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Designed to be noticed: a reconceptualization of carbon food labels as warning labels

I. Carrero, C. Valor, E. Díaz, V. Labajo

Sustainability Vol. 13, nº. 3, pp. 1581-1 - 1581-14


Carbon labels are considered a fundamental tool for reducing emissions associated with grocery products. Although the prior literature has shown that both limited motivation and understanding of carbon labels explain the effectiveness of carbon labels, knowledge regarding how to improve the label design to increase noticeability is limited. Given the limited motivation of mainstream consumers to use carbon labels, this exploratory paper proposes that the label design should trigger bottom-up (or sensory-driven) attention mechanisms. Using grounded theory for the data collection and analysis of six focus groups, this study tests six features (i.e., location, size, color, icons, a colored background or border, and textual anchors) and identifies four design criteria (i.e., vividness, incongruity, simplicity, and clarity) that may increase label noticeability. The main conclusion of this qualitative study is that carbon labels are noticed when they are perceived as a cue of hazard. Based on this finding, we propose that carbon labels could be designed as warning labels; therefore, the insights already proven in the warning label literature should be applied to carbon label design to increase its noticeability and use.

Spanish layman's summary:

Las etiquetas de carbono no han servido para cambiar el patrón de demanda de los consumidores, entre otras razones porque no llaman la atención en el momento de la compra. Los resultados de un estudio cualitativo llevan a proponer una serie de recomendaciones para su diseño de manera que se perciban

English layman's summary:

Carbon labels have not been successful at shifting demand. One reason for this is that carbon labels do not attract consumers' attention and therefore go unnoticed. The paper explores the features that a carbon label should have to attract the consumers' attentions. Based on a qualitative study of c

Keywords: carbon labels; eco-labels; design; awareness; warning labels; noticeability; CO2 emissions; climate action; climate change; approach goals; avoidance goals; attention mechanisms

JCR Impact Factor and WoS quartile: 3,889 - Q2 (2021); 3,900 - Q2 (2022)

DOI reference: DOI icon https://doi.org/10.3390/su13031581

Published on paper: February 2021.

Published on-line: February 2021.

I. Carrero, C. Valor, E. Díaz, V. Labajo, Designed to be noticed: a reconceptualization of carbon food labels as warning labels. Sustainability. Vol. 13, nº. 3, pp. 1581-1 - 1581-14, February 2021. [Online: February 2021]

    Research topics:
  • Green technologies adoption and consumer engagement