This proposed PhD project involves investigating how consumers take their purchasing decisions for carbon-intensive products, from washing machines and televisions to cars, on a product comparison website. The findings will be used to nudge consumers towards more environmentally friendly choices, in collaboration with a fast-growing start-up founded to achieve precisely that. The project will suit a candidate with expertise in statistics and the analysis of large datasets, and with interest in applying these skills to sustainable consumer behaviour. Read more Read less


Sponsored by Enervee, a growing US-based company which nudges consumers towards greener product choices, this PhD scholarship will provide a stipend of £16,296 (tax free) plus PhD fees for four years.

Entry Requirements

Applicants should have a first or upper second class UK honours degree or equivalent in mathematics or statistics, or a related discipline using statistics such as engineering. You may also have a masters in statistics or a related discipline, and/or industry experience in the use of large datasets and in statistical analysis. It’s clearly essential that you find the topic of sustainability marketing interesting; you won’t necessarily have past exposure to this field, though. You should be self-motivated, have good communication skills, and have the considerable determination needed to complete a PhD. You will wish to extend your skills by engaging in a topic in depth and advancing knowledge in the field. This PhD would suit a subsequent career as an academic or practitioner in marketing, statistics or sustainability.


UK, EU, international

At a glance

  • Application deadline30 Jun 2017
  • Start date01 Oct 2017
  • Duration of award4 years
  • Reference numberSOM0002


Professor Hugh Wilson  - Professor of Strategic Marketing

Professor Emma Macdonald - Professor of Marketing

More about this project

The world has some stretching targets to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to keep climate change manageable. The EU, for example, is committed to a reduction of 80% by 2050. Households produce almost as much as businesses, with 15% of total emissions versus 17% for businesses outside energy generation & transport in the UK in 2014 (Department for Energy & Climate Change 2015). Yet while most larger organisations now have carbon reduction programmes (including Cranfield, in a programme started by one of the supervisors of this proposed PhD), most households do not. Exhortations for consumers to change their behaviour based on moral appeals (Stern et al. 1999) might succeed in changing intentions, but make very little difference to consumer behaviour, except in a small deep green segment (White and Simpson 2013). Similar problems apply to the information-based paradigm of providing consumers with better labelling (Banerjee and Solomon 2003).

There are three fundamental problems with prior research on green consumption that have contributed to this situation. First, most academic research on ecological behaviour ironically lacks ecological validity: it is carried out in laboratories or in surveys of students, and fails to translate to the shopping centre or the home. Second, the dependent variable in the great majority of studies is not behaviour (such as whether you buy a low-carbon fridge or a high-carbon one) but behavioural intention. Yet in sustainable consumer behaviour, the intention-behaviour gap (Vermeir and Verbeke 2006) is better described as a chasm. Third, the levers researchers pull are old and tired. Dominated by the Theory of Planned Behaviour (Ajzen 1991), the common assumption of most research is that sustainable behaviour needs to start with altruistic values, which the sustainable marketer should appeal to through a mixture of ethical appeal and rational evidence.

This Cranfield research programme aims to address all of these issues. Access to real-world behavioural data of regular consumers is provided through our collaboration with Enervee, a fast-growing start-up which specialises in nudging consumers towards greener product choices when buying online. Enervee provides major utilities with white-labelled websites so that they can promote products such as freezers, cookers, heaters and televisions. This provides data on 20,000 consumers’ journeys on these websites every day. Cranfield’s collaboration with Enervee allows us to observe consumer behaviour in the real world and model what leads to low-carbon choices. Furthermore, it allows us to conduct field experiments to isolate what variables impact on consumer behaviour: its founders include four PhDs, including a prize-winning Cranfield PhD graduate, and they are committed to underpinning everything they do with the best available evidence.

We call for applicants who would like to help us make use of this opportunity to test and refine existing approaches to green marketing. This requires some expertise in handling large datasets and in statistics. An interest in the topic of sustainable consumer behaviour is also clearly helpful, though prior knowledge of this area is optional.  With the help of consumer psychologists at Enervee and Cranfield, we hope to address the third problem we have identified in the existing research base: an over-reliance on a small number of only partially effective mechanisms such as appeals to consumer conscience and better labelling. Promising areas include the following:

