Knowledge for better food systems

Consumer response to carbon labelling

Reference, abstract and conclusions as follows: Vanclay J K, Shortiss J, Aulsebrook S, Gillespied A M, Howell B C, Johanni R, Maher M J, Mitchell K M, Stewart M D and Yates J (2011). Customer Response to Carbon Labelling of Groceries, Journal of Consumer Policy Volume 34, Number 1, 153-160

Abstract

Reference, abstract and conclusions as follows: Vanclay J K, Shortiss J, Aulsebrook S, Gillespied A M, Howell B C, Johanni R, Maher M J, Mitchell K M, Stewart M D and Yates J (2011). Customer Response to Carbon Labelling of Groceries, Journal of Consumer Policy Volume 34, Number 1, 153-160

Abstract

Thirty-seven products were labelled to indicate embodied carbon emissions, and sales were recorded over a 3-month period. Green (below average), yellow (near average), and black (above average) footprints indicated carbon emissions embodied in groceries. The overall change in purchasing pattern was small, with black-labelled sales decreasing 6% and green-labelled sales increasing 4% after labelling. However, when green-labelled products were also the cheapest, the shift was more substantial, with a 20% switch from black- to green-label sales. These findings illustrate the potential for labelling to stimulate reductions in carbon emissions.

Conclusions

This study, based on sales of 2,890 items during a 12-week period (4 weeks before and 8 weeks after labelling) is too limited to draw decisive conclusions, but illustrates the potential – despite public complacency (Sterman and Sweeney 2007) – for voluntary reductions in domestic emissions, especially when price signals and carbon signals coincide. Our study indicates that when consumers receive appropriate guidance about embodied carbon emissions, they may adjust purchasing preferences and favour green-labelled goods, collectively representing about 5% of total purchases. When carbon and price signals coincide (i.e., when green labelled products were the cheapest alternative), the change in preference will be greater (up to 20% in our study). These findings illustrate the potential for labelling to stimulate both conviction- and price-related reductions in household emissions. You can download the paper (no subscription access needed) here.
 

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