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  The Role of Marketing in Driving Sustainable Business and Consumption

   Faculty of Business and Law

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  Dr Karen Middleton, Dr Judith Fletcher-Brown, Dr Helen Thompson-Whiteside  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Applications are invited for a self-funded, 3 year full-time or 6 year part-time PhD project.

The PhD will be based in the School of Strategy, Marketing and Innovation and will be supervised by Dr Karen Middleton, Dr Judith Fletcher-Brown and Dr Helen Thompson-Whiteside.

The work on this project will:

  • Contribute towards the development of broad understanding of sustainable marketing, consumption and business practices and how these inter-relate
  • Advance knowledge on of the role of business in addressing societal grand challenges
  • Cover a multi-method and multi-disciplinary approach spanning marketing, management, consumption and sustainability. 

Project description

There is growing academic interest in management for social impact (Business Roundtable 2019; Siemieniako et al., 2021), alongside burgeoning understanding of the capacity of business to shape and influence not just the marketplace but societal structures and consumers’ lives (Middleton and Turnbull 2021). The sharing and alignment of the goals of academic research and market stakeholders and practitioners has become ever more urgent in the quest to find practical solutions to the pressing, hands-on problems that may arise directly from business and consumption practices, for example, meeting carbon net zero targets (United Nations 2022) or child labour and slavery (Food Empowerment Project 2022).

The idea of brands having a greater social purpose and mission has gained traction. However, to date, few organisations appear to have an adequate, holistic vision for creating durable, societal and environmental wellbeing at the heart of their business models. Brand purpose advertising campaigns are very often met with accusations of greenwashing (Olsen 2022; Vrendenburg et al., 2020; Pimonenko et al., 2020), for instance, BP’s ‘Beyond Petroleum’ advertisements that focused on low-carbon energy products when more than 96% of its annual spend was on oil and gas (Earth Org 2022). Nevertheless, as a conduit between organisations, stakeholders and brands, marketing has a significant role to play when it comes to promoting and driving social justice and sustainable business and consumption. Advertising practitioners mediate iteratively between consumption and production, and culture and economy (Smith Maguire, 2010). As such, advertising has a recursive relationship with society (Middleton and Turnbull, 2021) and is a pervasive and omnipresent “sociopolitical ritual in which shared values are dramatised” (Sherry, 1987, p.448). 

With rising consumer consciousness and increasing demands on businesses towards more transparency, this research will consider the possibilities for marketing and advertising to drive a transition to sustainable and regenerative business and consumption. More specifically, it asks does purpose-led branding offer an impetus for companies to not only communicate their responsible and sustainable practices, but to create real, lasting change as they follow through on the promises they make?

General admissions criteria

You'll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (minimum upper second class or equivalent, depending on your chosen course) or a Master’s degree in XXX or a related area. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or Qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

Specific candidate requirements 

You’ll need a passionate interest in marketing and corporate sustainability, with the drive and ability to undertake research work independently. We are seeking an individual with tenacity and confidence to see the project through to success, alongside a willingness to work on sensitive topics. 

How to Apply

We’d encourage you to contact Dr Karen Middleton ([Email Address Removed]) to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code.

When you are ready to apply, please follow the 'Apply now' link on the Marketing PhD subject area page and select the link for the relevant intake. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV. Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process. 

Please also include a research proposal of 1,000 words outlining the main features of your proposed research design – including how it meets the stated objectives, the challenges this project may present, and how the work will build on or challenge existing research in the above field. 

When applying please quote project code: SM&I4981024

Business & Management (5)

Funding Notes

Funding Availability: Self-funded PhD students only
PhD full-time and part-time courses are eligible for the UK Government Doctoral Loan (conditions apply).


-Business Roundtable (2019). Business Roundtable Redefines the Purpose of a Corporation
-Earth Org (2021). Greenwashing companies.
Food Empowerment Project (2022).
-Middleton, K. & Turnbull, S. (2021). How advertising got ‘woke’: The institutional role of advertising in the emergence of gender progressive market logics and practices. Marketing Theory, 21(4), 561–578.
-Olson, E.L., 2022. ‘Sustainable’ marketing mixes and the paradoxical consequences of good intentions. Journal of Business Research, 150, pp.389-398.
-Sherry, J. F. (1987). Advertising as a cultural system. Marketing and semiotics: New directions in the study of signs for sale, in Umiker-Sebeok, J. (ed.), 441–62. Berlin: Mouton.
-Siemieniako, D., Kubacki, K., & Mitręga, M. (2021). Inter-organisational relationships for social impact: A systematic literature review. Journal of Business Research, 132, 453-469.
-Smith Maguire, J. (2010). Provenance and The Liminality of Production and Consumption: The Case of Wine Promoters. Marketing Theory, 10(3), 269–82.
-United Nations (2022). Net Zero Coalition.
-Vredenburg, J., Kapitan, S., Spry, A. and Kemper, J.A., 2020. Brands taking a stand: Authentic brand activism or woke washing?. Journal of public policy & marketing, 39(4), pp.444-460.