Sustainability labelling

Creating a consumer-friendly sustainability label

Consumers are increasingly concerned about climate change and environmental impact, but also biodiversity, animal welfare, good governance, fair pay to workers, etc. This concern motivates consumers to think about the sustainability impact of the products that they buy. Food products have a considerable impact on amongst others land use, water use, pollution, deforestation, and waste.

There has been a lot of discussion about labels on food. Labels informing about ‘better choices’ for food and drink are a powerful individualised tool to express opinions and preferences in a consumption context. On the one hand, there is a confusing amount of labels on foods already. On the other hand, there are dimensions of sustainability which are not yet communicated to consumers in order to make informed choices at the point of sale.

There are different conceptions of which dimensions are part of sustainable foods. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations states that sustainable diets should be “protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimising natural and human resources”.

The TruSTFood (Trust, Sustainability and Transparency in Food) project is an EIT Food funded project, led by Queen’s University Belfast with researchers from MAPP at Aarhus University, University of Hohenheim, and University of Reading. The project is aiming to develop a consumer-friendly sustainability label for food and drink packaging (for a discussion of the issue, see This would allow consumers to understand the sustainability credentials of different products at the point of purchase.

MAPP studies how a ‘consumer-friendly’ and ‘holistic’ sustainability label could be created – with holistic meaning reflecting all relevant dimensions of sustainability, instead of only one or few. This is done via expert interviews, consumer focus groups and workshops, and a cross-country consumer survey and choice test.