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Changing for good: first PhD researcher Campus Fryslân defends thesis

16 September 2020
Prof. dr. Gjalt de Jong, Dr. Angela Greco, Dr. Thomas Long
Prof. dr. Gjalt de Jong, Dr. Angela Greco, Dr. Thomas Long

On the 16th of September the first in-house PhD researcher of Campus Fryslân will defend her dissertation. Angela Greco focused on the present-day topic of transforming organizations into sustainable enterprises, from a local housing association perspective. She found that a user-centric approach is best at preventing unintended consequences and conflicting demands.

Nowadays transforming businesses into sustainable enterprises seems like the logical thing to do. After all, anything that helps the environment appears, by definition, good. However, in practice the transformation is not always that easy and can result in unintended consequences. Especially for social businesses like housing associations that provide affordable housing for low-income tenants, finding a balance between doing good for the environment and the social mission of doing good for the people can lead to clashes. Greco studied best practices and found out that in a situation where a housing association wanted to be a frontrunner in sustainability, tenants struggled. ‘Imagine having your house under construction for weeks, without really knowing how the end result benefits you or the environment while in your daily life you are dealing with much more urgent problems.’

‘Cases like this can make it seem like doing something good for the environment is not always the right thing to do,’ Angela Greco explains. This is where good preparation of all of those involved is key. Taking a user-centric approach may prevent most issues. She found that engaging the community, in a non-hierarchical manner, increased the tenants willingness to participate. ‘When you engage the community, you will find that people are not against doing good things for the environment as many might assume.  If you do not just inform, but let everyone involved ‘own’ their solutions - by making them an active part of the process, they’ll be for sustainability, not against it.’

In the end, Greco identified four aspects to take into consideration while inducing and maintaining sustainable entrepreneurship: strong leadership to envision a sustainable future, a decision-making process that connects the goals of the organization to the needs of their tenants, a responsive approach to sustainability, and cooperation  with other sectors involved in the transformation process.

Angela Greco adds that while housing associations are her research context, the theoretical framework and conclusions apply to any organisation seeking to transform sustainably and dealing with conflicting demands.

Angela Greco

Ir. Angela Greco (1988) is a PhD researcher in responsible innovation at the Centre for Sustainable Entrepreneurship, Campus Fryslân Faculty of the University of Groningen. Her theoretical focus is on the role of user innovations, user-producer interactions, and organizational change for positive social and environmental impact. A large part of her work is connecting academic research with real-world problems, through engagement exercises, multi-stakeholder assessment and strategy building.


The mayor of Leeuwarden, Sybrand van Haersma Buma & Dr. Angela Greco
The mayor of Leeuwarden, Sybrand van Haersma Buma & Dr. Angela Greco
Last modified:30 September 2020 3.40 p.m.
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