Study: Carbon labelling is more effective when it’s ubiquitous

Climate labels have been a hot topic lately as a strategy to get consumers to think more critically about the impact of their purchases. Although some critics claim these serve primarily as a marketing strategy, new research from the University of Copenhagen indicates that these labels could actually have a real impact on consumer behavior. 

In their experiment, the researchers asked 803 participants to choose between six product alternatives. When asked if consumers would like to know the carbon impact of each product before making their choice, a third said no, but even among those who initially did not want the climate information, 12 percent ended up choosing the more sustainable option when provided with carbon footprint labeling. 

Among the participants who asked for carbon labeling, the chance was even more profound with 32 percent choosing more sustainable options. 

The researchers note that while their findings show that climate labeling is effective, it would be most effective if it was adopted as a mandatory product label. There is a phenomenon called “active information avoidance” which psychologically compels humans faced with challenges to strategically avoid greater knowledge. In common terms, humans love to adopt an “ignorance is bliss” attitude when it comes to the impact of their purchases. 

The authors of the study argue that everyone would be better off with mandatory carbon labeling for products as even those who avoid carbon footprint information are compelled to more often make the greener choice when presented with all the facts. 

The researchers conclude: “Climate-labeling clearly affects consumers—both those people who are keen to be aware of the climate impact, as well as those who actively seek to ignore this sort of knowledge. The study demonstrates that the latter group can only be affected if they are provided with the information.”

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