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Published: 13 March 2013  
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New career horizons opened up by research on sustainable businesses

Research fellow Dr Renato J. Orsato published a book entitled 'Sustainability Strategies: when does it pay to be green?' as part of a European Union (EU)-funded Marie Curie Action (MCA), specifically a research fellowship called Strategic Environmental Management at European and Australian Industries (SEMEAI). His fellowship was part of the Marie Curie programme designed to support mobility and attract talented young researchers to the EU.

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The book looks at how companies can incorporate eco-investments into their business strategies and benefit from that, be that in terms of, for example, profits or brand value. Eco-investments are important for society because they are about saving the planet's resources so that future generations can benefit from them. The book raises awareness of the importance of environmentally-friendly business and may even prompt people to buy green products even if they are more expensive than other products.

An example of this is a Brazilian company that uses oil from the nuts of a wide range of endogenous plants to make cosmetics products. It sources the nuts from thousands of small suppliers of forestry products. Because of the social and environmental appeal of the components from the Amazon forest, the company managed to obtain a price premium for its eco-branded products.

The book has been used in many places, including programmes Dr Orsato teaches at Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV), Brazil's leading business school, and masters programmes at the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics in Sweden. In addition, it was selected as the 2008 most promising (in print) management book by the European Academy of Management (EURAM).

"My book was fundamental to bring balance to the 'pays to be green' debate. By analysing both success and failure cases of sustainability investments from the theories of competitive advantage, the book made a mark in the field. In 2011, it was translated into Chinese, Arabic and Portuguese," says Dr Orsato.

Between 2004 and 2007, Dr Renato J. Orsato completed a Marie Curie research fellowship at the School of Management at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and the Centre for the Management of Environmental Resources (CMER) at the INSEAD business school in Fontainebleau, France, ranked as one of the top business schools in the world.

Initially the study was meant to cover only Europe and Australia but the fellowship gave him the chance to gather valuable data from companies in New Zealand and Brazil too. In the end, Dr Orsato collected more than 30 case studies from Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and Europe as he looked into the following research question: "Why have environmental initiatives developed by European and Australian firms resulted in economic and/or market success or failure?"

"The Marie Curie project gave me the freedom to explore avenues that wouldn't have been possible if I had had the constraints of teaching at the time," says Dr Orsato. "I've continued to do what I did for the Marie Curie Fellowship. I'm interested in sustainability and questions such as what kinds of business models bypass some of the trade-offs between environmental protection and profits," he adds.

Dr Orsato was hired by INSEAD after the Marie Curie project was concluded and worked there as a senior research fellow in the business school's Social Innovation Centre for three more years.

After that, he took on a professorship at Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV), the leading Brazilian business school, where he continues to develop research on the subject of sustainability. How to create wealth, alleviate poverty and reduce the environmental impact of a business activity in the emerging economies is one of his research areas now. This is about bringing people out of poverty by using innovative business models.

Project details

  • Project acronym: SEMEAI
  • Participants: France (Coordinator)
  • FP6 Project N° 509911
  • EU contribution: € 287 500
  • Duration: July 2004 to June 2007

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