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Why do some people avoid carbon labels?

Image: RitaE, Minced meat sauce, Pixabay, Pixabay Licence

This study explores why people choose to either see or avoid carbon emissions information when choosing a protein source, and the influence that seeing this information has on product choices. The study is based on an online survey where people were asked to make a hypothetical choice between a range of protein sources. 

The online survey was distributed in Sweden, resulting in 803 responses. Participants were asked to choose between types of minced meat product, initially with no carbon emissions information being provided. They were then asked to select whether or not to view information on the carbon footprint of each product. Regardless of choice, all participants were given the climate information and asked to choose between the products again, to determine whether they would make a different choice after viewing the information. 

Around one third of survey participants chose not to view climate information. After viewing the climate information, those who had wanted to see it reduced the emissions of their product choice (compared to the choice they made before seeing the climate information) by an average of 32%. Those who had not wanted to see the information still reduced their emissions, although by less: an average reduction of 12% compared to the choice they made before seeing the information. 

Participants were also asked a series of questions designed to measure cognitive dissonance (i.e. conflict between their conceptualisation of eating meat and meat-related climate anxiety) and responsibility and personal norms (relating to obligations to action to mitigate climate change). Those who chose to view climate information were more likely to feel a personal obligation to act in a climate-friendly way and also to experience cognitive dissonance, compared to those who did not want to see the climate information. 



Active avoidance of information is gaining attention in the behavioural sciences. We explore motivations for active avoidance of carbon emissions information. In the first stage of a stated preference survey, respondents indicated whether they wished to access carbon emissions information (info-takers) or not (info-decliners) when selecting a protein source. In the second stage, all respondents were provided with carbon emissions information. The info-takers reduced emissions from their food choices by 32%, while the info-decliners also reduced their emissions (by 12%). This indicates active information avoidance among at least some info-decliners. We explore how cognitive dissonance, responsibility feelings and personal norms affect a person’s actions when information is imposed upon them, and their role as motivators for actively avoiding carbon emissions information on meat products. Individuals who experience climate-related cognitive dissonance and/or responsibility feelings change behaviour more following climate information, and it also increases choice task uncertainty mostly among these. These findings point to the potential of increasing impact from information by simultaneously increasing personal responsibility feelings and activating social norms.



Edenbrandt, A.K., Lagerkvist, C.J. and Nordström, J., 2021. Interested, indifferent or active information avoiders of carbon labels: Cognitive dissonance and ascription of responsibility as motivating factors. Food Policy, p.102036.


Read the full paper here. See also the Table explainer What can be done to shift eating patterns in healthier, more sustainable directions?

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