Knowledge for better food systems

Developing and disseminating a foodprint tool to raise awareness about healthy and environmentally conscious food choices

Taking as its starting point the mounting evidence pointing to the need for consumption changes aimed at achieving healthier and more sustainable diets, this research highlights the process of constructing an ecological foodprint tool (www.voedingscentrum.nl). It seeks to contribute to greater understanding of the role that social networks and social media can play in informing dietary choices. The foodprint tool has the following features: 1) its focuses on food only; 2) it is designed to encourage interaction by the users; and 3) it incorporates recommendations for achieving a healthy diet with a lower foodprint.

Taking as its starting point the mounting evidence pointing to the need for consumption changes aimed at achieving healthier and more sustainable diets, this research highlights the process of constructing an ecological foodprint tool (www.voedingscentrum.nl). It seeks to contribute to greater understanding of the role that social networks and social media can play in informing dietary choices. The foodprint tool has the following features: 1) its focuses on food only; 2) it is designed to encourage interaction by the users; and 3) it incorporates recommendations for achieving a healthy diet with a lower foodprint.

The foodprint tool summarizes all consumption activities and is designed based on data about the average consumption of a Dutch consumer. When it comes to social media use, the tool includes a feature that allows users to share their foodprint scores through social media (Twitter, Facebook, and the latter’s Dutch equivalent, Hyves). Another important feature is that the tool allows users to watch how changing their food choices affects the environment.  Feedback is a critical component of lifestyle change especially when coupled with goal setting (intentional implementation).  Particularly useful in this regard is the information the foodprint tool provides after each question about why a certain option is “greener” than another. This can direct consumers to make better choices to reduce their global footprint, but the researchers admit that since other factors such as social pressure or intrinsic motivation also determine choices, behaviour change cannot be guaranteed. They also discuss how measurements of the impact and accuracy of health and other information disseminated via social networks are still not very well corroborated in other studies. Actual behaviour change has not been measured in this study but the authors argue that since the tool incorporates the three categories of influence components that are expected to result in a (small) significant impact on voluntary habitual behaviour it has a good potential to bring about change.

Abstract

This article describes the development and dissemination of an ecological footprint tool that provides a concise and scientifically grounded summary of the environmental impact of personal food choices. Developed to be easy to use and available to consumers via online social networking platforms, the tool aims to raise awareness and to provide an impetus for behaviour change. The foodprint tool communicates scientifically informed and customized practical advice on how individuals can reduce their ecological footprint (EF) (or “foodprint”). The first part describes the process of developing this tool, the choice of indicator, the goals, and the results. Among other aspects, the tool enables users to understand that the largest contributors to their foodprint are sources of animal protein: dairy, meat, and fish. The second part describes the strategy guiding the tool’s design and implementation, which is based on a combination of contextual communication, feedback from peers, and intrinsic motivation. In this footprint tool, a focus on food patterns, interactive feedback, and social media plays a key role. The tool consists of a survey with fifteen questions about personal food choice that allow users to receive individualized feedback, including five suggestions for reducing personal foodprints. Users can also share their results through customary social media. Due to an effective outreach campaign, a total of 90,000 Dutch consumers used this tool over a period of four months, with 1% indicating that they intended to change behaviour.

Citation

van Dooren C. & Bosschaert T. 2013. Developing and disseminating a foodprint tool to raise awareness about healthy and environmentally conscious food choices. Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy 9(2) Published online Sep 30, 2013.

You can find the link to the open access Journal article here.

For more information about various carbon footprinting tools, have a look at our website here or take a look at the tools specifically focusing on measuring impacts from, or influencing dietary patterns, here.

Do you know of any other tools? If you do, please send them through to us with some comments on whether or not they might be useful. You can reach us via communicationsfcrn(at)gmail.com or taragrnett(at)fcrn.org.uk. 

You can read related research by browsing the following categories of our research library:
 

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