Sustainability key to shipbuilding

Sustainability key to shipbuilding?

A PhD thesis by a Wärtsilian, Juha Kytölä, proves that sustainability is a key driver of business decisions in shipbuilding. Let’s dive into his findings.

A PhD thesis by a Wärtsilian, Juha Kytölä, proves that sustainability is a key driver of business decisions in shipbuilding. Let’s dive into his findings. 

Juha Kytölä’s doctoral thesis, entitled ‘Sustainability in shipbuilding innovations and reflections on management’, focuses on the importance of management in the shipbuilding industry and what drives sustainability in innovations. The management teams from shipyards in South Korea and China were used as sources for data for qualitative analysis, with results indicating that top management is the strongest driver of sustainability innovation, followed by strategy and relevant legislation in the business context.

Based on his research, Kytölä developed a practical concept for assessing company performance on the journey towards sustainability in innovations.

“My research looked at how companies manage to combine financial performance with environmental and social performance. With demands on morals and ethics getting stricter, companies have to strike a balance between acting in a way that pleases its customers and the public, without causing a negative financial impact,” he explains.

In his research, Kytölä compared the sustainability strategies of nine shipyards – five in South Korea and four in China. What he found was that the nine shipyards had a deep commitment to both sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), driven in part by demands from customers – particularly those in Northern Europe – and also by their own values.

“People might think China is lagging behind when it comes to sustainability, but we mustn’t underestimate their commitment and expertise. These shipyards are very focused on safety and keen to learn about the latest environmental legislation and solutions to meet them,” says Kytölä.


Industry meets academia

Going forward, Kytölä’s research will be used by Wärtsilä to better understand the priorities that drive one of its most important customer segments.

“At Wärtsilä, we pride ourselves on being sustainability frontrunners but, in the past, we may not have been aware that the environmental profile was so important to our Asian shipbuilding customers. Now we know that it’s actually key to our customer value offering,” he says.

Before starting his PhD in 2011, Kytölä had been with Wärtsilä for 22 years. He had always wanted to pursue further studies but the timing had never been right.

“I had an opportunity right after graduating from my Masters, but decided it was more important to get some work experience. I looked into it again ten years later but, at that time, I had a young family and it didn’t make sense in terms of time. In 2011, I decided ‘now or never’, and finally went ahead and did it,” he recalls.

Kytölä had been working in the environmental field for two years prior to starting his studies, so his focus was a natural choice, both in terms of business value and his own personal interest. Instead of pursuing his PhD through Wärtsilä, he opted to do it during his free time and carry on working full time.
“This gave me more autonomy to manage my time and choice of topic,” he says. “However, I benefited from combining the shipyard interviews with my work assignments in China and Korea,” he says, adding that Wärtsilä’s standing in the market also gave him access to the top executives at the shipyards – something that was essential to his research.

Even though Kytölä chose to complete his doctorate in his own time, he says he received excellent backing from both managers and colleagues at Wärtsilä. However, the person who helped him the most was his wife.

“I spent the last two years writing my thesis and a lot of evenings and weekends studying. It wouldn’t have been possible if my wife hadn’t been so supportive,” he admits.

Kytölä recognises that his research has significantly impacted how he does his work.

“Being in charge of Wärtsilä’s environmental product range, it’s important for me to know what our customers need and want. My research has helped me make better business decisions and improved the quality of my dialogues with our customers,” Kytölä concludes.

Written by

Isabelle Kliger
Contributing Writer at Spoon Agency