From a master thesis to a career in corporate sustainability

Findings from a master thesis into employee engagement in corporate sustainability written by Heidi Hui-Yun Hou (MSc Global Business & Sustainability, 2019) were so well received that it won the 2019 CSR Academic Award.  She was coached by Dr. Lonneke Roza and Dr. Guido Berens. Heidi has continued working in corporate sustainability since graduation. Here, she tells us why.

What is it about your effort that makes a positive change?
Heidi now works as a CSR Specialist at CSRone, a sustainability consultancy and online platform based in Taipei, Taiwan that develops tools to help companies become even more sustainable. Among other tasks, she advises companies on sustainable business strategy, how to create partnerships with NGOs, and the disclosure of sustainability-related information. Also, she helps with the maintenance and marketing of CSRone’s online platform. More than 90 per cent of CSRone’s resources are free to access for the public. And as more companies see the value of publishing CSR reports, one of Heidi’s main tasks at CSRone is to help companies collect sustainability-related information, interpret their meaning, and present them.

“I have been pleasantly surprised to see Taiwanese businesses make changes towards sustainability, so I would say Taiwan is definitely a contributor to instigating positive change. one of the engines that motivate positive change in the world. Sustainability has become very popular among Taiwanese businesses in recent years because of two main reasons. First, a lot of Taiwanese companies are operating internationally; they sell products to big international companies and therefore must abide by strict rules for sustainability. As a repercussion, there are changes to the way business is done in Taiwan. Second, a policy that came into effect five years ago in Taiwan requires listed companies in food processing, financial services, the chemical industry, and companies with more than NT$10 billion of paid-in capital to publish corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports. For this reason, Taiwanese companies have to be transparent about what they are doing.”


"I have been pleasantly surprised to see Taiwanese businesses
make changes towards sustainability."


Her thesis, entitled Explore the challenges of employee engagement in business sustainability transition: A CS(R) Manager Perspective, found that the main challenge of promoting employee engagement is to get employees to see the value of corporate sustainability and to actively and continuously prioritize corporate sustainability-related tasks. The research proposed a matrix to show how managers can promote employee engagement at different stages. Heidi says: “Early on I wasn’t sure whether I would be satisfied with my findings. I’m glad I came to findings that are recognised by professionals.” Heidi and her thesis coaches wrote a short article to introduce the main findings and suggestions from the thesis: Overcoming the Barriers of Employee Engagement in Corporate Sustainability.

Why do you do it?
“During my bachelor in International Business Administration in Taiwan, I didn’t hear much about sustainability in business. I learned more about business strategy, market opportunities and topics that were very profit driven. It was at my internship within the CSRone team that I learned about sustainability and the role that businesses can play in it.

“Because of my interest in sustainability, my internship suggested I do more research into this during my MSc GBS; it’s something that is really needed.

“Now I’m back working at CSRone where I started as an intern, and have embarked on another learning journey with my amazing team. All of my colleagues are passionate about contributing to sustainability and translating it into actions that businesses can take. I also try to advocate it carefully among my network, but it’s definitely a challenge because not everyone feels the same way about sustainability, so I need to find tactful ways to spread the message of why it’s so important for us all to take action.”


"Helping others is always the biggest motivating factor for me."


Do you have any words of advice that might inspire others?
“I struggled with a health problem during my studies and it delayed the date I had initially planned to finish, but I was determined to contribute to sustainability by my own effort. What really helped me is to have the mindset that even if I only help one person or one organisation with my studies or research, it already means a lot. Helping others is always the biggest motivating factor for me. So if you are struggling with achieving your goal, you can think about how you can help others on your way there. It might help you to achieve what you set out to do too.”