of every business model we have had until now,” the second speaker of the day, said Thomas Rau, one of the Netherlands' most influential architects and visionaries in sustainability. “Sustainability is just optimising a system that is already wrong,” he said. “If we want change, we need new business models where responsibility and power come together. We need a complete transformation of the system.”

In the closed system that is planet earth, everything is useful, Rau said, explaining why all materials used in buildings and products must have an identity and rights.

Lasting solutions

“New business models should make products that are also a service,” Rau said. Rau argues that we need to move from selling products to delivering services, thereby changing the incentive structures for producers from selling quickly obsolescent products to lasting solutions.

Rau’s new terminal design for Schiphol airport was half the price of a regular terminal to build, and with double the capacity. “Let's think of better solutions, not how to optimise,” he said, adding that all the buildings he designs are energy positive and that he also designed the most sustainable bank in the world.


Another highlight of the RSM Sustainability Forum was the announcement of the winner of the KPMG-RSM Sustainability Master Thesis Award, which went to MScBA Master in Management graduate Angelos Tsereklas-Zafeirkis.

Sustainability in business

Forum participants also learned more about sustainability in business from experienced speakers from start-ups and industry leaders during break-out sessions. Sessions were led by Michel de Goede, strategy consultant at Alliander; Simon Theewes and Marianne de Bie, 'integrated reporting' team members at the Schiphol Group; Fokko Kroesen, environmental manager for KLM; Bert Bernolet, founder and director of Solar Without Frontiers; Fred van Beuningen, director of Clean Tech Delta; Dorus Galama, co-founder of Gerrard Street; and Nanning Jacobs, co-founder and business development manager of Tuk Tuk Cartel.

Some of the solutions discussed in Solar Without Frontiers’ break-out session provided input that will be used in further discussions in RSM's IBA, BA, MBA and Executive MBA programmes and eventually to facilitate student trips to its sites in Africa.

This fifth RSM Sustainability Forum, which is organised by students annually, was hosted by Sustainable RSM and MSc GBS STAR.

Read the full report of the RSM Sustainability Forum 2017.

More information

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top 10 research-based business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who carry their innovative mindset into a sustainable future thanks to a first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes. Study information and activities for future students, executives and alumni are also organised from the RSM office in Chengdu, China.

For more information about RSM or this release, please contact Marianne Schouten, Media & Public Relations Manager for RSM, on +31 10 408 2877 or by email at

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