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Sustainability strategies and innovations in professional service firms: a microfoundations perspective

Birmingham Business School

, Dr Emma Gardner Friday, April 30, 2021 Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Birmingham Business School (BBS) is renowned for the quality of its research. A Birmingham Business School Doctoral Scholarship is available to a candidate of the highest academic calibre who wishes to conduct doctoral-level study on a topic within the research areas of Strategy and International Business.


The global professional services industries - e.g. consulting, law, accounting and IT - have been one of the most resilient industries despite the onslaught of the COVID crisis and subsequent global economic slowdowns. Their strategies have pivoted rapidly in response to the diverse needs of their clients during the pandemic. Whilst business has been good for those at the top of these firms, there have been worrying signs of warnings emerging from the lower ranks as junior consultants have been suffering burnout after working longer hours related to shifting to remote working, sparking fears of mental health problems, even suicide, amongst younger professionals.


On the face of it, the world’s four largest professional services firms (PSFs) have recently committed to producing net-zero carbon emissions in the next decade as a way of restoring their reputations amongst clients, and indeed opening up new lines of business. However, this commitment requires strategic transformation to their business models regarding carbon intensive activities and consumption. Moreover, providing tailored advice and solutions is the main business of these firms, but the extent to which this advice is infused with a focus on responsibility or sustainability has always been unclear. There have been, for instance, a number of accounting scandals linked to the Big Four of Deloitte, EY, PwC and KPMG. These incidences raise important research questions around sustainability, responsible management, and the delivery of professional services and this also includes the working culture, management, and strategy of these organisations.


Taking a microfoundations perspective, which theoretically focuses on the influence of individual actions and interactions on firm heterogeneity, this thesis aims to provide an employee-level view of design and engagement in sustainability initiatives, strategies and related innovations as they happen down-the-ranks in professional service firms where clients’ advice and solutions form. Empirical contributions here will fill an important knowledge gap and contribute enormously to understanding how sustainability strategies are enacted, innovated and implemented in professional service firms.


How to apply

Potential candidates for the Birmingham Business School Doctoral Scholarship must have an offer of a place to study for a PhD. If you do not already have an offer, you must apply by 30 April 2021 and mark your electronic application Birmingham Business School Scholarships.  At the same time, you should send a separate Birmingham Business School Scholarship application form, which can be downloaded along with your research proposal, to Dr Danny McGowan, Director of the Doctoral Programme () and mark your email ‘Birmingham Business School Scholarships’. 

For further information on the application process, please contact the Business School: .

Funding Notes

A full scholarship is equivalent to an ESRC studentship and covers home fees (£4,500 p.a.) plus a living allowance (stipend) of £15,609 per annum for three years, subject to satisfactory progress. For applicants outside the UK or without settled status, a full scholarship equates normally to £20,109 covering full fees and providing a contribution towards living expenses.

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