Prof Wins Fulbright Chair to Study 'Green' Motives

April 22, 2009 - News Release

Why do consumers choose or reject green products and how can businesses and governments use policies and incentives to help shape those choices? Those are the questions that a University of Guelph mathematician will study under a new Canada-U.S. Fulbright Visiting Research Chair.

Prof. Monica Cojocaru, Mathematics and Statistics, is Guelph's first current faculty member to visit an American institution under the prestigious award, announced this month. Long regarded as the world's premier academic exchange program, the Fulbright Program involves exceptional scholars from more than 150 countries worldwide.

"This is a wonderful award for Monica and for Guelph — it puts us on the map," said Prof. Brian Allen, chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. "It's one of only two Fulbright research chairs available to Canadian scientists, and she is able to take it at a location that will provide an excellent fit for her research."

Starting next January, Cojocaru will spend five months at the University of California, Santa Barbara, studying what motivates consumers to buy green products such as organic food, hybrid vehicles and home products like geothermal heating, solar heating and high-efficiency furnaces.

She hopes to help businesses and governments design more effective policies and incentive programs to reduce harmful emissions and lower the use of non-renewable resources.

Cojocaru will apply game theory, market models and computer simulations to model people's behaviour over time. Her work may help determine how large a subsidy or rebate to offer — and for how long — to persuade consumers to adopt green products.

She will look at decisions made by entire populations and by individual consumers, including how social networks compel people to jump aboard a green trend.

"Both types of models allow you to compute the adoption level of green products in the population under a wide range of parameters while incorporating the design of policies that will effectively move the population towards environmentally friendly behaviour," she says.

For Cojocaru, it's not just academic.

When she and her husband bought a fuel-efficient hybrid car in 2007, they faced spending an extra $7,000 over the standard model. But they used federal and provincial rebates worth about $3,000 to offset that cost — never mind saving about $400 a year in gas commuting between Waterloo and Guelph. "Suddenly it becomes manageable," she said.

Cojocaru said companies can design a rebate or subsidy to make green products attractive to "early adopters" — people who typically lead in buying new products — as well as the majority of followers. "Rebates take your potential market share from early adopters alone to a suddenly larger consumer population."

Figuring out the amount and duration of a subsidy — including accounting for subjective personal and social traits — involves complicated math, including knowledge of networks and dynamical systems, she said.

Cojocaru arrived at U of G in 2003 under a University Faculty Award from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. She studied math in her native Romania and completed her PhD at Queen's University in 2002.

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338,; or Barry Gunn, Ext. 56982,

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