PhD: A critical evaluation of water consumption behaviours in relation to geodemographic profiling and the effectiveness of targeted conservation campaigns: a case study of Portsmouth Water

University of Portsmouth

Portsmouth, UK 🇬🇧

Funding: Funded

Project code: SEGG7840423

Department: School of the Environment, Geography, and Geosciences

Start dates: October 2023

Closing date: 6 April 2023

Applications are invited for a fully-funded three-year PhD to commence in October 2023.

The PhD will be based in the Faculty of Science and Health, and will be supervised by Dr Brian BailyDr Julia Brown and Dr Ana Gheorghiu.

Candidates applying for this project may be eligible to compete for one of a small number of bursaries available. Successful applicants will receive a bursary to cover tuition fees for three years and a stipend in line with the UKRI rate (£17,668 for 2022/23). Bursary recipients will also receive a contribution of £1,500 p.a. towards consumables, conference, project or training costs.

The work on this project could involve:

  • Identifying current attitudes and awareness of water conservation issues and water literacy levels among Portsmouth Water consumers.
  • Use of secondary datasets to determine if place context (i.e. deprivation context and ACORN) can be used to explain/predict household water demand.
  • Co-designing with representative households targeted messaging to test their impact on attitudes and behaviours towards water conservation. 

Whilst the UK is often viewed as a water rich country, the reality is that availability of water is spatially uneven and climate change and is seeing a decline in water security and corresponding increase in water stress and scarcity, particularly in Eastern and Southern England (WRSE, 2022). Concern is also growing over increasing abstraction levels by water companies to meet growing demand and the impact on habitats. This is notable for Portsmouth Water because it abstracts water from ecologically sensitive and globally unique chalk streams and associated aquifers (80% are found within England) (WWF, 2014).  The range of options available to Portsmouth Water to augment supplies are limited, and as part of its regional plan (WRSE, 2022) Portsmouth Water is looking to manage consumer demand and reduce per capita consumption, but without the power to increase prices to lower demand.  The average water costs per household in the UK are £408 per annum (2021/22 (Water UK, 2022) which is widely seen as being too low to influence economic water saving behaviours. Portsmouth Water will be rolling out water metres and offering customers free water saving devices (the latter is voluntary) across the region (Portsmouth Water, 2022). This research, working closely with Portsmouth Water, seeks to explore the potential of targeted marketing strategies based on the application of geodemographics to affect behaviour change around water use in a bid to lower per capita consumption. The project will adopt a co-design approach with representatives of different kinds of households across the operational area of Portsmouth Water to test the most effective triggers of behaviour change. The project will make important contributions to the academic literature by empirically testing theories of environmental messaging (Unsworth, 2021; Whitmarsh et al., 2022).  

Entry requirements

Close allGeneral admissions

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 an appropriate subject. 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

A background in environmental and human geography or related subject would be a benefit for this project that utilises a mixed methods approach. We are seeking someone who is confident with geodemographics and statistical analysis. Basic understanding of GIS would be useful. Some experience of conducting semi-structured interviews or focus groups would also be an advantage.

How to apply

We’d encourage you to contact Dr Brian Baily ( to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code.

When you are ready to apply, you can use our online application form. 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.

If you want to be considered for this funded PhD opportunity you must quote project code SEGG7840423 when applying.





IHE Delft MSc in Water and Sustainable Development