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Professor Denise Baden PhD

Professor of Sustainable Business

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Professor Denise Baden is a Professor of Sustainable Business within Southampton Business School at the University of Southampton.

My first degree was in Politics with Economics. My background prior to academia is varied: I spent several years in industry, both employed and running my own business, have been involved in script writing, films and sales and then returned to academia to do a doctorate in psychology, which was awarded in 2002.

I worked in the area of social psychology for 3 years, and then joined the Southampton Business School in 2005, where I have been engaged in research and teaching in the areas of ethics, entrepreneurship, sustainable business and corporate social responsibility to UG, PG and MBA students.

Research interests

Sustainable hairdressing:

I am principal investigator on an ESRC grant: Embedding Sustainability in the Hairdressing Curriculum - Sustainable Solutions for the Hair & Beauty Sector. This follows on from a previous ESRC funded project: ‘Engaging Hairdressers in Pro-environmental behaviours’. As part of this project we have developed a virtual salon training programme and associated sustainable stylist/salon certification see Eco hair and beauty

I was thrilled to win the ESRC Outstanding Impact in Business and Enterprise Award for this research into the environmental impacts of hairdressing. You can see details of what we’ve achieved visit the news story and a short video.

Green Stories writing Competition

This is a project that aims to engage the public in creating positive visions of a sustainable society via a series of creative competitions. visit Greenstories. Our first writing competition asked for short stories set in a sustainable society and Retreat West plan to publish the 20 best stories in an anthology ‘Resurrection Trust’ in Spring 2019. Royalties will be put towards prizes for a series of competitions next year, with more formats (film, screenplays, radio plays, stage plays, TV series, full-length novels etc.)

SMEs and CSR/sustainability:

I have conducted research with businesses on their understanding of Corporate Social Responsibility. A more specific study focussed on SMEs ‘Understanding the attitudes and behaviours of SME owner/managers in response to the inclusion of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) criteria in procurement strategies of large organisations: with consequent practice and policy implications’.

Ethical Issues in news/Positive news:

Additional current projects relate to ethical issues in the news sector, which involved interviewees with news editors and senior journalists from Reuters, BBC, Sky News, Al Jazeera and ‘Positive News as well as freelance journalists. I was awarded an impact grant from the ESRC to disseminate our research outcomes – ‘Updating current ‘news values’ to reflect research on impacts of news presentation on viewers/readers’.You can hear more in the Guardian podcast.

Fidel Castro and leadership style:

I am conducting research in Cuba about Fidel Castro's leadership style and the contrast in leadership style with his brother Raul Castro. See BBC24 interview following Fidel Castro’s death on 26/11/2016 watch Dr Denise Baden battles with the establishment view of Fidel Castro at the BBC on You Tube

This interview was deconstructed by medialens in an article. You can also hear a 5 minute soundscape incorporating interviews with Cubans.

‘Fidel’: a musical by the people:

Inspired by my research trips to Cuba, I decided it was time to make available more objective information about the unique island of Cuba via the medium of a musical project.

For more information visit The Conversation website

In collaboration with the School of Music, I launched a project where we ask students to write songs for a brand new musical about Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution. The next deadline is 3rd April 2017.

I have written the script and provided space for 20 songs. We then judge them and the winners are chosen for the musical. It's been hugely successful with over 750 schools/colleges signed up and some great songs.

For more information visit the Fidel the musical play YouTube page

Visit Fidel the musical website.

Cuban business models:

I am working with colleagues from Kings College London and the International Institute of Cuban Studies, exploring sustainable business models in the biotech sector in Cuba.

Other interests:

Sustainable Business Models; access-based/sharing economy approaches; CSR discourse; efficacy of teaching methods in CSR and ethics; how to embed sustainability practices in corporate policies and HR practices, ethical consumption, moral capital.

I am the Liaison Officer for the UN principles of Responsible Management Education ( and have been involved in integrating issues of ethics, responsibility and sustainability throughout the curriculum. This has also involved developing research networks and collaborations in this area and engaging in outreach activities with local businesses and community organisations, for example a service learning scheme whereby entrepreneurship students worked with local social enterprises as part of their coursework.

I am the founder and Chair of the University of Southampton Green Group, the SBS representative on the University Sustainability Implementation Group and also sit on the Ethics, responsibility and Sustainability Committee.

