Master graduate Maximilian von Wels from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) won the 2023 KPMG-RSM Sustainability Master Thesis Award for his thesis The Social Acceptance of Agrivoltaics. His master research proves that communities are more willing to accept agrivoltaics than ground-mounted solar energy.

Von Wels, who graduated from RSM’s MSc Global Business & Sustainability programme in 2022, received the award at the RSM-STAR Changemaker Forum on Wednesday 24 May 2023.

Jury members Lars Crama (private lead at Up!Rotterdam), Arjanne Hoogstad (manager marketing and communications at Rotterdam Partners) and Jerwin Tholen (partner sustainability at KPMG) said they were impressed by the high quality of the selected master theses. The thesis award was presented at the Forum by Ödön Engegård, sustainability consultant at KPM.

Social implications of a technical solution

The winning thesis was original in its crispness, said the jury. “It contains a convincing explanation of the benefits of agrivoltaics over conventional ground mounted solar photovoltaics. This is done both in terms of social acceptance and avoidance of land clearance elsewhere in the world to compensate for agricultural land converted to ground-mounted solar photovoltaics. It is a robust analysis focusing on the social implications of a technical solution that aims to contribute to the transition towards renewables. Social topics were well quantified, and the findings are actionable for the solar industry.”

Aquaponic versus organic industry

The runner-up for the award is Jasper Arendt, who graduated from RSM’s MScBA Master in Management in 2022. “We were very impressed with the depth of hypotheses giving an understanding of impact but also acknowledging that business aspects like willingness to pay can pave the way for change,” said the jury. Arendt’s thesis focused on strengths and weaknesses of the aquaponic industry in comparison to the organic industry regarding environmental and economic sustainability, consumer perceptions, and labelling. The jury said the findings allow for an interpretation of future pricing and provides a case for the aquaponic industry to introduce a label to inform and signal to consumers that they are consuming responsibly.”

Winner Maximilian von Wels won a cash prize of €1,000, and runner-up Jasper Arendt received a cash prize of €500.

Shortlisted nominees

In addition to Maximilian von Wels and Jasper Arendt, the other shortlisted nominees for this year’s KPMG-RSM Sustainability Master Thesis Award were:

  • Julius Kuhmann (MSc International Management/CEMS) for this thesis Do good alone – do better together? Competition and cooperation in sustainability-related coopetitive alliances. 
  • Ellen van Avesaath (MSc Strategic Management) for her thesis The social biotechnology enterprise: the new kid on the block?
  • Joël Kuiper (MSc Business Information Management) for his thesis The commuting behavior potential to reduce the electricity mismatch through altered bev use: a charging behavior simulation at a household level.

This year also featured an audience choice award for the most creative video pitch that grasped the audience’s attention at the event. This award went to Ellen van Avesaath.

KPMG-RSM Master Sustainability Thesis Award

The annual KPMG-RSM Master Sustainability Thesis Award honours 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 defense. 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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