Philanthropy, hotel design and sustainability at Italy’s first B-Corp hotel - the Palazzo dell'Agricoltore

The School of Hospitality and Tourism Management (SHTM) is delighted to announce a project-led studentship opportunity to outstanding PhD candidates.


The School of Hospitality and Tourism Management (SHTM) at the University of Surrey, located in Guildford, UK, is delighted to announce a project-led studentship opportunity to outstanding PhD candidates who will be starting their doctorate in January 2023.

This is an exciting and innovative three year fully funded University of Surrey PhD studentship to undertake a thesis by publication studying the first Italian B-Corp hotel: Palazzo dell'Agricoltore, in Parma, Italy. The thesis by publication will be established through three research projects: Philanthropy and community engagement, Biometrics and hotel design, and Sustainability and hotel life cycle assessment (see the provisional proposals below). The inter-disciplinary project team supporting the student will be Dr Jonathan Skinner (lead supervisor), Dr Bora Kim, Dr Pablo Pereira Doel, Dr Viachaslau Filimonau.

Here are three provisional proposals for the thesis-by-publication research project in Parma. The exact research topic to be examined within each aspect of the research project will be ‘co-created’ by the project team to ensure interests of the PhD candidate, supervisors and hotel management team are aligned.

1. Regeneration and rejuvenation: An examination and contribution into philanthropic practice in Parma’s modern-day hotel development (led by Dr Jonathan Skinner and Dr Bora Kim)

This aspect of the research project examines and contributes to the understanding and practice of philanthropic activities as public good in the hotel’s development and the institution’s place in urban Parma. Philanthropy is typically ‘private giving for public purposes’ (Barman 2017: 272). As a form of gift-giving, philanthropy can be associated with charitable behaviour, active citizenship, social as opposed to state support. Philanthropic practice in individuals, corporations and foundations often has a cultural and national context: there is a longstanding tradition of philanthropic practice and tax exemption in the US, for example, from the Carnegie Foundation (founded 1905) to the modern-day Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (founded 2000). Anthropologist Catherine Trundle associates philanthropy with compassion and also belonging in her recent study of Americans integrating themselves into everyday life and society in Florence, Italy, through their charitable deeds. Their ‘ethics of giving’ (Trundle 2014: 15) establishes a fragile bond of relationality between giver and recipient whether community-based, charity practice or not-for-profit strategy; recent research on crowdfunding and kickstarters calls for a ‘drone philanthropy’ (Kenworthy 2018) to accommodate such new relations, proximities and forms of surveillance between donor/recipient transactions. More sociologically, the philanthropic, Trundle suggests, fashion a moral community through their beneficent practice. Acts of philanthropy craft ‘moral selves’ (Trundle 2014: 16) in society, she argues, not dissimilar to the practice-based conclusion of University of Surrey Professors Miller and Scarles on ‘ethical subjectivity’ (Eger, Miller and Scarles 2019).

Corporate philanthropy, is a different mode of public engagement most recently aligned with principles of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – and financial performance (Halme and Laurila 2009); it has been described as a powerful agent for social change such as in the hotel sector (cf. Tandy 2011).  Philanthropy is not always financial but can include in-kind donation, volunteerism, blood donation, all manner of altruistic behaviour. Philanthropic practice has also been criticised in terms of the cynical motivational lever in employees, and use of capital and the gift to influence human behaviour and nudge policy change (cf. Anderson 2008). This project will use practice-based research to test and evaluate the application of philanthropy in and around the new hotel project in Parma. It will consider research questions such as: how is philanthropy engaging the hotel staff and local community? How does philanthropy best impact on the hotel resident’s experience? What new insights from a practice-based approach to new forms of philanthropy are there in terms of urban regeneration and visitor rejuvenation?

2. Building B-Corps Biometrics: laboratory and field experimentation (led by Dr Pablo Pereira Doel)

Palazzo dell’ Agricoltore will be the first B-Corp tourism accommodation in Italy. B-Corps are global leader businesses that adopt an innovative management approach focusing on inclusiveness, equity, and regeneration. In other words, business that go beyond sustainability and profits; businesses as force for good to benefit people, communities, and the environment (B-Corp, 2022). Palazzo dell’ Agricoltore will seek for a paradigm shift in how hospitality businesses are usually managed, using nature as inspiration. For instance, Palazzo dell’ Agricoltore biophilic design will enhance staff and guests connectivity with nature by incorporating natural elements, such as water, plants, and natural light, into the architectural design. This more direct contact with nature is expected to create benefits to the users, i.e., both staff and guests, such as increasing the level of wellbeing (Guzzo et al, 2022). It will also benefit Palazzo dell’ Agricoltore, as it will be perceived as of a higher quality, will enhance stronger positive emotional responses from staff and guests, and will nudge guests -and potentially staff- to stay longer in the accommodation, enhancing loyalty (Lee, 2019). Also, Palazzo dell’ Agricolotore philanthropic ethos, aiming to revitalise and regenerate the city of Parma, may be a catalyst to attract guests and staff.

