sustainability Archives - Collins College of Business


White nights, dark winters: Life in Finland with a Fulbright Scholar

Professor of Marketing Brian R. Chabowski has spent the past 10 months in Finland as a Fulbright Scholar. Here, he shares thoughts on the personal growth and professional enrichment of that experience. 

man indoors wearing glasses, a light blue open collar shirt and a black blazer
Brian R. Chabowski at the University of Vaasa

The concept of long summer days and deep winter nights was not foreign to me prior to coming to Finland, a country well-known for its focus on social, environmental and economic sustainability. After I graduated with a bachelor’s degree, I lived in Lithuania and Estonia for three-and-a-half years and became quite accustomed to these drastic changes of natural lighting. Still, as a participant in a partnership between the Fulbright Finland Foundation and the University of Vaasa, having the opportunity as a Fulbright Scholar to live and work in the town of Vaasa with my family for close to a year is a unique personal and professional privilege. 

Everyday efficiency 

Many of the personal experiences that make this rewarding relate to everyday life. For instance, it took about three days to become accustomed to our younger daughter traveling to and from school on a local city bus. As we noticed each of those first days, there were no other parents on the bus and the children her age and younger knew how to get to school. With a population of 60,000, Vaasa is a perfect size and setting for our daily activities and safe enough for youngsters to go to and from school.  

man outdoors in the snow wearing a face mask in front of a stone column with the words Arctic Circle
Brian R. Chabowski at the Arctic Circle

Another personal facet relates to how garbage and recycling are treated. There is no other way to describe it, but the process resembles an art form. For garbage, we separate our trash into burnables, plastics, cartons, aluminum, glass and biowaste! In fact, we have specific canisters/bags in our apartment for each garbage type to bring to the central disposal shed for our building.  

A final aspect focuses on our Christmas trip to Turku, the oldest city in Finland. We left on Christmas Eve in the midst of a snowstorm and, as we were travelling to our connection city, the train ahead of ours had a mechanical failure and could only move very slowly. Once it stopped, the other train’s passengers transferred to ours. At this point, we knew we were going to miss our connection. However, the conductor assured us that accommodations would be made to get us to Turku. When we got off the train, we were immediately escorted to a waiting bus with the other travelers going to our destination. The transition was efficient and seamless, providing a case in which a government-owned company acknowledges an unexpected mishap and rectifies the complication caused in a responsible and timely manner. 

Research energy 

The professional aspects of my time in Finland have been equally successful. The projects I have been interested in pursuing relate to international social ventures; marketing channel sustainability; emergent and sustainable small-and-medium enterprise energy source development; and competitiveness, digital entrepreneurship and sustainability. In fact, Finland is an ideal place for studying these four topics.  

single story reddish colored building the roof of which is entirely covered with solar panels
The University of Vaasa is participating in the DigiDecarbon research project, which focuses on citizen-based energy communities and the businesses that can serve them.

First, concerning international social ventures, I have been fortunate to participate on a research team seeking a grant to focus on the processes companies undertake to transfer profitable socially-focused knowledge, skills and capabilities to emerging and developing countries. Finland is an outstanding country for examining this topic because the government is working on, for example, an initiative to start a company of 1,000 disabled citizens that indicates a commitment to social programs on a national level. This provides a glimpse into the fundamental thinking of equity in Finnish society and shows its suitability for this subject.  

In terms of marketing channel sustainability, Finland has an ambitious goal to eliminate all waste by 2050. Currently, only 1% of waste reaches landfills, while the rest is either recycled or used for heating, thus indicating the impact of concerted environmental efforts on consumer and business activity. My research with colleagues here has revealed that supply chain collaboration is critical in using strategic focus for successful sustainability performance.  

Relating to sustainable small-and-medium enterprise energy source development, there are many initiatives at the University of Vaasa and in the general Vaasa area exploring new approaches to energy transitions. This reflects a nation-wide trend: Currently, 52% of energy in Finland comes from renewable sources – 45% of which is hydropower and 23% is wind.  

Finally, emphasizing competitiveness, digital entrepreneurship and sustainability, Finland is one of the most digitized countries in the world. For instance, personal identification for many government and commercial services can be done easily with one secure authentication process. The result is an infrastructure that encourages small business development and innovation. In fact, as these topics are examined by professors at the university, this competitive and sustainable context provides an ideal opportunity to measure how well such digitized firms improve in comparison to those from other countries. 

