The fine line in eco-labelling information

The fine line in eco-labelling information

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A recent study tested the effectiveness various eco-labels on consumer purchasing decisions using a smartphone application. This highlighted the fine line between effective levels of information on food labels, as well as offering alternative options for labeling through the use of modern-day technology.

It was found that eco-labels resulted in an increased likelihood of consumers purchasing products with a higher sustainability rating. Confidence in purchasing decisions was dependent on the level of detail labels provided, with the preference being for basic eco-labelling over more detailed labels.

The experiment included over 300 German participants and tested the impact on purchasing decisions of using three types of labels on a range of food products (milk, apple juice and eggs). The labels were provided on an app where the types included; basic eco-label using colour-coding for an aggregated environmental score, an extended label with links to further information, and a control where no additional labelling of food products was provided. Using an app offered an alternative to package labelling, along with other benefits such as increased capacity for information.

Eco-labelling is a highly contentious area as it is extremely difficult to represent an item’s ‘sustainability’ using an aggregated metric due to the complexity of the factors that must be considered. The present study focused on environmental sustainability. It is unrealistic to expect consumers to fully understand all contributing factors when making quick purchasing decisions and providing this level of detail leads to ‘information overload’. These negative impacts are reflected by the drop in confidence in purchase decisions when using extended eco-labeling in this study.

The present study and the use of smartphone applications is relevant mainly to higher socio-economic populations where consumers have the luxury to make decisions based on sustainability. Behavioural shifts from a small number of consumers will have little consequence for the global food system. However, as technology advances and platforms like smartphone shopping apps are adopted worldwide, they may play an important role in influencing a global shift toward more sustainable purchasing decisions, thus having an impact on our food production system.

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Photo by Rami Al-zayat on Unsplash
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