Recent graduate Florian Frenken won the KPMG-RSM Sustainability Master Thesis Award 2021 for his research on reducing carbon footprint and costs of returns in the online retail industry. The award recognises theses from all master programmes from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM), and the winner and runner up were announced by the corporate jury on Thursday 8 April 2021. Second-prize winner Maurits Pluimakers’ thesis reveals a radical approach to reduce the carbon footprint in the shipping industry.

The jury was impressed by the academic nature of the theses. They said they were caught by the ambitions of the authors disclosed in their solutions for the social and environmental issues addressed. Due to Covid-19, there has been more online shopping which would increase the 15 million tons of carbon emission and two billion kilograms of landfill waste. In his winning thesis, Florian Frenken (MSc Business Information Management) focuses on optimising garment size charts and online recommendations, as one of the biggest concerns in the apparel industry is the returned clothes. The study provides a different tool to provide customers with the applicable measurements needed to buy clothing.

A win-win for planet and profit

Frenken’s thesis addresses social and sustainable impact as people would become more comfortable with buying clothes that fits them, and there would be fewer returns and less packaging waste. This can decrease carbon emission and landfill waste and saves logistics, production and shipping costs for businesses.

For 15 consecutive years, the KPMG-RSM Sustainability Master Thesis Award has spotlighted business students’ efforts to address important sustainability issues. There were four criteria to assess the selected theses: academic excellence (a grade of 8.5 or higher), relevant topics and practical application for managers and entrepreneurs, potential to drive change among policy makers or civil society leaders towards environmental or social impact, and originality through critical thinking and innovative ideas.

This year’s award included a review of master theses submitted from September 2019 until August 2020. During this period, there were 126 sustainability-related theses among 360 provided with a grade of 8.5 or higher. The theses were identified by RSM and the positive change team. The jury members all have many years of experience in the field of sustainability or corporate social responsibility: Arjanne Hoogstad, manager marketing and communication at Rotterdam Partners; Cécile Rozé, manager corporate duurzaamheid at PGGM; Lars Crama, private lead Up!Rotterdam; Ning-Hsuan Yen, sustainability community manager at Philips NV; and chairman of the jury Jerwin Tholen, partner sustainability at KPMG.

Carbon footprint in shipping industry

Runner up Maurits Pluimakers from RSM’s MSc Supply Chain Management programme investigated a radical approach to reduce the carbon footprint in the shipping industry. He suggests a different model to engage stakeholders around terminals to change the current first come, first serve model and replace this with a system focusing on the most optimal sailing speed from an environmental perspective. It would reduce the CO2 emissions for one ship by 25 per cent, which would be the equivalent of the annual gas consumption of 215 cars. The model would also be applicable to other supply chains. The jury appreciated the methodical analysis of the different stakeholders and the system in which they operate as one of the most important aspects of sustainability is to recognise the system to be able to disrupt it.

Florian Frenken won a monetary prize of €1,000 and Maurits Pluimakers won €500.

The other award nominees and their thesis titles were:

  • Sophie Gommers (MSc Business Information Management) – Beyond mapping: Exploring the socioeconomic determinants of depression using geotagged Twitter data and geodemographics
  • Sandra Slotboom (MSc Global Business & Sustainability) – The Innovation of business models for social-ecological resilience
  • Manuel Weber (MSc Global Business & Sustainability) – Toward an economy that makes us thrive regardless of economic growth

The online announcement and celebration included a slide show, comments from the jury and video presentations of the nominates theses. There was also an audience choice award, selecting the valorisation efforts of the nominees for their best pitch of their research.

KPMG-RSM Sustainability Master Thesis Award 

KPMG is a global network of independent member firms offering audit, tax and advisory services. The firms work closely with clients, helping them to mitigate risks and grasp opportunities. KPMG member firms can be found in 154 countries and territories. Collectively it employs 200,000 people across a range of disciplines. Sustaining and enhancing the quality of this professional workforce is KPMG's primary objective.

The annual KPMG-RSM Sustainability Master Thesis Award started in 2006 to honour work which combines academic excellence and business relevance in the subject of sustainability management. To qualify, thesis subjects must be related to social and ecological sustainability and have achieved a mark of at least 8.5 during the thesis defence. Theses from the past academic year are reviewed. A final shortlist presents five theses, chosen according to their academic excellence, socio-environmental impact, business relevance, and originality. The winner is picked by a select jury of external leaders working in the field of corporate sustainability.

More information

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top-ranked 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.

For more information about RSM or this release, please contact Erika Harriford-McLaren, communications manager for RSM, on +31 10 408 2877 or by email at

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