Nothing short of extraordinary 

man standing outdoors in a large paved plaza in front of a huge white church
Brian R. Chabowski at Helsinki Cathedral

My time at the University of Vaasa has been nothing short of extraordinary. While I have had ample time to witness and study the multifaceted aspects of sustainability in practice as a part of my daily life, the professional relationships I have developed while here have provided invaluable experiences, produced published articles, facilitated unique friendships and initiated new research directions for the future. I have had superb interactions with undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students while, for instance, presenting a lesson or teaching a complete course.  

Overall, this has been a year thoroughly well spent. There is even a part of me that wishes this investment in both my family and my career could be endless. However, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. Still, if I had the opportunity to do this again, I would seize it so I could live out a “sequel experience.” Taken further, I recommend you give Finland a try, as well!

Brian R. Chabowski, Ph.D., is a Professor of Marketing in the Collins College of Business. His main areas of research interest are marketing strategy, sustainability, international business and the interdisciplinary application of marketing. 



Professors receive Fulbright awards to conduct research in Europe

University of Tulsa Professor of Marketing Brian Chabowski has been granted a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award to Finland and Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Erin Iski has received a Fulbright award to the Czech Republic.

“This recognition supports Dr. Chabowski’s well-regarded research in international marketing and sustainability, plus his professional background provides a solid foundation for his proposed Fulbright projects,” remarked Acting Provost Tracy Manly. “For Dr. Iski, the Fulbright award allows her to advance her work at this critical stage of her career and then share the findings with the growing number of TU students who are interested in the intersection of biology and chemistry.”

Sustainability in Finland

man with short hair and glasses smiling while wearing a black blazer
Brian Chabowski

Beginning in August 2021, Chabowski will research for nine months at the University of Vaasa in partnership with the Fulbright Finland Foundation as part of a series of projects that examine domestic and international aspects of environmental, social and economic sustainability implementation. “Since I began studying the topic of sustainability over a decade ago,” Chabowski said, “it has been well known that Finland is a model country which has successfully implemented widespread sustainability projects in the private and public sectors in a very comprehensive manner on a local, national, and international scale.”

His proposal includes four distinct projects to begin while in Finland. These plans focus on international social ventures; marketing channel sustainability; emergent and sustainable energy solutions for small and medium enterprises; and digital entrepreneurship and sustainability competitiveness. He intends to coordinate with local partners of the University of Vaasa, such as the Vaasa Energy Business Innovation Centre, the Innovation and Entrepreneurship InnoLab and the Technobothnia research and development laboratory to survey local businesses on their domestic and international sustainability-related initiatives. “It is a great honor to be selected as a Fulbright scholar, and I want to take this exceptional opportunity to conduct in-country research and then return with newly gained insights to apply to real-life classroom examples as well as elsewhere at TU.”

Under the microscope in the Czech Republic

woman with long light-colored hair smiling and wearing a patterned blouse
Erin Iski

Based at Charles University in Prague, Iski will focus on the use of specialized microscopy to understand and investigate biological molecules on gold nanoparticles. Her work is pertinent to a variety of fields, including origin of life studies, in which it is critical to understand how small biological molecules interact on metal surfaces and perhaps join together to grow larger structures, such as proteins. Iski’s collaboration with Anna Fučíková in Prague is essential to the success of the larger project because Fučíková’s group is particularly suited to understanding these interactions under biological conditions. “In many ways,” noted Iski, “this scholarship presents the natural next step in my foundational work at TU.”

Becoming a Fulbright Global Scholar has been a career goal of Iski’s for as long as she knew the opportunity existed. “Now, not only will I have the chance to perform transformative research in a group that specializes in my niche research area, but I also get to create lasting cultural and academic relationships in one of the most amazing places in Europe.” Iski added that, given her ancestral background is in Eastern Europe, she looks forward to immersing herself in the culture, history and language of the Czech Republic. “And after learning about the Fulbright mission, I believe these goals are exactly what was intended in the founding of this program.”

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to forge lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries, to counter misunderstandings and to help people and nations work together toward common goals. Since its establishment in 1946, the Fulbright Program has enabled more than 390,000 dedicated and accomplished students, scholars, artists, teachers and professionals of all backgrounds to study, teach, conduct research, exchange ideas and discover solutions to shared international concerns.

Sowing the seeds of sustainability

For the past several years, visiting professor of business Bethany Johns (MEB ’16) has volunteered with the Pennsylvania-based nonprofit Sowing Seeds in Belize. The mission of this organization is “to educate, equip and empower through educational sponsorship and resources to train and enable local entrepreneurs in sustainable, self-sufficient business development.”

Professor Bethany Johns wearing glasses and a dark blazer
Visiting Professor Bethany Johns

Sowing Seeds in Belize provides some material goods, such as clothing and school supplies, to villagers in rural southern Belize through its Container Ministry. However, the bulk of the organization’s work is focused on providing training that helps residents develop the knowledge they require to launch sustainable business ventures. According to Johns, “volunteers are more than an extra pair of hands. Labor is not so much the need. It’s really about offering education and life skills.”

