1. Tell me about yourself.
I’m Erlinde. I was born and raised in Belgium. Some of the things I love the most are multi-day hiking adventures (the simplicity of living on the trail gives me peace and joy), rock climbing, cooking, and eating. I’m currently working as an Assistant Professor in Marketing at SDSU.
2. Please describe your career path leading to where you are right now.
As a teenager I thought of diverse career options (ranging from painter to judge), but - paralyzed by choice overload - I chose to study political and social sciences because I cared a lot about social causes. After that, I completed my master’s in communication sciences, followed by a doctoral degree focused on social marketing. Immediately after that, I moved from Ghent (Belgium) to San Diego for 1 year of post-doctoral research at SDSU. During that year, I was hired at SDSU as tenure track faculty in marketing at the Fowler College of Business.
In my position at SDSU, I make conscious efforts to use my passion for sustainability and social causes to become a better teacher and researcher.
3. How did you become interested in sustainability? How does marketing relate to sustainability?
I became interested in sustainability when I realized that everything is interconnected. The way we eat, how we live, our transportation choices, our economic system, our political system, how companies operate, and so on. The combination of my interest in social justice and eagerness to learn, made me explore new ways of living, eating, and thinking about the world. I come from a family of very classic “gourmands” (foodies), and this sparked my curiosity to cook in alternative ways, and ultimately to learn about vegan/plant-based cooking. Soon I realized that how we eat doesn’t only affect our personal health, or animal wellbeing, but also our environment in major ways. This was a true eye-opener for me (I almost felt “betrayed” that no one had ever told me this before, that most consumers don’t even know about this). In addition, my husband, who is a geographer and environmentalist, definitely also inspired me and taught me a lot.
In my view, marketing is connected to sustainability because sustainability literally means “the ability to sustain something”. On a planet of finite natural resources, endless economic growth is simply not possible in the way we currently do business. Business-as-usual cannot be sustained, because it suppresses the needs of our planet and large groups of people. We can only bend the rules of nature, or the wellbeing of people, for so long, because businesses, governments, and everyone alike will ultimately have to abide by laws of nature. Therefore, I truly believe it is imperative for us to change more than swap out fossil fuel cars with electric cars (without changing our transportation habits) or start flushing our toilets with rain water (without being mindful of our water consumption in other domains). While these individual lifestyle changes are necessary, they are insufficient if nothing changes about our global economic and political system. Marketing plays a large role in creating awareness. We can use marketing tools - which have successfully proven to boost product sales, brand awareness, economic growth, and consumer spending – for the greater good. Can we employ marketing tactics to make our planet, our businesses, our work-life balance, the mental and physical wellbeing of workers more sustainable?
4. What research are you working on currently and/or have worked on in the past?
I’ve always been very interested in (resistance to) persuasion. What persuades people? Or conversely, how can you make people better equipped to resist persuasion (e.g., peer pressure)? I study the process through which people’s attitudes, beliefs, behavior, and wellbeing are influenced by verbal appeals to logic and reason (e.g., argumentation, message sidedness, message framing, crisis response strategies, advertising disclaimers) and by visual cues (e.g., biophilic design, retouched advertising images). I apply my research to two domains: consumer wellbeing and entrepreneurship.
I hope that our understanding of persuasion can help overcome some of the hurdles that environmental or social activists currently face. Unfortunately, it seems like more and more people become defensive when environmental or social issues are discussed. “Eco” gets a bad rep. This could be because people feel their lifestyle is threatened, or because they feel hopeless or powerless. Understanding and acknowledging these feelings, and knowing how to take down people’s guard when it comes to such issues, could help persuade them to do the right thing, or at least to be conscious of such issues. I hope my future research in marketing can help provide solutions for the greater good.
5. In 2017 and 2018 you were named the Most Influential Professor in Marketing in the Fowler College of Business. In what ways do you hope to influence your students?
