More than 220 attendees gathered at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) for the third annual RSM Sustainability Forum on 10 April 2015. The forum explored the reciprocal relationship between innovation and sustainability in driving new growth for business, and new value for all stakeholders. 

The RSM Sustainability Forum 2015 was organised by Sustainable RSM and a team of members of study association RSM STAR, the RSM MBA Career Development Centre and RSM’s MSc in Global Business & Stakeholder Management. Dean Steef van de Velde opened the forum. “As a global, research-driven business school, RSM aims to equip managers with the knowledge, skills and motivation to conduct sustainable business operations,” he said. “The Netherlands’ strength in social entrepreneurship, technological innovation and sustainability focus will lead to future economic growth and new value in business.”

Dutch innovation leader

Keynote speaker Dimitri de Vreeze, Chairman Supervisory Board of DSM Netherlands, said that one billion people suffer from hunger, and that the 63 richest people on this planet earn as much as the four billion poorest. “This is not sustainable,” said De Vreeze, and asked the audience why business should take responsibility. “Many companies have a cash balance bigger than that of nations. With increased power comes increased responsibility, and with increased responsibility comes increased innovation efforts.”

De Vreeze described DSM’s successes and challenges during its transformation from being the country’s state mining company (Dutch State Mines) to a globally-recognised innovation and sustainability leader focusing health and wellness, climate and energy, and global population growth.

Global megatrends

“Sustainability is a strong business driver for DSM, and innovation strongly contributes to our growth,” said De Vreeze, noting that sustainability is anchored in short-term incentives for the company’s managers and directors, and that the company portfolio is renewed every five years.  He added that some of DSM’s current and noteworthy innovations addressing global megatrends include clean fuel made from agricultural waste and nutritional products to prevent malnutrition. De Vreeze made a plea for business and the private sector to work together. “Don’t save the planet. Save humanity,” he concluded.

Making a difference

The RSM Sustainability Forum 2015 also featured the finals of the Erasmus University-wide Make A Difference Day case competition, in which student teams competed to come up with the best solutions for challenging cases presented by business, governmental and NGOs.  The two winning teams pitched their solutions – one for Siemens, one for the City of Rotterdam – to an audience that voted online to pick the ultimate winner: students Rexin Singotani, Lukas Braunschweig and Stefanos Stasinopoulos’ solution for the City of Rotterdam’s case to motivate waste separation practices in the city.

During the RSM Sustainability Forum’s breakout sessions, led by leaders in sustainable business, cases were presented by the Port of Rotterdam Authority, ASN Bank, Heineken, ICCO, and Interface. The social entrepreneurship breakout session featured speakers from Seepje, ReBlend and TTC, and another breakout was presented by Koerskaart – a business simulation game to stimulate innovative thinking.

“The sessions were relevant for our discovery-oriented audience,” said Joey Johannsen, RSM’s Sustainability Co-ordinator. “Each organisation presented a case of current importance to its business. To offer research-oriented perspectives, each breakout session had an RSM faculty member moderating and enriching the experience.”

Researching the future of sustainable business

Each year, KPMG joins RSM to recognise the top sustainability-focused master theses from the previous academic year with the KPMG-RSM Sustainability Master Thesis Award. Out of the five short-listed theses for 2015, which were chosen from the 57 qualifying theses defended between September 2013 and August 2014, the award went to Maaike Antrag, alumna from RSM’s MSc in Supply Chain Management for her thesis Designing a take-back network for e-waste from webshops’ customers, conducted on behalf of Dutch postal organisation PostNL. Antrag received a cash award of €1000. Runner-up Sjaak Heuvels, an alumnus of RSM’s MSc in Global Business & Sustainability Management, received €500 for his 2013 thesis Transitioning towards a bio-based and sustainable construction industry: The case of hemp-based application in the Dutch construction industry.

Sustainable innovation

The award ceremony was followed by a panel discussion about demystifying sustainable innovation. Panellists Alba Tiley, RSM Distinguished Alumna and UN Partnerships and Sustainability Manager at DSM; Dr Anniek Mauser, Sustainability Director of Unilever Benelux; Machiel van Dooren, Co-Founder of Made Blue; and Professor Jan Rotmans, Professor of Transitions and Transition Management at Erasmus University and Founder of Dutch Research Institute for Transitions, weighed in on issues such as whether business or the individual hold the real responsibility for the transition to sustainable innovation, and whether big or small companies are really driving sustainable innovation.  “This is a complex and nuanced world,” said Dr Mauser. “You can make great innovations, but if the consumer doesn’t accept them, they won’t make an impact,” she cautioned, while Jan Rotmans noted that “the biggest barrier to sustainability and innovation is how to make a change in our mindset.”

The RSM Sustainability Forum’s audience, speakers, and faculty members concluded the day with networking drinks and vegan food items. 

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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