CO2 labeling on menus tempts people to eat “green”.

Would you order eco-friendly food when eating out if you knew which dish caused how much greenhouse gas emissions? Would you like to decide for or against climate food? This is exactly what a research team from the University of Würzburg wanted to know. They found that study participants were more likely to choose the veggie burger when it was presented as a standard option on the menu than the regular meat version. Colored CO2 labels on dishes meant that restaurant guests were more likely to want dishes with lower CO2 emissions.

How was it tested?

To do this, 265 volunteers were presented with menus from various restaurants in an online study, including Italian, Indian and Mexican restaurants, as well as a kebab restaurant. There, nine potential menus could be ordered, which either provided information on the respective greenhouse gas emissions or were available with standard low- or high-emission components. Specifically, for example: couscous salad with beef (high emissions), poultry (medium emissions) or falafel (low emissions).

Restaurants: a lot of climate protection with little effort

For research, the result is not unexpected. why Benedikt Seger from the Institute of Psychology in Würzburg explains it this way: “We assume that CO2 labels and standard specifications convey certain social norms. The requirement to emit as little carbon dioxide as possible is now established for a large part of the population.”

If a restaurant now publishes the CO2 emissions of the food offered, guests will see that this standard also applies to the choice of dishes in restaurants. Especially if it is also highlighted in color: red for a large amount of CO2, green for a small amount of greenhouse gas. If a restaurant offers a burger with a veggie patty instead of meat as a standard option, it means that guests usually order the veggie burger here. And the perceived knowledge of what others do in a given situation, whether desired or accepted, can have a significant effect on behavior. What does this mean for people who run restaurants? According to the psychologist, the industry may conclude that it can actually protect the climate without much effort by adding CO2 labels and other standard options to its menu.

What makes the research result exciting

Fascinating from the point of view of psychologists: people are apparently willing and able to take the climate crisis into account in everyday decisions. Psychologist Benedict Seger doesn’t think it’s normal to think about problems that threaten our existence, such as the climate crisis, in a pleasant situation, because people actually want to enjoy the food, the atmosphere and being with others in restaurants.


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