When you’re shopping in the frozen food section or perusing the menu at a fast-casual chain, you might see a carbon footprint label alongside a product’s ingredients or price. For a growing number of companies, carbon labels are a way to spur more environmentally friendly purchases—such as getting you to pick a plant-based meat over actual beef. But does learning how much carbon you’re putting into the atmosphere really affect your shopping decisions? Well, it turns out it does, even for those who’d rather not know.
In a study recently published in the journal Food Policy, researchers at the University of Copenhagen and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences looked at how carbon labels on food influenced consumer choice, and whether or not consumers even wanted to know the carbon footprint of their food.
First, they asked more than 800 Swedish participants to choose between different products, including beef, a mixture of beef and beans, chicken, or a meat substitute—none of which had labels about their environmental impact. Then, the participants were asked if they wanted to know the climate impact of those items; one in three responders said no. These “information avoiders” are emblematic of a common human behavior that scientists call “active information avoidance.” Many of us would rather not know, for example, how many calories are in the bag of chips we just finished. Or, in this case, how your favorite hamburger might be poisoning the planet.