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‘Sustainability in times of change’ was the theme of this year’s full-day RSM STAR Sustainability Forum in April 2021. The event provided a platform for critical dialogue regarding current efforts towards change, and the necessary steps needed to prioritise sustainability in the future. It was organised by STAR, the study association of Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM)

Students learned first-hand from sustainability professionals what sustainability means for sectors and businesses in times of change, and what is needed to ensure a sustainable future. The speakers and panel discussion were broadcasted from campus, and the workshops took place via Zoom. Questions that were leading were, for example: How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected the sustainability efforts of different sectors, and what can we learn from this? Were sustainability efforts thwarted, or were they still a priority? Can we use the pandemic as a catalyst for change?

“Climate change is now climate crisis”

Keynote speaker Wineke Haagsma (director corporate sustainability at PwC) presented her views on how to engage in a more sustainable way to create the future, and the dilemmas associated with change. “We can’t talk about climate change anymore, it’s actually a climate crisis we are now dealing with,” she said. “We need to rethink our systems, repair them, and restart again. Only then can we accelerate on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

And keynote speaker Derk Loorbach (director at DRIFT and professor of socio-economic transitions at EUR) shared his perspectives on navigating business transitions and understanding transformative change. He said: “Be kind to people, and critical to systems and regimes. We are entering now a period of 10-15 years of really disruptive transformative change and that requires that we start thinking differently about sustainability.”

Analyse from A to Z

A critical panel discussion led to talks about how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the sustainability agenda for different companies and sectors and what the opportunities could be for the future. The panel members were Aurélie Letortu (senior manager of corporate sustainability at FrieslandCampina), Charlotte Blommestijn (strategy advisor, energy transition at Shell), Jeroen Cox (strategic lead energy and environment at KPN), Sacha Göddeke-Mulder (directeur QHSE en Duurzaam Ondernemen at NS), and Nishant Parekh (sustainability manager circular economy at Philips).

Sacha Göddeke-Mulder said it’s important to look at the whole system. “It is not about one company, it is not about only the government, it is not about only the consumers. It is really everything, how it depends on each other and how it is related to each other. Have a broad view and learn to analyse it from A to Z.”

Sustainable solutions

Students were challenged to find sustainable solutions for real-life cases in workshops provided by various companies, including FMO, Nexio Projects, O My Bag, Diversion, Impact Institute, and Spaak Circular Solutions.

The RSM-KPMG Sustainability Master Thesis Award was announced as part of the event, presented by KPMG’s Jerwin Tholen. The award was won by Florian Frenken (MSc Business Information Management) for his thesis on reducing online shopping returns. Runner-up was Maurits Pluimakers (MSc Supply Chain Management) for his thesis about the role of the terminal in increasing efficiency of liquid bulk sea transport.

The event concluded with a unique online networking opportunity for students and the workshop companies to meet more informally.

RSM STAR Sustainability Forum

The RSM STAR Sustainability Forum provides an open platform for discussion, giving excellent examples of sustainability efforts, and providing students with a critical view on what has been done so far. The event aims to inspire and motivate students to challenge existing regimes. The workshops are meant for students to familiarize themselves with solving real-life sustainability related issues from companies that are sustainable front-runners.

The event, which took place for the ninth time this year, is mainly meant for RSM students, but anyone with an interest in sustainability and business is welcome. The 2021 forum was organized by RSM and study association STAR. This year’s committee consisted of Anne Schmitz, Timo Cober, Yoonsik Yu, Michelle Wardell and Dieuwertje Braak, all master students at RSM.

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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