I was honored to receive that recognition. I know a lot of faculty work very hard. What I personally do in the classroom, is just be 100% myself. I show my flaws, my joy, my enthusiasm, and my passion for doing the right thing. I never try to be intimidating or authoritarian. That’s just not my style. I try to lead by example, connect with my students one on one, truly try to see things from their perspective as well, and meanwhile I challenge them to unfold their potential. My class (marketing research) is tough (it’s arguably one of the “driest” and most difficult subjects they get), and I set the bar high. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be compassionate, or make the class engaging and fun.
The main way in which I hope to influence my students is to be critically thinking individuals. They don’t all have to follow my opinions. They have to think for themselves. I want to pull them out of apathy. I want them to care. And of course, hopefully those critical-thinking skills will lead them the way to being a more conscious, ethical, and environmentally-minded human being, regardless of where their career takes them.
6. Any tips for students interested in sustainability or students in general?
1) Your job is to be a student. A student per definition studies things. So, your main goal is to learn. Don’t limit yourself to memorizing facts. Become a lifelong learner by opening your mind, staying curious, and always think critically.
2) Spend your time wisely. You can’t get back lost/wasted time. Whatever you’re doing, be fully present while doing it.
7. Do you have a favorite quote, book, song, paper, etc. you would like to share?
Naomi Klein: “Capitalism vs. The Climate - This Changes Everything”
Dr. Richard Oppenlander: “Food Choice and Sustainability: Why Buying Local, Eating Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won't Work”
We can’t just consume our way to a more sustainable world. – Jennifer Nini
8. How does sustainability in the United States compare to other countries you’ve been to?
Coming from Western Europe, and having traveled quite a bit, I can’t help but notice that the United States (even progressive states like California) is often embarrassingly behind on sustainability. Below are a few examples that come to mind.
1) From an environmental sustainability perspective:
- In Belgium, recycling plastic vs. glass vs. paper is taken seriously. You cannot just dump all of those in one blue ‘general recycling’ bin; separating plastic, glass, and paper already starts at home. The city simply won’t pick it up if it’s not in the correct bin. Also, the city gives composting bins to households, and then picks up all the organic waste (food scraps etc.), so composting is self-evident.
- In most European countries, especially Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark, riding a bicycle is a way of life, and often the primary mode of personal transportation. Even police officers ride their bike while on duty. The cities are built for pedestrians and bicyclists first, and circulation plans are put in place to keep cars out of city centers wherever possible. Public transportation is also much more common and better organized. This creates a much cleaner, more livable, safer, and obviously much healthier city.
2) From a social sustainability perspective:
- Health care for all. In Belgium, you contribute about USD $50 per year to the social health care system, and in return you get access to excellent health care (any doctor you want; there’s no such thing as “staying within your plan”). You pay a small co-pay for medical services. Hospitals are generally not run as a for-profit business. Health first, money second.
- In most Western European countries, education is almost free. It is unheard of for a university student to have any debt. By consequence, the playing field is a bit more equal than in the US. This creates less wealth inequality down the road, and generally a more educated population.
9. Moving forward, how will you continue to contribute to sustainability?
Well… I cannot “un-know” what I came to know, and the older I get, the more I care about the wellbeing of people and our planet. I can’t un-see the connections in this world. The disapproval of the status quo, and the compassion I feel for people in need is growing. For me personally, this translates in the following actions and goals for myself:
- More political, social, and environmental activism
- Continue trying to inspire more students and other faculty
- Changing even more about my own lifestyle. Currently, I ride my e-bicycle nearly everywhere, I eat plant-based and organic, about 90% of what I buy is second-hand, I live minimalist and try to consume less (less energy, less fossil fuels, less materialistic goods, less “stuff”). Believe it or not, this lifestyle is actually surprisingly easy, and gives me great joy and mental peace. I don’t have FOMO. In the next few years I would like to move into an off-the-grid tiny house, teach a class about business & sustainability, and grow more of my own food.
Thanks for teaching and researching ways to make our world more environmentally conscious!
Reach Erlinde at [email protected]