Environmental food labelling for behaviour change in the UK: A critique and mapping of discourses

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
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Master's Programme in Creative Sustainability
Environmental food labelling (EFL) is a pro-environmental behaviour change strategy that hopes to encourage citizens to change their food shopping behaviours by providing them with information on the environmental impact of a particular food item. This thesis explores and maps the discourses surrounding the concept of EFL as a climate mitigation strategy in the context of the UK, where currently the food sector is estimated to be responsible for 30% of the country’s total carbon emissions. At present EFL is voluntary in the UK however some manufacturers and retailers have begun labelling their products, responding to increasing public pressure on transparency and information regarding the environmental impact of food products. The thesis applies a qualitative approach relying on key reports from the UK government and other organisations on the topic. It includes a case study on a carbon labelling company and a few citizens thoughts on EFL, collected through a workshop and online survey. Findings show that although citizens, when questioned, seem to be willing to change their food shopping behaviours to more environmentally friendly choices, studies report a gap between reported values and actions. A want for transparency is expressed but the action of doing so falls through. Citizens are also split in their preference of a free-market approach such as EFL or choice-editing by retailers in which options are controlled or limited to meet a certain goal or agenda. An example could be a supermarket only selling food products which meet a certain environmental criterion. The thesis concludes with a critique, questioning whether EFL is an effective climate change mitigation strategy in comparison to other harder regulatory measures. Especially in consideration to socio economic barriers, the rise of inequality and food poverty in the UK, ongoing farming subsidies which skew food prices, the complex nature of human behaviour and the emotional and cultural ties food has.
Berglund, Eeva
Thesis advisor
Houtbeckers, Eeva
sustainable food systems, behaviour change, sustainable transitions, food values, environmental food labelling, food identities
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