The researcher`s role in industrial sustainability transformations: The observer or the facilitator of new eco-systems?

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The emerging environmental crisis and the recent developments with war in Ukraine followed by the present energy crisis, has made it evident that manufacturing companies must partake in the sustainable transformation to survive. This means that companies are moving away from mainly focusing on profit maximization to an engagement in projects, processes and partnerships that may reduce consumption and impact on the natural environment.

New forms of collaboration are needed to form new industrial eco-systems (Riesener et al., 2019) and advance sustainable supply chains and operations. Given the nature of industrial supply chains, new processes and solutions must be implemented across several entities and in some cases even across competitors. This will call for increased coopetition, a term referring to collaboration between competitors to reach common goals (Bouncken et al., 2015).. Coopetition has received increasing attention in research, but the effect on establishing shared practices to support the sustainable transformation is still only an emerging topic (Yadav et al., 2022).

In research we are often granted the opportunity of being in the forefront of innovative technologies, developments, and management approaches. This privilege comes with great responsibility, as the involvement of research(ers) can ensure that the eco-systems are developed through coopetition, considering all the parties involved in the system rather than single entities, and through that drive the development of new sustainable eco-systems. However, the major question is how should research engage in this role?

To address this question the authors will present the case of DecomBlades (DecomBlades, 2022), a consortium of 10 industrial and academic partners aiming at establishing circular value chains for transforming end-of-life wind turbine blades into new products. The project includes both of direct competitors as well as their shared upstream suppliers for end-of-life solutions. Therefore, all partners have a shared mission of reaching the project outcome and thus represent an interesting case where coopetition is a vital part of the project structure. For years it has been well known in the wind energy sector that composite structures especially from wind turbine blades are problematic to recycle and reuse (Jensen and Skelton, 2018). Given the desire to increase wind energy capacity the matter of establishing sustainable end-of-life route for these composite materials has become more important that ever to the wind industry as a collective. As researchers, we partake to assess, document, and evaluate potential solutions in this project.

In research projects, such as DecomBlades, researchers have the privilege of being an unbiased player in this transformation, without having to adhere to a specific company’s agenda. But are we here to observe, test and develop approaches to this green transformation? Or can we actively drive this transformation in the industry without compromising research objectivity? Does this make us as researchers the new missionaries? And is that something we should become?
The authors propose a round table discussion amongst IEM scholars to address these essential questions, as we all play a key role in future developments of sustainable industrial systems.

Presentation type: Round table discussion: Initial short presentation of topic by the authors followed by a facilitated discussion amongst the participants.
Original languageEnglish
Publication dateNov 2022
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022


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