How we make decisions is not always down to hard facts and knowledge but equally about what our gut feeling tells us. How we choose our food is not necessarily any different. That is why actions to make people buy more environmentally friendly and certified food should appeal more to our emotional part rather than too much facts and figures.
This is the conclusion from a study recently published in the journal Sustainability by Stockholm university PhD student Malin Jonell together with centre researchers Max Troell, Beatrice Crona and colleagues from Uppsala University. The question they asked was: what influences consumers’ demand for eco-labelled seafood?
The study is unique because it goes beyond just looking at peoples’ willingness to pay for eco-labelled seafood or their attitudes towards it. Instead it looks at the correlation between consumer behaviour, psychological characteristics of the individual and knowledge on eco-labelled seafood.
”While the body of literature on consumers’ perceptions of and willingness to pay for eco-labelled seafood is growing, only few studies have looked at the links between consumer behaviour and their actual knowledge on environmental issues,” says Malin Jonell.
Consumer studies in Stockholm
The data gathering was based on 406 questionnaires completed by food shoppers in Stockholm between October and December 2013. In it, the respondents were asked to rate their knowledge and engagement in environmental issues connected to seafood production.
Most participants perceived themselves to have a low or moderate level of knowledge about seafood production, however more than half or the respondents expressed concern about negative environmental impacts to seafood.
One central part of the study was to assess the consumers’ knowledge on specific eco-labels. These are private standards and certification schemes that provide seals of approval given to products that are deemed to have fewer impacts on the environment than functionally or competitively similar products. Respondents in the survey were asked to state whether they recognised the logos of five different eco-label schemes. Apart from KRAV, a Swedish organic certification scheme, the recognition of the labels was relatively low. This included MSC, the largest seafood eco-label in Sweden. Interestingly, a fake label was included in order to discover the extent to which people actually falsely state that they recognise a label. More than one out of six of the respondents acknowledged the fake label.
”Since label recognition is one of the most important variables in predicting purchasing of eco-labelled seafood, efforts need to be directed towards increasing consumers’ familiarity with the main ones”
Max Troell, co-author
To succeed with this, a change in tactics must be done, the researchers argue.
Less about facts more about emotions
Early models of pro-environmental behaviour stressed the significance of information and knowledge creation when trying to alter human behaviour. Although these rather simplistic models were rejected decades ago, many UN organs and NGOs still stick to them. This may to some extent influence consumers’ concern for negative environmental impacts, but it may not create long-lasting change in consumption, the researchers warn.
"Instead, we need more engaging stories that can raise the awareness about eco-labels. This will help create long-lasting pro-environmental attitudes towards eco-labelled seafood," concludes Malin Jonell.
Max Troell is a system ecologist mainly working with environmental problems associated with aquaculture. This work focuses on inter-linkages between aquaculture and fisheries, on different spatial scales.
Beatrice Crona's work focuses on resource governance issues with particular focus on marine related topics. She specialises in the role of social networks in natural resource governance; multilevel governance; and global marine trade.
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