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Grace O’Rourke

Interview with Grace O’Rourke

Dr. Grace O’Rourke is a Lecturer of Marketing and Assistant Course Director for Postgraduate Marketing Courses in LSBU’s Business School. Grace and her colleagues in the Business School are working to embed sustainability into all of the Business-focused courses at LSBU and will be delivering a session at this event.

To start with, can you let us know what you do and why you’re involved in the event series?

Absolutely! I have always had a keen interest in environmental sustainability. I was fortunate enough to undertake my doctoral studies, as well as other research projects in the area. For the most part, I focus on sustainable consumption, but have also recently began to consider how sustainability is taught in higher education. I started working in LSBU Business School as a Lecturer of Marketing in 2018, and as I always have, encouraged students to think through the often enormous gap between business viability and environmental sustainability. We discuss how marketing does not always have to be about selling things, and reconsider its other roles in society. In the Business School, I took over as the sustainability lead in 2019 and now represent the school at the university-wide steering group which has had some great initiatives, including this conference, which is how I became involved.

Why is it so important to embed sustainability into the modules we teach at LSBU?

The sustainability agenda really began to take head from the 1980’s when it was first recognised that humankind played a significant role in environmental degradation. But for the decades which followed, sustainability because a secondary or coinciding consideration alongside the main agenda – whatever that may have been. Slowly, sustainability has come to the fore of many of our conversations, strategies and plans as the effects become more and more real each year. Some higher-education programs still have ‘ethics’ or ‘sustainability’ as an optional module which a student might pick. This reiterates the notion that sustainability comes second to everything else. Sustainability needs to be part of the overarching makeup of the entire program, so that everything students subsequently learn in their modules, comes from a healthy standpoint. The time for taking a marketing communications module (for example) which is entirely separate from the sustainability agenda, is over. Business schools generally seek to develop future business leaders, and sustainability needs to be part of their ideological makeup upon graduation.

Your PhD focused on upcycling which is incredibly popular. What made you choose this topic and what would you say to encourage people to give upcycling a try?

Yes, indeed it did! Upcycling was the research context of my study and has grown in popularity in recent years. Indeed, there was another spike in popularity during lockdown as it presented itself as an enjoyable way to spend time in the home for many people. For my PhD, I wanted to choose a research context that presented a more fun, playful and creative way to engage with sustainability. For many years, sustainability has been presented to consumers alongside the notion of sacrifice or hardship – perhaps they have to give something up (eg. cut back on convenient single-use plastic) or perhaps even pay more money (eg. recycling services). Upcycling, presents itself as a pleasurable way for consumers to interact with waste – something which really hadn’t been considered hugely in the sustainable consumption theoretical area. In terms of encouraging people to give upcycling a try, I would emphasise that it is an experience which affords lots of enjoyment, even emotional escape (some upcyclists described it as great for their well-being), as well of course learning new and exciting DIY related skills. Of course, it saves something from going to landfill as well which, hopefully, introduces or emphasises to the consumer, the notion that sustainability can be enjoyable sometimes too.

Tell us about any exciting projects you have coming up?

I mentioned before that I have also started to do research on how sustainability is taught in higher education. I have recently began a study with a colleague here at LSBU, Dr. Barbara Czarnecka, on how sustainability is currently taught on undergraduate business and management programs across the UK. We are still in the early stages of this study but there are some worrying preliminary findings unfortunately! We will be presenting these findings at the conference so if you would like to know more, please do attend!

Finally, what are your hopes for the conference and more importantly, for the future?

Oh wow, what a question! Well, for the conference, I hope that some interesting dialogue is opened across LSBU, and indeed further afield, as regards sustainability. I think the nature of this conference, presents itself as an opportunity to really connect academic theory with practice beyond that which our usual academic conferences do! In the longer term, and I think we see this already, I hope that those who care about sustainability challenges, encourage and even force real change on decision-makers. The digital era in which we now exist, means that those with similar goals can come together and push an agenda forward in a way that perhaps previous generations couldn’t. The current generation of young people are some of the incredibly critical and disruptive, which is exactly what is needed to push sustainability to the fore. If we, as educators, do our job correctly and arm them with the information they need, the future will be in safe hands.

For more information and to register for this event, which will be delivered online, visit the event page.

We look forward to ‘seeing’ you there!

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