  • The role of positive emotions. Much existing green marketing focuses on negative emotions such as guilt (Hibbert et al. 2007). Yet Cranfield research suggests that engendering pride in what you do right, rather than just guilt in what you do wrong, may be more effective (Antonetti and Maklan 2014; Rowe et al. 2017). Can this be leveraged at scale? How can positive emotions best be engendered and used?
  • Descriptive norms. Much of green marketing appeals to injunctive norms—what society says is the right thing to do (Reed, Aquino & Levy 2007). Yet findings from behavioural economics research suggest that descriptive norms—what behaviours seem common in others—are at least as powerful (Cialdini, Reno & Kallgren 1990). How can these best be used to influence product choice?
  • Creating social identities. Most social appeals rely on norms at the level of society as a whole. Social identity theory suggests, though, that we are even more strongly influenced by the desire to belong in more specific groups, from marketing academics to Manchester United supporters. Furthermore, these groups can be created for the specific purpose of influencing consumer behaviour—according to Cranfield’s laboratory research, at least (Champniss, Wilson and Macdonald 2015). Can these forces be used by online retailers to engender a sustainable product choice?
  • Mental accounting. People are irrational about money in a variety of ways. For example, they ascribe more value to thing that they possess than an equivalent that they do not possess; they weigh losses irrationally high relative to gains; and they respond more to perceived changes than to absolute levels (Thaler 2008). How can these effects best be used to nudge consumers towards the right choice for them and for the planet?

The student will be based at the Cranfield School of Management’s Sustainability Network, a cross-functional group of academics addressing the world’s sustainability challenges. The project will involve close collaboration with the Enervee team in Europe and the US. The results will instantly impact on Enervee’s efforts to reduce household carbon footprint. They will also be communicated through academic and practitioner publications to help adoption of new practices by other utilities, retailers and policy-makers.


Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50(2), 179–211.

Antonetti, P., & Maklan, S. (2014). Feelings that Make a Difference: How Guilt and Pride Convince Consumers of the Effectiveness of Sustainable Consumption Choices. Journal of Business Ethics, 124(1), 117–134.

Banerjee, A., & Solomon, B. D. (2003). Eco-labeling for energy efficiency and sustainability: a meta-evaluation of US programs. Energy Policy, 31(2), 109-123.

Champniss, G., Wilson, H. N., & Macdonald, E. K. (2015). Why Your Customers’ Social Identities Matter. Harvard Business Review, 93(1/2), 88-96.

Cialdini, R., Reno, R., & Kallgren, C. (1990). A Focus Theory of Normative Conduct: Recycling the Concept of Norms to Reduce Littering in Public Spaces. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58(2), 1015–1026.

Department for Energy & Climate Change (2015). 2014 UK Greenhouse Gas Emissions – Provisional Figures, 31/3/15. Downloaded from, 30/8/16.

Hibbert, S., Smith, A., Davies, A., & Ireland, F. (2007). Guilt Appeals: Persuasion Knowledge and Charitable Giving. Psychology & Marketing, 24(8), 723–742.

Reed, A., Aquino, K., & Levy, E. (2007). Moral Identity and Judgments of Charitable Behaviors. Journal of Marketing, 71(1), 178–193.

Rowe, Z., Wilson, H., Dimitriu, R., Breiter, K. & Charnley, F. (2017). The best I can be: Self-accountability in online sustainable product choice. In press for Psychology & Marketing.

Stern, P. C., Dietz, T., Abel, T., Guagnano, G. A., & Kalof, L. (1999). A value-belief-norm theory of support for social movements: The case of environmentalism. Human Ecology Review, 6(2), 81–97.

Thaler, R. H. (2008). Mental accounting and consumer choice. Marketing Science, 27(1), 15-25.

Vermeir, I., & Verbeke, W. (2006). Sustainable food consumption: Exploring the consumer “attitude–behavioral intention” gap. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 19(2), 169-194.

White, K., & Simpson, B. (2013). When Do (and Don’t) Normative Appeals Influence Sustainable Consumer Behaviors?  Journal of Marketing, 77(2), 78–95.

PhDs at Cranfield

Cranfield’s Management Doctoral Training Centre provides a strong programme of doctoral training in the core skills needed to succeed in a PhD. Along with this Doctoral Researchers Core Development Programme, a panel of academics supports every student throughout their studies. A vibrant research culture includes numerous seminars and other events, providing a wealth of networking and social opportunities. Find out more about studying for a PhD at Cranfield.

How to apply

  1. Please email the School of Management’s Research Office at (Debbie Bramwell or a colleague) with a CV and a brief note explaining why this PhD is of interest.
  2. You will be informed whether or not you are longlisted within about a week.
  3. Longlisted candidates will be provided with a full application form. The deadline to submit this full application form is 30 June 2017.
  4. You will be informed whether or not you are shortlisted by 7 July 2017.
  5. Shortlisted candidates will be invited to interview on 19 July 2017. If it’s not convenient to be in the UK, a Skype interview is possible. (If this date is not possible for you, please let the research office know.)
  6. If you have any queries at any stage, please ask, or ring them on  +44(0)1234 751122 (ask for the management research office).