Considering that Palazzo dell’ Agricoltore is currently being developed, it is important how its concept, commitment, and philosophy is communicated to the public to maximise the outcomes (e.g., attracting future guests, local community, and staff). In this sense, the following topics / research questions can potentially be explored using the latest biometric technology to measure emotional engagement (e.g., Li et al, 2015; Scott et al, 2019):

  • A laboratory experiment to measure emotional and cognitive engagement of the public with the Palazzo dell’ Agricolore website and/or marketing materials. This would answer questions such as: does the website/marketing materials create a positive emotional arousal? Does the website/marketing materials enhance the willingness to book? What is the emotional and cognitive effect of communicating about the biophilic characteristics and/or philanthropy?
  • A laboratory experiment to measure emotional and cognitive engagement of the public with the Palazzo dell’ Agricolore communication to recruit staff. This would answer questions such as: What is the emotional and cognitive effect of communicating about the biophilic characteristics and/or philanthropy to attract potential staff?

Once Palazzo dell’ Agricoltore is open to the public, a field experiment can be developed to measure guests/staff emotional and cognitive engagement when first visiting the premises, using eye-tracking glasses and galvanic skin response. This would allow to answer questions such as: does the hotel design/ethos enhance guests/staff wellbeing? Does the hotel design/ethos shift guests/staff mindsets towards nature? Does the hotel design/ethos enhance guests’ willingness to stay longer?

3. (Environmental) Sustainability of a hotel (led by Dr Viachaslau Filimonau)

This aspect of the research project is concerned with the environmental externalities of a hotel business and how these externalities can be effectively prevented and mitigated. The rationale for this research stems from the fact that hotels are one of the most resource-intense types of services; it is therefore important to understand how this resource intensity can be, at least partially, reduced. A case study hotel which is currently being built in Parma represents a unique opportunity to design a hotel business from the new which has low(er) environmental footprint.

The environmental externalities of a hotel are attributed to energy use, water consumption, and waste generation. It is acknowledged that these areas of potential research are broad. Hence, a PhD candidate will look at a topic dealing with a single environmental issue whose choice will be defined by personal interests of the candidate and approved by supervisors and hotel management team. In preliminary discussions, supervisors and hotel management team have outlined the following topics that can potentially be examined in detail:

  • Life cycle assessment (LCA) of a hotel business. LCA is a method of environmental assessment which accounts for direct and indirect environmental impacts of a business. LCA have rarely been applied to hotels. Subject to data availability, an LCA study can be commissioned as part of this PhD on a case study hotel in Parma
  • The relationships between hotels and food supply chains have been only marginally explored. Yet, food production and consumption accounts for a large share of environmental impacts. This PhD may seek to provide answers to such questions as: How can hotel restaurant menus be designed with climate considerations in mind? How can a hotel collaborate with farmers to reduce food waste and improve menu offerings? How can behaviour of hotel restaurant guests be ‘nudged’ to make it more environmentally benign?

Urban hotels can reduce their environmental footprint and offer more mindful guest experiences by implementing biophilic building design. This PhD may seek to explore consumer attitudes to the biophilic design of hotel buildings. It may also consider the managerial and architectural challenges in implementing biophilic building design.

Indicative References

Anderson, E. (2008) ‘Experts, ideas, and policy change: the Russell Sage Foundation and small loan reform, 1909–1941’, Theory Soc. 37: 271–310.

Barman, E. (2017) ‘The Social Bases of Philanthropy’, Annual Review of Sociology 43: 271-290.

B Lab (2022) ‘Make business a force for good’,

Eger, C., G. Miller and C. Scarles (2019) ‘Corporate Philanthropy Through the Lens of Ethical Subjectivity’, Journal of Business Ethics 156:141–153.

Guzzo, R.F., Suess, C. and Legendre, T.S. (2022) ‘Biophilic design for urban hotels – prospective hospitality employees’ perspectives’, International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.

Halme, M. and J. Laurila (2009) ‘Philanthropy, Integration or Innovation? Exploring the Financial and Societal Outcomes of Different Types of Corporate Responsibility’, Journal of Business Ethics 84: 325-339.

Lee (2019) ‘Effects of Biophilic Design on Consumer Responses in the Lodging Industry’, International Journal of Hospitality Management, 83, 141–50.

Li, S., Scott, N., & Walters, G. (2015) Current and potential methods for measuring emotion in tourism experiences: a review’, Current Issues in Tourism, 18:9, 805-827,

Kenworthy, N. (2018) Drone philanthropy? Global health crowdfunding and the anxious futures of partnership, Medicine Anthropology Theory 5 (2): 168–187.

Scott, N., Zhang, R., Le, D., & Moyle, B. (2019) ‘A review of eye-tracking research in tourism’, Current Issues in Tourism, 22:10, 1244-1261,

Tandy (2011) ‘Hotel industry as instrument of change’,, 18 April 2011: 47-48.

Trundle, C. (2014) Americans in Tuscany: Charity, Compassion and Belonging. Oxford: Berghahn Books.

Eligibility criteria

In addition to the standard entry requirements for PhD, candidates must have Tourism, Hospitality and Events industry experience. They should be prepared to work and study independently as well as part of a research team. They will be based in the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at the University of Surrey, but will be expected to spend extensive research time in Parma. Fluency in English is essential, fluency/competency in Italian is desirable.


How to apply

Applications should be submitted via the Hospitality, Tourism, Transport and Events PhD programme page. Applicants will need to clearly state in the online application form that they are applying for the Palazzo dell’Agricoltore project-led studentship. Apply by midnight on Monday 5 September 2022 (BST), with interviews taking place week commencing 12 September 2022.

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Contact details

Jonathan Skinner
53 AP 02
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 684481

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