Cutting Carbon from the Shopping Cart: Consumer Perceptions of a Carbon Label on Food Products

Author: Elizabeth Bedrick, PitE, class of 2017
Advisor: SFSI faculty affiliate Margot Finn
April 2017

There is a lack of transparency in the increasingly complex food system. Consumers tend to use environmental indicators, or eco-labels, to identify sustainable foods; however, many existing eco-labels do not clearly communicate the impact that food has on the environment. A carbon label conveying the amount of carbon emitted throughout a product’s life cycle would be a better measure of the food’s impact on climate change. While such a label does not yet exist in the United States, this research uses an online survey to determine how U.S. consumers would perceive a carbon label like those used throughout Europe. The findings from over 400 respondents suggest that consumers believe a carbon label would make it easier to compare the environmental impact of foods. Additionally, at least 45% of participants rated a carbon label as more important than five other eco-labels that do exist in the United States. Finally, participants reported that the source of the carbon label would not influence whether or not they would purchase labeled foods. Findings from this study support the potential for a carbon label to help consumers make knowledgeable decisions and influence purchasing. Read more here