The purpose of the Real-world Sustainability Research Team 

While both academics and practitioners spend their time trying to understand and tackle environmental behaviour in multiple contexts they often do this in isolation from one another. This often results in differences between their approaches, and means that they do not take time to appreciate each other’s skills and experience or utilise these to make greater steps towards sustainability. For example, academics often struggle to access real world data, while practitioners work with this type of data every day. Practitioners may not have depth in their data collection and analysis skills, something key to academic research.

To overcome these gaps between academic and practitioner approaches and to build on the skills and experience of each group, the real-world sustainability research team was formed in 2012, as a collaboration between GAP and academics in the fields of consumer behaviour and psychology, ethics, social marketing, environmental communications and behaviour change.

The group has the overall objective to “jointly increase the environmental and social impact of the group’s activities” and does this through:

  1. Developing and applying new research. By cultivating collaboration between practitioners and academics, new approaches can be taken from academic work and applied to real world settings and real world experiences can in turn inform academic development. This leads to an exchange of expertise, knowledge and data, which alongside mutual support, further advances research in the field of behaviour change.
  2. Increasing the availability of robust field data. This involves academics and practitioners working together to best capture how, and in what ways environmental behaviour change is happening. Through consistency of tools, skills development and method training this will allow more robust data to be captured and be available for deeper analysis by the group.
  3. Sharing best practice and group findings. As well as applying novel approaches, and utilising the most robust methodologies the group seeks to publish and communicate their findings. This sharing is motivated by the wish to inform best practice and provide insight to sector influencers, while also contributing to the advancement of academic knowledge and literature. Additionally, this builds the group’s and participating individuals’ credentials in the field through their research, programmes, published literature and contributions to the behaviour change field and practice.

Team outcomes/outputs

The group has been working together since 2012 and as a result has had a number of outputs/contributions as it works on applying new research, increasing the availability of robust field data and sharing best practices. A summary of these are detailed below.

Developing and applying new research:

With the combination of robust and extensive field data, collected in real organisations alongside academic analysis, the group has been successful in developing new research areas. An analysis of data from several different organisations has shown that one size does not fit all in employee environmental behaviour and each intervention needs to be tailored to the sector, organisation and even at site level (Manika, Wells, Gregory-Smith and Gentry, 2015).

The group’s work has also highlighted the importance of measuring both actual and reported behaviour change from an intervention. Work with a UK council led to the discovery that individuals may begin to underestimate the behaviour change they have gone through, reporting less recycling and energy-saving behaviour after an intervention, even when the actual behavioural data shows a clear and strong behaviour change (Gregory-Smith, Wells, Manika and Graham, 2015). The group’s work has also highlighted the importance of longitudinal and mixed methods research and is more fully and deeply understanding the impact of interventions targeting employees’ environmental behaviour.

Building on this work, the members of the RWSRT group are currently working on two project funding applications related to “Successful sustainable behaviour change interventions in care homes” and “Developing practical and robust measures for environmentally friendly behaviour in the workplace”. They are also editing a “Handbook of Employee Pro-Environmental Behaviour” to be published by Edward Elgar Publishing, which will feature some case studies from GAP’s and the team’s previous projects and outputs.

Increasing the availability of robust field data: 

The focus and output of this part of the project has been based on skills and methodological development. This has been facilitated through a number of training lunch and learn sessions which have sought to develop skills and experience in survey design, theories and models of behaviour change, the research process, data and statistical analysis and a range of qualitative and quantitative approaches. The group has also sought to focus on the advantages of mixed methods research and has allowed joint design of surveys and joint design of a monitoring and evaluation strategy between GAP and the academic partners.

Sharing best practice and group findings: 

The group has shared its work in a wide range of outlets and forms. This has included written academic output where the groups work has been published in a wide range of internationally recognised academic journals such as Tourism Management, Journal of Marketing Management and the Journal of Business Ethics.

The group has also presented its work at a range of UK and international conferences and symposium including the American Marketing Association Winter Marketing Educators Conference, the Academy of Marketing Science World Congress, the European Marketing Association Conference and the UK Academy of Marketing.

In 2014 Victoria Wells and Sonja Graham spoke at the Durham University Business School (DUBS) and Durham Energy Institute (DEI) Corporate Forum on the subject of driving behavioural change in organisation. In 2015 Victoria Wells was asked to speak about the group’s work at the British Academy of Management (BAM) workshop on Social Marketing and Behaviour Change at Queen Mary University of London.

