Inaugural Address Prof. Henk De Vries

Henk de Vries, Endowed Professor of Standardisation Management, gave his inaugural address at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM). The date of the ceremony, 4 October, coincided with World Animal Day, and Prof. De Vries’ subject, Standardisation Management, connected his field of research with protection of the natural world and the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). He used examples from technology and business to explain how establishing and recording a set of standards can be used to benefit business and nature, and yet many companies are still insufficiently aware of the relevance of standardisation in business. Research into standardisation makes problems visible so they can be solved. 

His address to an audience of around 400 people gave an overview of research into standardisation at RSM, and the emphasis on management that Prof. De Vries intends to add through his work.

A ‘silent engine’

Dean of Research Prof. Pursey Heugens introduced the inaugural address by describing the impact of research into standardisation as ‘the silent engine of human processes’. The new chair accepted by Prof. De Vries is important because it connects academia and society, said Prof. Heugens, and Prof. De Vries is an enthusiastic ambassador for science and for this particular field. His research works towards filling the need for networkers achieving societal impact. , De Vries is a man of openness and strong convictions and a role model for long academic careers, said Prof. Heugens.

At the conclusion of his address, Prof. de Vries gave four examples to demonstrate the interface between his research and the natural world.

Plastic soup

Plastic waste in the oceans is a serious problem for sea life. Prof de Vries described a positive case that connects standardisation and the ‘plastic soup’ of non-biodegradable debris that pollutes the oceans with SDG 14 Life under water. Different institutes have different methods for measuring the concentration and amount of plastics in water, but research shows that standardised methods are needed so that the results of sampling and measuring can be compared to show the seriousness of the problem, to trace sources of pollution, and to find evidence of improvements. 

Antifouling paint

Prof. De Vries described another standardisation issue that has a bearing on SDG 14 Life under water. Antifouling paint used on ships to prevent the growth of algae and shellfish below the waterline may leach biocides into the sea, but the standard for measuring it was inaccurate. Prof. De Vries has researched the subject. He showed that big paint producers dominated the committees, and the interests of wildlife were not taken into account. He encouraged more inclusive standardisation to include more stakeholders.

Light pollution

Light pollution disturbs nocturnal wildlife, which is one of the effects that SDG 15 Life on land aims to remedy. One of the biggest producers of electric lamps has introduced a more subtle form of street lighting after research into the clauses about corporate social responsibility in a European standard for business excellence: the EFQM model management framework, which is organised by a not-for profit organisation. The company now understands how to incorporate societal impact in its core business strategy.

Texel’s sustainable tourism

Research from one of Prof. de Vries’ students demonstrated a win-win situation for the Dutch island of Texel in the province of Noord Holland. It showed how Texel can welcome more tourists without more impact on nature and the environment. It can be done using a mark of conformity for sustainable tourism based on standards, combined with a certification programme. These standards ensure that requirements for accommodation or tourist activities are met, and even allow for an increase in the number of tourist while reducing the impact on nature. Entrepreneurs on the island were positive about the idea, but there has been no follow-up so far, said the professor. A similar approach could be used at every popular nature-rich tourist destination.

Future research

Prof. De Vries had more examples of standardisation benefitting the SDGs and commercial companies, such as energy standards for houses. The four examples he gave showed the relevance of standardisation for both business and society, and the need to increase understanding of the phenomenon. Future research will be on three levels of standardisation management: within companies; management of complex projects involving many stakeholders; and governance and management of the standardisation infrastructure at local, national, regional and global levels.

Prof. de Vries thanked his family and research co-operation partners all over the world.

More information

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top 10 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 can become a force for positive change by carrying their innovative mindset into a sustainable future. Our first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes encourage them to become critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers. Study information and activities for future students, executives and alumni are also organised from the RSM office in Chengdu, China.

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