Is it possible to combine commercial activities with socio-ecological engagement when sourcing bio-based raw materials? Kristine and Tove, two UNITECH International students, have explored the topic in their master’s thesis with Evonik.
Strategic Innovation, Sustainability and Remote Work - A master`s thesis
Kristine and Tove’s pathway towards an internship at Evonik started with UNITECH international in 2018. At this time the two students did their bachelor at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden. During the UNITECH program, Tove had the chance to explore Italy and Germany, whereas Kristine visited France and the United Kingdom. Above that, both had the chance to get to know each other and learn more about Evonik as a company. Although, their UNITECH experience did not end there, because a couple of years later it was time to find a master’s thesis project.
What was your master’s thesis about?
Our ambition was to find a master’s thesis project with a UNITECH corporate partner on the topic of sustainability. We found a perfect match with Evonik, more specifically jointly within Creavis, the strategic innovation unit at Evonik and the business development team at Care Solutions.
The business line Care Solutions has an ambition to combine commercial activities with socio-ecological engagement when sourcing new raw materials for personal care applications. However, this ambition creates new needs and challenges when it comes to partnerships, procurement practices, and sustainability. This formed the basis of our thesis: we investigated how a new bio-based raw material could be integrated into an industrial supply chain. We conducted a product chain organisation study where we interviewed actors along the supply chain and formulated our findings into an assessment framework that can help to guide sustainable and ethical sourcing of bio-based raw materials.
What are your top experiences as master’s thesis students at Evonik?
One of our favourite aspects of the thesis has been the opportunity to meet and collaborate with such broad variety of different actors. Throughout the internship, we have met industry associations, a start-up, an NGO, researchers and experts, colleagues from within Evonik and many more! All these interactions have generated so many insights and new perspectives that we have brought into both our professional and our personal life.
We also really enjoyed getting in contact with so many different aspects of sustainability. Our master’s thesis touched upon biodiversity and local land tenure rights, value distribution in global supply chains, and partnerships to mention just a few examples. In the project, we could bring all sustainability aspects together and explain how they are important.
Last but not least, we had great support from our supervisor and other colleagues at Evonik. So, although we never actually worked in a physical Evonik office on site, we felt connected to our colleagues and that we contributed to a real, value adding project.
What role did sustainability play in your project?
Sustainability has truly been the foundation and red thread throughout our time at Evonik. As our topic was sustainable sourcing, we first wanted to define what sustainable sourcing of a bio-based product in our specific case should include. We therefore asked all people we have interviewed “What is sustainable sourcing to you?”. And wow, we received so many answers that touched upon everything from land restoration to the inclusion of local communities and our economic system. By combining these multi-faceted answers with literature findings, we managed to keep a system perspective on sustainable sourcing that resulted in an assessment framework to guide sustainable sourcing that touches upon many of the Agenda 2030 sustainable development goals (SDGs).
What are your key learnings from your time at Evonik?
In our project, we could see that the suggested sourcing scheme presented “an opportunity to engage in an unconventional sourcing scheme with unconventional partnerships around unconventional seed-oils with potential to create a positive impact to both people and planet. Thus, we bring with us that collaboration can play an important role in sustainability transitions. From the internship at Evonik we have learned a lot and also gained a lot of new inspiration. We now have a better understanding of the business development process, how it can look when there is a high degree of innovative ways of working, and the importance of sustainability and collaboration during this process. We are also positively surprised of how well remote working has worked for us. Thanks to working together as a pair, and to our very engaged supervisor - you made it easy for us to feel integrated and welcomed at Evonik.
In the networks@Evonik blog, members from networks with which Evonik cooperates report on their experiences with the network and their work with Evonik.
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