A recent Swiss study compared consumer perceptions of the environmental friendliness of vegetables with the results of scientific assessments of the vegetables’ environmental impact. The two did not always tally and findings from this study can provide useful information for sustainable consumption campaigns.
The results revealed that most consumers thought the production methods (organic production) and transportation were the main criteria for environmentally friendliness. They placed most emphasis on transport distance rather than means of transport, and seemed to overestimate both the environmental benefit of organic production and the environmental harm of packaging.
In addition, consumers generally rated domestic products more favourably and tended to believe products from less developed countries were lower in quality and environmental performance. Organic production dominated consumers’ minds when thinking about green characteristics. This was to be expected since organic products are visibly labelled in Switzerland, and retailers and farmers actively promote these products as the green alternative.
The findings indicated that current product information for vegetables is insufficient for judging their environmental friendliness. The authors suggest that a simple communication tool, similar to labels used to communicate nutrition, would be beneficial to facilitate eco-friendly food consumption. As the eco-friendliness of vegetables is subject to seasonal changes, consumers would also need to be informed about the reasons why the eco-friendliness of the same product varies throughout the year.
There are environmental benefits to consuming seasonal and domestic vegetables and avoiding air transportation, heated greenhouse production and refrigeration, which could be highlighted in information campaigns. Moreover, educational information with criteria, such as the environmental harm from air transportation and greenhouse production methods, could also help consumers avoid such products.
Science for Environment Policy, European Commission DG Environment News Alert Service, edited by SCU, The University of the West of England, Bristol, 7 April 2011, after
Tobler, C., Visschers, V. & Siegrist, M. (2011) Organic Tomatoes Versus Canned Beans: How Do Consumers Assess the Environmental Friendliness of Vegetables?. Environment and Behavior. 1-21.