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Buying into low carbon

How to lower consumers’ food shopping carbon footprint by encouraging environmentally friendly buying

Writing in Transform, Dr Luca Panzone and Brett Cherry discuss how we can drive low-carbon behaviour in food buying.

In western economies, food accounts for around 30% of total household greenhouse gas emissions. We investigated the options for reducing this amount.

Carbon labelling

Information about the environmental impact of food choices in the market is not yet present on food packaging. It is an obvious option when it comes to informing consumers.

Three main drivers of low-carbon behaviour

  1. Consumers change behaviour if there is a change in costs and benefits. A carbon tax changes behaviour by increasing the costs of high-carbon goods relative to low-carbon goods.
  2. Changes in the way products are sold alter shopping habits by making socially ‘desirable’ choices simpler. Making low-carbon options more accessible or visible on a shelf can drastically reduce the carbon footprint of a diet.
  3. Providing information on the environmental impacts of food choices helps to raise awareness. Consumers may fail to act because they are unaware of the carbon footprint of their food shopping.

These three drivers are connected. For example, policy interventions that target price tell consumers that they should use products with a higher tax with moderation to avoid environmental problems.

A carbon tax

A carbon tax should tax all products in proportion to the amount of GHGs they emit. In recent research, a carbon tax for all products resulted in an average price increase of 8.5%. This successfully encouraged shoppers to lower their carbon footprint by around 20%.

Testing interventions for sustainable food shopping

We have designed an online experimental supermarket. This allowed us to:

  • test new policies, such as a carbon tax
  • design persuasive messages that encourage shoppers to make low-carbon food choices
  • to observe the impact of marketing activities on consumer choice

Supermarkets can use this platform to test their own activities and interventions in a controlled environment before a live roll-out.

Read the full article in Transform. Transform is the magazine of IEMA: the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment.

Carbon Trust logo; cattle in cattle stall

published on: 1 November 2019