Sustainability in Britain’s pub industry: exploring the social, economic and environmental impacts of different pub models
- Start date: 1 January 2022
- End date: 31 August 2023
- Principal investigator: Dr Zlatko Bodrožić
- Co-investigators: Dr Nicky Shaw; Dr Charles Umney
This project will analyse the strengths and weaknesses of different pub models, considering how these differences lead to variation in economic, social and environmental outcomes for pubs and the communities they serve.
During the last decades pubs have moved from a taken-for-granted British institution to an industry in decline. The recent development of the industry has been characterised by creative destruction (Schumpeter, 1942). It is dominated by corporate pub chains (e.g., Heineken UK, Wetherspoons) (Mount and Cabras, 2016), which rely on a “business process” approach (Bodrožić and Adler, 2018), often involving ICT-enabled rationalization, extensive restructuring and outsourcing. From an employer’s perspective, this approach may save costs and increase economies of scale, and thus form a robust basis for economic sustainability.
However, the corporate pub model may have more problematic implications for workers, communities, and the environment. Low pay remains a problem in corporate pubs, while trends towards more flexible opening hours and shift patterns may increase the unpredictability of workers’ schedules and accelerate casualisation. The corporate model enables unprofitable pubs to be identified and closed irrespective of their roots in local communities. Given that many pubs played the role of emergency hubs during the pandemic, there are potentially severe implications for collective wellbeing—and the social sustainability of rural and less affluent communities. Following COP26, legislation is likely to follow requiring enterprises to lower their carbon footprint, but it is unclear how corporate pubs can respond to this challenge.
Are there alternative pub models which be more socially and environmentally sustainable? Community pubs, often run as cooperatives, have emerged in recent years (for example https://www.pubisthehub.org.uk/). These ostensibly emphasise a “community of purpose” (Bodrožić and Adler, forthcoming). In other words, they purport to focus more on social value creation by strengthening human involvement, the voice of the worker, and ties to local communities. Yet, there is little investigation into how the community pub model differs empirically from the corporate chains in these respects, particularly in a post-Covid era. How these different pub models contribute to environmental sustainability also remains unexplored.
This research will generate impact in a number of ways:
- For pubs: We will produce a rich overview of benefits and pitfalls of different pub models, enabling pubs to identify pathways towards more balanced and sustainable futures
- For pub workers and their representatives: We will seek to strengthen their voice in influencing pub models. We will highlight models of best practice which appear most beneficial from the perspective of pub workers, and develop pathways through which theycan be operationalised more broadly.
- For communities: We will identify how community pub models might benefit local areas and reduce the risk of closure or downsizing. We will make policy recommendations to preserve and strengthen the role of pubs in local communities.
- For policy/society: We will produce a rich overview of benefits and pitfalls of different pub models, enabling policy actors to be better-informed about the implication of current trends in the sector. We will provide insight into which models merit public and policy support and help provide a roadmap for a more sustainable futures for pubs.