Interview: Can sustainable companies also be highly Profitable?

Mats Williander is an expert in how industry can be more sustainable and contribute to the rise of the sustainable society.

Mats works to improve competitiveness and profitability of Swedish industry through ICT. His current research focuses on business model innovation and the characteristics of sustainable business models.

What is your area of expertise?

I have a fairly broad background, 30-plus years in industry within R&D, business strategy and management. I have been CEO at two SMEs and I hold an M.Sc. in electrical engineering, an MBA and a Ph.D. in Technology Management. My current research focus is on “Circular Business Models” that make companies more competitive, more profitable and simultaneously more sustainable.

What do you aim to achieve?

I want to contribute to an industry where profitability, competitiveness and sustainability go hand-in-hand. In such a world, environmental concerns doesn’t have to be the driving force for improved eco-sustainability. I believe this can be achieved with Circular Business Models.

In what way can industry and society benefit from your research?

The research methods we use at Viktoria create both practical knowledge that industry can use, and knowledge that contributes to science. The best way for industry to benefit and gain knowledge is by joining with us in projects where we use applied, collaborative research methods. This creates a learning-by-doing environment that also benefit society. We also publish our research results in short videos, reports, conferences and journals.

Where does your research stand internationally?

We are at the forefront of research on the shift from traditional linear business models to circular ones – not only how it affects the organization and decision logic of management but also why many managers hesitate to shift to circular models.

Why work at Viktoria Swedish ICT?

I really enjoy the possibility to work so close to industry and to contribute to their business and still be able and free to run my own research agenda. This enables us to create more value for industry than if we worked in industry.

How do you collaborate with industry or the public sector?

We collaborate hands-on with things like innovating new business models and service offerings, validation of hypotheses, target group interviews and the like. We act like colleagues although we simultaneously gather data to advance scientific knowledge and theory.

How does your research encourage innovation?

Innovation relates to products, processes, organizations and also business models. Because the business model affects the decision logic of the organization, a business model shift will most certainly lead to product, service and process innovations.

Why start a project together with Swedish ICT?

Acquiring knowledge should be a main reason. We can build knowledge by gathering and analyzing data from whomever we partner with and they can gain expertise from us. Openness in terms of giving us access to data and willingness to learn are hence two important issues to consider.

A highlight of 2012

We worked with Unicykel on a low-budget but extremely interesting and inspiring project that has managed to create a new customer segment for the firm, an electric bicycle subscription based on a Circular Business Model and significant research results – all in about 12 months. We also produced a low-budget short video about the project (which can be found at http://www.youtube.com/Viktoriainstitute) that has helped spread the word about Circular Business Models.

What do you look forward to 2013?

This will be an exciting year in which Viktoria Swedish ICT will grow our resources in Circular Business Models, initiate projects with companies with higher complexity (product, organization, value chain, global presence), and collaborate more within RISE on the topic of sustainable business.

This interview was published in our annual report 2012.