Four current research projects:

Writing for a better future green stories competition/ Negative bias in the news / Sustainability in Hairdressing project / 'Fidel' a musical by the people for the people

Writing a better future: green stories writing competitions

My research shows that solution based stories, or stories that smuggle in green ideas/characters in the context of an otherwise mainstream story are more likely to inspire greener behaviours than catastrophic tales of climate change. So as a way to raise awareness, I set up the series of free Green Story writing competitions that asks writers to check out potentially transformative solutions on the website Green stories and integrate them into their story. Other competitions have included formats such as stage play, radio play, novel, children’s story, film screenplay, interactive fiction etc.). All are free to enter and we have prizes, a selection of sponsors, judges and agreements from industry contacts to consider top entries (e.g. BBC Writers Room, The Literary Consultancy, Redhammer Literary agents and production companies). Visit Green Stories about us page).


The 20 best stories from the short story competition were published in 2019 in an anthology Resurrection Trust with a foreword by Caroline Lucas MP and review by Jonathon Porritt. The novel Habitat Man about a man who gives up his job to help increase bio diversity in people’s back gardens is a rom-com and is expected to be published late 2021.

Why we are doing this

We are currently living beyond our means – if everyone lived as we do in the UK we’d need 3 planets, so the aim of sustainable development is to find ways of living where there is less wasteful distribution of resources. We need to work out ways that we can all have what we need using fewer resources and be just as happy. The necessary societal transformations to sustainable societies require profound systemic changes across social, cultural, economic, environmental, political and technological domains. But to imagine how all aspects can come together within one society is more the domain of creative fiction. Therefore this competition aims to harness the creative visions of writers to imagine sustainable societies.

Why we ask for a positive view

Stories are powerful means of inspiring positive change. The Black Mirror series reflects anxieties about our future, and climate change discourse further creates fear and avoidance. What we really need are some positive visions that allow potentially transformative solutions to be showcased and played out. The difficulty in promoting sustainable behaviours is that they are often seen negatively as ‘doing without’ and the typical fear-based discourse can turn people off. This matters as in turn, political parties tend not to see environmental issues as ‘vote winners’ which limits potential for green policy making.

Just as some books/films product place products, we aim to ‘product place’ sustainable attitudes behaviours products and policies. The story doesn’t have to be specifically about climate change or catastrophic shortages, it can be any kind of genre – rom com, crime drama, legal drama, children’s book, sci fi etc. as long as it showcases sustainable technologies, practices, products or ideas in the background. Or another acceptable approach could be to focus on characters. Currently characters in fiction who are green/ethical are often portrayed as priggish or aggressive, we’d like to see attractive characters behaving in sustainable ways.

Future competitions

We hope these writing competitions will create a cultural body of work showcasing sustainable solutions. We are keen to hear from any producers, commissioning editors, agents etc.  who can work with us to translate winning entries into actual programmes, films, plays and novels. We’d love to get sponsorship from organisations that share values of sustainability, creativity and positivity to sponsor a prize. We’d also love to hear from well-known authors, script writers or TV personalities with an interest in the environment to present prizes.

Sustainability in Hairdressing project

In 2012 we ran the Green Salon Makeover, working with hairdressers to discover more environmentally friendly hairdressing practices.

Our paper describes our project:

Baden D., Prasad S.  (2014) Applying behavioural theory to the challenge of Sustainable Development: Using hairdressers as diffusers of more sustainable hair-care practices. Journal of Business Ethics.

We now are working with hairdresser trainers to integrate more sustainable practices across the sector – For more information visit Hair and Beauty website

Watch my 13 minute Ted talk: ‘What hairdressers can tell us about sustainability’

We now offer a certification scheme for salons – watch our promo video.

Visit your nearest sustainable salon. If your salon isn’t on there, point them our way on the hair and beauty website

I was thrilled to win the ESRC Outstanding Impact in Business and Enterprise for this research into the environmental impacts of hairdressing. You can see details of what we’ve achieved and a short video here
Our hope now is to internationalise the project,  especially in countries that suffer from water shortages and are keen to hear from hair sector bodies across the world.

A brief synopsis of the two studies into the ethical implications of the negative bias in the news

A brief article on the research has been published in the Conversation visit the story Shock! Horror! Behind the ethics and evolution of the bad news business

Listen to Dr Baden on the Guardian podcast (July 2018) and also BBC Radio 4 'Good News is No News':

Study 1

Sample: 205 respondents, mixed gender, age, nationality, and occupation.