This year Victoria Wells was an invited speaker at Hong Kong Baptist University and will deliver a keynote at the European Social Marketing Association conference in Finland.


Gregory-Smith, D., Wells, V., Manika, D. & Mcleroy, D. (2017) – “An Environmental Social Marketing Intervention in Cultural Heritage Tourism: a Realist Evaluation”, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, special issue “Marketing Issues in Sustainable Tourism”; DOI: 10.1080/09669582.2017.1288732

Gregory-Smith, D., Manika, D., Wells, V. & Veitch, T. (forthcoming/2017) – “Examining the Effect of an Environmental Social Marketing Intervention among University Employees”, Studies in Higher Education.

Gregory-Smith, D, Wells, V.K, Manika, D & Graham, S. (2015). An environmental social marketing intervention among employees: Assessing attitude and behaviour change. Journal of Marketing Management, 31(3-4), 336-377. doi: 10.1080/0267257X.2014.971045

Manika, D, Wells, V.K, Gregory-Smith, D & Gentry, M. (2015). The impact of individual attitudinal and organisational variables on workplace environmentally friendly behaviours. Journal of Business Ethics, 126(4), 663- 684. doi: 10.1007/s10551-013-1978-6

Team member profiles

Prof Victoria Wells

Prof Victoria Wells, Professor of Marketing and Consumer Behaviour, Sheffield University Management School

Victoria Wells is a professor of marketing and consumer behaviour at Sheffield University Management School having previously held posts at Durham University and Cardiff University.

She has also worked in advertising as an account executive. Her research is focused on multiple aspects of responsible marketing and consumer behaviour with a focus on pro-environmental behaviour.

She is also director of the CReiMS research centre at Sheffield University Management School. Her work within the RWSRT focuses on workplace/employee pro-environmental behaviour and in particular how employees can be encouraged and supported to make environmental decisions and choices more easily.

For an introduction to this work, view the following video:

Dr Diana Gregory-Smith, Senior Lecturer in Marketing, University of Birmingham, Birmingham Business School

Dr Diana Gregory-Smith is a Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in Marketing at Birmingham Business School. Prior to joining the University of Birmingham, she has worked as a Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Sheffield and the University of Durham.

Her research interests lie in the areas of consumer psychology, sustainable and ethical behaviour, and social/health marketing. Diana’s research projects have been published in wide range of academic journals and she has received funding from the Economic and Social Research Council for organising a series of workshops debating issues related to “Innovating for a Low Carbon Economy”.

She is currently working with GAP and its international offices on a project related to “Developing Tools for Efficient Environmental Interventions”.

Dr Danae Manika, Senior Lecturer in Marketing, School of Business & Management, Queen Mary University of London

Danae Manika is a Lecturer in Marketing in the School of Business and Management at Queen Mary University of London.

She has previously held posts at Durham University and University of Texas at Austin, USA (where she also received her PhD). She has also worked as an Account Planning Intern in DDB New York and Latinworks, Texas, advertising agencies.

Danae specialises on health and environmental behaviour change and communications. Danae was awarded with a QMUL Innovation Funding Award (£8,421) in 2014-15 for a secondment within GAP to help evaluate the wider (patient and societal) impacts of GAP’s operation TLC programmes and its interventions to establish energy reduction practice within the NHS.

She continues to work within the RWRST on linking sustainability with healthcare, among other behaviour change projects.

Sonja Graham, Managing Partner, Global Action Plan (GAP)

Sonja’s aim in life is to show that the sustainable choice is the better choice, rather than the “green” one. With a background in psychology, she specialises in the design of behaviour change programmes that reduce environmental impact. Recent programmes include Water Explorer – a schools programme engaging over 60,000 students in 11 countries and UK’s Greenest Grocer – an internal energy efficiency programme that is saving Sainsbury’s supermarkets £millions and 000sTCO2 every year.

As Managing Partner, Sonja is focused on scaling Global Action Plan’s profile and impact. Prior to joining GAP Sonja set up a behaviour change unit for a carbon consultancy and held a number of roles at an energy company delivering global HSE training, environmental communications, change management and GHG reduction projects.

Page last updated September 2016.

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