Motivating Sustainable Consumer Choices: The Role of Nudges, Values, and Labels

Campell-Árvai and Árvai found that the use of a nudge increased the probability that consumers would choose a sustainable food option.
Jul 17, 2017 10:00 AM ET

Small, everyday changes in people’s behavior can have significant positive environmental impacts. Research conducted by Victoria Campbell-Árvai and Joe Árvai focused on the role of "nudges" in motivating consumers’ to choose products that would lead to positive environmental outcomes. The research evaluated outcomes when both appetizing and unappetizing sustainable meals were presented as food choices in a cafeteria setting.

Surprisingly, neither the provision of information—i.e., labeling on the menus—encouraging consumers to consider the importance of sustainable food choices, nor the pro-environmental value orientation and worldview of consumers, affected their choices. However, the "nudge" did encourage consumers to select with greater probability the sustainable meal options irregardless of whether the meal was appetizing or unappetizing; even though the former were relatively more popular. These results suggest that "nudges" can be important tools in motivating sustainable consumer choices, which may complement labeling and and consumer education efforts over the long term.

Read more about "nudges" and the research here

Joseph Árvai is the director of the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan. He can be reached on Twitter at @DecisionLab.