Sowing seeds, growing futures

“Instead of imposing our thoughts,” Johns said, “we instead offer aid to help the locals’ ideas come to fruition.” Johns points to the example of a self-sustaining greenhouse. The desire for such a structure arose amongst the members of a church in Belize, while volunteers – including Johns – from the United States supplied the design and guidance on how to construct it.

four women cooking inside a wooden structure
Preparing handmade purple corn tortillas over an open flame

“This partnership enabled the church to build the means to provide sustenance for the community,” remarked Johns. “There were no ideals or beliefs imposed on another culture. Rather, it allowed the seed of sustainability to take root. From the community garden where seedlings and gardening practices were offered, locals were able to toil and tend to Mother Nature, learning a sustainable trade that has reaped both figurative and literal harvests.”

According to Johns, this project had a compounding effect. With more than enough produce to feed their own families, women were able to make baked goods to sell in town. “Where we came into play at that stage was to instill in those women the value of saving the proceeds of their sales to cover future expenditures and to teach them about reinvesting profit so that their small enterprises could continue to grow.”

Sustainability is:

  • Working directly with local people to help them become self-sufficient
  • Teaching entrepreneurs valuable skills so they can operate their own businesses
  • Helping villagers obtain start-up loans so they can open their own shops

In a related vein, women have been sewing (on donated machines) face masks, drapery and bedding for sale locally. These seamsters have successfully leveraged social media to advertise and sell their wares. Sowing Seeds stepped in to help the women budget both their time (i.e., how many hours they can commit to working outside the family) as well as their finances in support of specific goals.

From a socio-economic perspective, one of the particularly intriguing facets of this enterprise is that rather than being paid for their individual output, the women work collaboratively to make products that are sold as a group. With many women working at different times in such a collective fashion, profit and pay are thereby allocated based on the total number of items sold and the days work by each woman each month. A portion of the proceeds also go back to the church where the sewing machines are located as rental for the equipment and the space. “This set-up teaches the women both responsibility and how to conduct a business,” remarked Johns.

Men, too, have benefitted from Sowing Seeds’ interventions. One farmer, Johns recounted, was able to move from survival-based agricultural work to growing, processing and selling cardamom pods, one of the world’s most lucrative spices. By helping the farmer obtain a loan for a commercial spice dryer and arranging for him to pay off that debt in kind with a portion of his monthly harvest, Sowing Seeds set him on the road to where he has now been able to expand his business into purchasing neighbors’ cardamom pods to dry and sell them as well.

Lessons in sustainability

“The couple that founded and lead Sowing Seeds takes sustainability to the next level,” remarked Johns. In addition to sending volunteers and material donations to Belize, they run a working farm and catering business in Pennsylvania as well as supplying Belizean products to area shops and restaurants, including turmeric, cardamom, oils (sesame seed, coconut and palm), cacao and coffee beans. These goods help people in Belize expand their business reach internationally and give U.S. business owners naturally sourced products.

dozens of white plastic pots containing seedlings
Starter seedlings for the community garden

But Johns points out that lessons in sustainability travel from south to north, as well: “We can learn a thing or two from the villagers’ simple ways of living.” These include drying clothes on a line in the fresh air instead of using a dryer, walking instead of always driving, reading by sunlight and choosing natural heating sources in place of gas or electricity.

With regard specifically to working with people in other parts of the world, such as Belize, Johns noted that it is important to keep in mind that “outside assistance is still external to a local culture. Obstacles to acceptance can, therefore, creep in.” As a way to help avoid such situations, Johns advocates for offering to help local people’s ideas come to fruition rather than imposing plans and agendas on them. In a similar sense, “direct handouts create dependence,” she observed. An example Johns points to is when relief organizations import tons of rice to feed villages struck by natural disasters. Such well-intentioned donations, however, negatively affect local farmers’ ability to sell their own produce because they are now in competition with free goods.

Sustainability is not:

  • Handing out clothes and food to the needy
  • Giving money directly to the poor
  • Showing up to hammer a few nails in a board

The lessons Johns has learned through her involvement with Sowing Seeds in Belize now infuse her own worldview, volunteering and teaching about sustainability. “In the end,” she said, “sustainability takes time, effort and continual review. It’s a long-term mindset geared to using resources efficiently and effectively.”

In fall 2020, TU’s Energy Management program introduced a new curriculum that includes topics such as climate change and alternative/renewable electricity sources. Learn more.