Method: Online survey: quantitative. Respondents exposed to positive and negative versions of similar news stories, e.g.  negative condition: news extract on war in Syria, news extract on destruction of coral reefs; positive condition: news extract on peace talks with Iran, news extract on oceans becoming cleaner. Order counterbalanced: half did positive then negative, and half negative/positive. After each condition respondents described their feelings in their own words, and then on a Likert scale rated how calm/anxious, happy/sad, optimistic/pessimistic they felt. Respondents then rated their behavioural motivations to a) donate to charity (1 much more motivated – 7 much less motivated), b) be environmentally friendly, c) make opinions known,  d) generally to take action to make the world a better place. They also specified which kinds of news – positive or negative – they prefer and which catches their attention and why.

Results: Negative news decreased mood and positive news stories increased positive affect.  But the most interesting finding was that positive news stories gave rise to significantly higher motivation to take positive actions (donate to charity, be environmentally friendly, make opinions known etc.) than negative news stories. Another pertinent finding was that in the positive condition there was a significant and strong positive correlation between how positive their mood was and how motivated they were to take positive action. Conversely, in the negative condition there was an inverse correlation, and the more anxious/pessimistic/sad the stories made them feel, the less motivated they were to take action.  Finally there was an overwhelming stated preference for positive news stories over negative news stories, although most respondents said negative stories were slightly more likely to grab their attention.

Study 2

Sample:  15 high quality interviewees from key players in the news industry: news editor from BBC Radio 4 news, head of BBC online news, news editor from regional BBC, one journalist from regional BBC),  news editor of Reuters, 2 Reuters journalists, news editor from Positive News, 4 freelance journalists, journalist from Al Jazeera, news editor from Sky News.

Method: news editors and journalists whose job it is to decide what is in the news were interviewed on the subject of what is newsworthy, ethical issues in the news, and issues related to the negative bias in the news.

Results: although all interviewees thought that they and their colleagues had high professional integrity and held the ethical codes of journalism relating to objectivity, freedom from bias etc. close to their hearts, there was little to no awareness of the negative bias in the news and its potential consequences. It was clear in the interviews that information was routinely selected to give an unbalanced picture of the world. For example several examples that came up in the interviews showed how news is selected to make it appear that hospitals are performing worse than they are, that crime is worse than it is etc. It was also clear that even the journalists themselves often found the gruesome content of war images distressing but still thought it their duty to portray them as uncensored as possible to the public. Justifications were related to duty to hold those in power to account, to inform so that public can take action, and that negative news sells, and public are free not to consume it if they don’t want to.  The news editor from positive news and some of the freelance journalists believed that the adversarial relationship between the media and politicians hindered good democracy, negative bias in the news created feelings of disengagement and powerlessness and that backlash against positive news as being fluffy or propaganda had gone too far in the other direction.

These results can be discussed in light of research that shows that we are biologically adapted to pay attention to alarming information, so freedom of choice to switch off negative news is compromised, and in light of research showing stated preferences for positive news, and mental health effects relating to consumption of negative news.

'Fidel' a musical by the people for the people

Inspired by my research trips to Cuba, I decided it was time to make available more objective information about the unique island of Cuba as so much misinformation has been spread. See:

Baden D, and Wilkinson S: (2014) Socially responsible enterprise in Cuba: a positive role model for CSR? International Journal of Cuban Studies. Vol. 6(1) p55-86.

Wilson, M., Baden, D., & Wilkinson, S. (2020). Towards ecological public health? Cuba’s moral economy of food and agriculture. Third World Quarterly, 41(11), 1793-1808.

Baden, D. and S. Wilkinson: 2021, 'Corporate Social Responsibility Cuban Style', In Idowu, S. O. (Ed.), Global practices of CSR (Springer International, Switzerland).

You can hear a 5 minute voicescape of interviews done with Cubans about Fidel Castro on YouTube.

However, I thought it might be fun to take a more innovative approach to disseminating information, so in collaboration with the School of Music, I launched a project where we asked students to write songs for a new musical about Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution.

I wrote the script and provided space for 20 songs, and we asked music students (often in collaboration with English, History, Politics, Spanish students for the lyrics) to submit songs. This was hugely successful with over 800 schools signed up, and our top song from the musical - the spine-tingling live version of Hasta la Victoria written by Alfie Aukett and gut-wrenchingly  sung by Ralph Skan was released.  It's available to buy from all online music sites for 99p. The first act is complete (90Mins) and functions as a self-contained musical and is free for schools/colleges/theatre groups to put on. 

This gave rise to numerous events, from an X-Factor style event where the public voted for the songs, to a performance at a local school, and culminating in a full show at Iris Theatre, Covent Garden, London in Nov 2017 visit Fidel the musical website. Musicals are an expensive business but if funding were made available, we would be delighted to organise more performances.

Professor Denise Baden
Southampton Business School, University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK

Room Number : 2/5012

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