All-Consuming Research: Karen Winterich
We are starting a new series to showcase Smeal faculty whose research and/or teaching advances the theory and practice of sustainable business.
It is a great pleasure and honor to interview faculty from every department who are involved with companies and organizations around the world. Check out the whole series (which is just getting started).
This week features Karen Winterich, Professor of Marketing, Frank and Mary Smeal Research Fellow
Can you describe your teaching and/or research responsibilities at Smeal?
I developed a course on Sustainability Marketing (BA442: Sustainable Behavior of Consumers, Firms, and Societies) in 2013 and teach it each spring. While I was always interested in research on prosocial behavior, teaching this course has ignited specific interest in sustainability research questions.
There is rapid change in sustainability initiatives both at the business and consumer level. It can be a challenge to keep up, but it is a very exciting field.
The opportunity and the urgency for sustainability marketing.
While global middle class is expected to triple by 2030 and low-income consumers represent a market of US$ 5 trillion, natural resource consumption is expected to rise to 170% of the Earth’s bio-capacity by 2040 and already 60% of the Earth’s ecosystem services have been degraded in the past 50 years (World Business Council on Sustainable Development, 2008).
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I grew up in the country, playing outside without much technology (only 2 TV stations from a “bunny ear” antenna) while many of my friends were watching TV and playing video games. I think this has given me an appreciation for our natural environment. I also worked as a supermarket cashier for several years in high school and college and was always observing customer behaviors.
So my interest in sustainable consumer behavior is natural for me. Professionally, I did my doctoral work at the University of Pittsburgh and then spent my first three years as a faculty at Texas A&M University where I had amazing research support. From there, I returned to my home state of Pennsylvania when I joined Penn State.
Describe your research/area of expertise and why it matters to business and the marketplace? Consumers are overwhelmed with information and have limited time so even when they want to do the “right thing” for the environment, it’s difficult for them to know what to do. I try to understand little nudges that can help consumers engage in beneficial behaviors so companies can incorporate these in their messaging.
For example, consumers often struggle to let go of unused possessions but something as simple as prompting consumers to take a photo of an unused possession helps them part with the good and place it back in the secondary (used good) marketplace.
"I try to understand little nudges that can help consumers engage in beneficial behaviors so companies can incorporate these in their messaging."
And finally, how should others learn more about you and your area of expertise?
You can check out my profile on the Smeal website, which has my CV. It may be outdated by a couple months or so, but I try to update it when I remember. Most of my research is available on SSRN as well if you’re interested in learning more.