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Menus Nudge Diners Toward Planet-Friendly Choices

Updated: Feb 9, 2023

By using a labeling system, researchers found that it was possible to successfully shift dining choices away from climate-straining red meat consumption and towards more eco-friendly plant-based options.

Veggie burger

In conducting the study, the team - comprised of researchers from various educational institutions including Harvard and Johns Hopkins - created three mock menus based on those from fast food restaurants, with 14 items on each menu.

The first menu had a QR code next to every item. The second had green low-climate-impact labels next to chicken, fish, or vegetarian items along with a message at the top of the menu that read, "This item is environmentally sustainable. It has low greenhouse gas emissions and a low contribution to climate change." The third menu had red high-climate-impact labels next to items made from beef with an accompanying statement that said, "This item is not environmentally sustainable. It has high greenhouse gas emissions and a high contribution to climate change."

The researchers found that participants presented with the positive green messages (low climate impact) chose non-red-meat items 10 percent more often than those given the QR code menu, which served as the control group. Better yet, those presented with the red negative message (high climate impact) shifted their choices away from red meat 23 percent more than those in the control group.

If the labeling system (or one like it) could be adopted by fast-food restaurants, it could have a significant impact on the greenhouse gas emissions (GHGEs) that are driving global climate change. According to the research team, animal-based food production creates 14.5 percent of our GHGEs. Moving away from diets rich in red meat consumption could cut diet-related GHGEs by 55 percent.



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