Sustainability assessments awarded with research prize

Wednesday 16 Dec 20
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Morten Ryberg
Assistant Professor
DTU Management
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Assistant Professor Morten Ryberg from DTU Management has been awarded the Jorck’s Foundation Prize for his sustainability assessments. His future goal is the assessment of entire industries.

The design of milk cartons has gone through many changes in recent years in Denmark. One dairy introduced a reusable carton made entirely from soft plastic, while another ditched the otherwise common screw cap. The dairy cooperative Arla shifted from a white to a cardboard-colored carton which, according to many, might look more eco-friendly. But is it really?

When Morten Ryberg and his colleagues from DTU Management make “Absolute Environmental Sustainability Assessments” (AESA) of Arla’s cartons along with other companies’ products they include a whole range of environmental considerations. Among others, the water consumption, deforestation, emission of nutrients and carbon footprint caused by manufacturers.

Their work builds on the so-called planetary boundaries, a theory put forward by environmental scientist from the University of Stockholm. These boundaries define the limits for human action in order to comply with Earth’s overall environmental carrying capacity. Each product and service are given a certain percentage of this latitude based on their value to mankind. According to AESA, a company's environmental impact must remain within this margin in order for it to be characterized as sustainable.

Hence, AESA is a way for companies to understand whether or not they are sustainable and how they eventually can work towards becoming more sustainable. For this work, Morten Ryberg now receives the Jorck’s Foundation Research Prize of 300,000 DKK and a travel grant of 200,000 DKK.

 

Not just a milk carton method
If you ask Morten Ryberg, the prize was not only given for his latest achievements, but also for the future potential of AESA. His ambition is to further develop the method.

 

”Assessing the absolute environmental sustainability of separate products is a great first step on the road to a greener world,” he says. “But my overall vision is to develop dynamic models for assessing the impact of different industries that hopefully can lay the ground for new policies nationally and internationally.”


One example is the construction sector, which causes a great deal of Denmark’s pollution. Morten Ryberg envisages a model that calculates how the industry’s overall usage of technology or resources can become sustainable in an absolute matter.

 

Travelling to learn more about construction and modelling

When the COVID-19 restrictions ends Morten Ryberg wants to use part of the travel grant to visit ETH, the Technical University of Zürich. Here he wants to learn more about dynamic modelling and sustainable construction and hopefully establish a formal research collaboration with Austrian researchers.

That’s just easier face to face than on Zoom,” he says smiling.

 

He is also going to travel to the Stockholm Resilience Centre at the University of Stockholm, where the theory of the planetary boundaries was first put forward.

Happiness in spite of canceled prize ceremony

Like all physical events this year, the Jork’s Foundation prize-giving, which is normally held at the Danish Supreme Court in December, has been moved to the end of 2021. But Morten Ryberg is almost too happy to notice.

”I honestly didn’t except this, so it was surreal learning about the prize through an email on an otherwise ordinary weeknight. It makes me very happy and proud,” he says.