Lisa Heldt - a career of an IIIEE alumna
Hej Lisa! Tell us something about yourself and what you’re working with!
I graduated from the EMP programme this summer. Originally I’m from Germany and that’s where I did my bachelor’s in Environmental & Sustainability studies. I focused mainly on sustainability management and entrepreneurship because I realized early in my studies that I’m really interested in all those points where companies have negative impacts, and I wanted to understand how they can make more positive contributions. That has shaped my path and I did internships in the chemical and the pharmaceutical industry in Germany – I wanted to learn how this works from the inside, how large corporations deal with sustainability. During my bachelor’s studies I also ended up co-founding a startup in sustainable food retailing. With ‘plietsch’, we basically bring packaging-free products from local organic producers into your regular supermarket around the corner. I had never planned to start a company, but then this opportunity emerged! It definitely forced me out of my comfort zone but I learned lots along the way and am still running the company on the side with my co-founder. After my studies I started working full-time in a company called EcoVadis with conducting suppliers’ sustainability ratings – I assessed how companies are doing in terms of sustainability, labour and human rights and environmental practices and that’s when I got interested in doing a Master’s degree, after having worked for some time. I chose the EMP program since it sounded really close to reality on the one hand side and then bridging the management side and the policy aspect on the other side so that’s how I ended up in Lund!
Right now I’m doing a PhD in sustainability at the IIIEE so I stayed here and I’m looking at circular business model innovation and its implementation in the Swedish manufacturing industry.
I really liked the approach of having a practice-oriented study programme and also very international – and it turned out to be very true! In my batch we were 26 students and 17 nationalities!
Why did you choose to study at the IIIEE?
I really liked the approach of having a practice-oriented study programme and also very international – and it turned out to be very true! In my batch we were 26 students and 17 nationalities! And people had different disciplinary backgrounds and interests. Some were interested in consumption and others were more interested in policies and then people like me, coming from a business background. That is something I really liked about the programme, that you meet different cultures and different backgrounds.
What did the studies at the IIIEE give you and are you using what you learnt in your daily job?
What I took with me is the work with real cases, with companies, that happens throughout the programme. Already the first semester you do field trips and look at real challenges of organisations in and around Lund and then it becomes more international during the programme; you have both the internship and the consulting course. It’s a lot of hands-on work but always with a connection to research; how can we use research to produce new knowledge that is relevant for the challenges we face in society, or as companies? That is something I’m applying everyday now in the research I’m doing. I’m part of the Mistra REES project and we’re conducting research on (and with) companies in the Swedish manufacturing industry, trying to see how they can switch to more circular practices. My work is coming from the research side but I’m working really close with practice; what challenges are there in the industry and how can we develop solutions through research to address these problems?
I think there was a fluent transition from the Master’s programme into the research that I’m doing now as you deal with practical challenges but also the research that is going on at the institute during your studies. How can we use what we know from research to change reality? That is something I really brought with me from the studies. And during a short period of time we had to solve complex problems and take different perspectives into account. We had a lot of group works, right from the start. It can sometimes feel annoying but you learn so much from group work and collaborating with others; it prepares you for what comes after your studies!
I also want to mention the great discussions you have at the institute, when you meet someone in the corridor or have lunch; you have so many discussions outside the classroom and that’s part of the entire experience.
What I took with me is the work with real cases, with companies, that happens throughout the programme. Already the first semester you do field trips and look at real challenges of organisations.
What can a typical day look like?
I just started but a typical day involves reading and writing, planning my research project, especially now at the beginning of my PhD. I’m setting up the collaboration with companies, setting up case studies and planning which methods to use, coordinating with other universities that are involved in the research project and of course discussing with my supervisors. I’m positioning where my research will be and planning how I can make my contribution.
How did the EMP programme prepare you for working life and a career within sustainability?
It prepares you for reality! You deal with complex challenges in sustainability and look at “what can research tell us about this” and “how can we make this work in practice”. How do we deal with different interests, and still create a result? The programme is very realistic.
During the internship course in EMP, I worked with Inter IKEA and their IWAY Team on the revision of their Supplier Code of Conduct and developed a risk assessment method to screen suppliers’ sustainability risk. So that was a good chance to apply what I learned in the program and in my previous job at EcoVadis and learn how to apply for such complex supply chains as IKEA has. And I actually met a few alumni during the internship too.
And for my thesis, I collaborated with Tetra Pak’s sourcing team and investigated the use of satellite technology to monitor and manage sustainability risks (especially deforestation) in complex supply chains. Based on my thesis, they are now actually starting a pilot project on this, so it was great to be tasked with such a timely topic and then see my work actually applied by a company like Tetra Pak.
I originally got into contact with my contacts at Tetra Pak through a field trip to the company that we did in our very first EMP semester. For me this allowed me to build my focus on supply chain sustainability throughout the master’s programme and extend what I knew from my previous job. Now this is what I am trying to bring into my PhD research, how circular business model innovation in large companies affects their internal routines and their supply chain relations.
You can learn so much in just two years! It’s very intense, you make great friends and get a fantastic network. For many EMP alumni this experience has really shaped their career, and life.
What would you say to someone who’s considering to study at the EMP programme?
I recommend the program, you can learn so much in just two years! It’s very intense, you make great friends and get a fantastic network. For many EMP alumni this experience has really shaped their career, and life. I still have regular calls with people from the batch. It’s more than just doing a Master’s degree! We did a field trip to the UN in Copenhagen and had so many events going on all the time and you can get a lot out of it. It’s so valuable to meet someone who’s working in the field, and you can also use the Alumni network. The institute has a lot of great contacts.
Can you share a memory from your time at the IIIEE?
One memory is the capstone client project. We worked with a client that had a local impact investment fund in Nairobi, Kenya. We travelled there and conducted research and interviews on the ground with different organisations that the fund invested in. It was such a different experience and so insightful to work in a completely different reality and just have the feeling that you’re doing something that’s going to have an impact and going to be applied. You address a real problem, right now! We are actually planning to have a catch up call with our team and the client, to see how things are going.
Do you want to read more Alumni stories? You find them here