A new study out of the University of Bristol shows that diners who were given menus with eco-friendly ratings more often chose items that were sustainable, vegan and vegetarian over dishes that had meat or dairy.
Nearly 1,400 adults took part in the research project published in the journal Behavioural Public Policy which looked at the effectiveness of “traffic light” labels – that is, green leaning toward more environmentally friendly food choices, and red for not. Around 90% of those polled said they appreciated the labeling being added in helping them make more sound decisions.
“The eco-label was particularly effective among those people who reported already being motivated to act sustainably,” said lead author Katie De-loyde, research associate in psychological science at the university. “This suggests these kinds of labels help people make dietary decisions which are in line with their personal values.”
The study focused one on simple, mouthwatering item – the burrito – and how the respondents would make choices in food delivery based on labelling. They could pick from a filling of beef, chicken, or vegetarian. Each of those items had that traffic-light label on a menu that featured pictures, Fairtrade labels, spice level and cost (the same for all). The results: 17% more individuals selected vegetarian or chicken over beef, and 5% more chose all veggie. Interestingly, when a gold option was offered to show the most popular item – a social nudge to lean green – respondents actually increased their picks of vegetarian.
The University of Bristol is conducting its own trials within its catered halls using eco-labels on sandwiches they serve … and which ones sell best, hoping to see what kind of impact they have in a real-world setting.
The university overall has made a conscious push to be more environmentally friendly, heeding to the government’s commitment on climate change to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Part of the push is to limit the consumption of meat and dairy, which they say “can have various adverse effects on the environment, largely owing to the huge amounts of methane, a harmful greenhouse gas, cows, pigs, and other farm animals release into the atmosphere.” Feeding them with grain, they say, takes an enormous toll on the environment. So consumers who can potentially move the needle with a lean to vegan can help limit those emissions.
Could the labels be a linchpin in changing perception and choice? And how far-reaching could it be?
“Pending replication in real-world settings, our results suggest future policy could include mandatory eco-labelling, just like the health traffic light system, on food products as a way to promote more sustainable diets,” De-Loyde said.