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Published: 06 Apr, 2021

RiseB portrait: Johan Jansson

PROFILE Professor in Business Administration with specialization in marketing, Deputy Head, Department of Business Administration

Text: Maxim Vlasov

On climate transitions in the transportation system, opportunities and risks of circular economy, and growing interest in sustainability research and teaching at the business school. 

This article is part of the series of portraits where RiseB members share their research ideas and plans.

It has been half a year since you started as Deputy Head of Business Administration. What are your experiences so far when it comes to sustainability work at the business school?

– What really strikes me is that so many are involved in research on various sustainability issues, and also that there is a strong commitment to sustainability in teaching among our staff. Our recent planning day focused on sustainability and equality, which shows that there is support for these issues on all levels.

What ideas and projects are you working on at the moment?

– My writing and research activities are not fully prioritized at the moment but I am involved in a project, financed by K2, The Swedish knowledge centre for public transport [Nationellt kunskapscentrum för kollektivtrafik]. We are looking at how digitalization can stimulate - through more satisfied customers - increased travel by public transport and in turn reduce emissions from car traffic. I am also involved in a project about electric scooters, which now exist in many cities in Sweden. We study why and how these scooters are used, by whom, as well as if they actually replace car trips as the businesses  claim in their marketing.

– There are also many other ideas in the loop. One is for the department and the business school to develop a better collaboration with students around sustainability issues where both teachers and students are involved and work on environmentally and socially responsible projects. It feels as if the time is ripe, as soon as the pandemic retreats.

Circular economy is increasingly brought up as a way to make a transition toward sustainable society within the planetary boundaries. With your expertise in sustainable consumption and marketing, what opportunities with the circular economy do you see today? And what challenges and risks may come with its increasing popularity?    

– I usually say, somewhat sloppily, that more circular economy is good but less consumption is better. The opportunities lie in the fact that our economy and entire consumption system today is only to a tiny extent circular, in the true sense of the word. So there is enormous potential for improvement. At the same time, by falling into a belief that circular economy is going to save us, for example when it comes to biodiversity and the climate crisis, we risk using it as an alibi not to work with the things that really make a difference - reducing the overall levels of consumption.

– A hard nut to crack is that when markets are created to circulate materials, all actors want compensation for their efforts. This can entail that the costs for recycled materials will be considerably higher than for the virgin materials over a long period of time, if we do not combine the “circularity” with adjusting the costs for the latter. In addition, as the world population is growing, it is an open question how long the inputs can actually be circulated without adding new materials all the time.

If circularity is to become a factor in sustainability transition to be reckoned with, we must remain aware about all problems that need to be solved.

You defended your doctoral thesis back in 2009 on green consumer behaviour, and how our personal values and norms are important for reduced car use and adoption of alternative fuel vehicles. How has the discussion around these topics and your own thinking developed over the recent decade?

– Many more recognize today how important personal and social norms are for the choices that consumers make, but also that these values interact with other factors such as emotions and the willingness to try new products and solutions. It is still only a small fraction of the population who are ready to make sacrifices to reach personal or global climate goals. Even if these people are very important as pioneers, it would have a much greater effect if the majority made a little transition in the right direction.

– During my time as a PhD student, I probably had a stronger belief that individual studies and projects can affect our understanding in significant ways than what I believe today. The research that we are doing is, without doubt, important and can make a difference - but mainly as an input to other studies; increasing our knowledge together with others. Even though the system based on publications and journals has its flaws, it is interesting to see how the knowledge is aggregating, developing, and improving and spreading also outside academia. It is a privilege to be a part of this process together with my colleagues, even though my contribution to the larger whole might be very tiny.

What role does RiseB play for our business school, and what future for the research group do you envision? 

– It is an important meeting point around sustainability and ethics, which sets a clear agenda.

The significance of RiseB is going to increase, in step with the growing societal problems and the need for business students, researchers and teachers to learn more about these issues.

It is hard to predict the future, but my hope is that we can work together for the group’s vibrant future at the business school.