Small, everyday changes in people’s behavior can have significant positive environmental impacts. To this end, this research focused on the role of an asymmetric intervention (i.e., a “nudge”) in motivating more sustainable food choices.

The context of this research was motivating pro-environmental food choice in restaurants and cafeterias. An experiment was conducted in which a default menu, presenting only appealing or unappealing meat-free meal options, was compared with more conventional menu configurations.

During the design of this research, and with “more sustainable” food choices as a focal point for discussions, a series of focus groups and interviews were conducted. These focus groups and interviews identified a greater emphasis by consumers and food service providers on meat-free meal options as a way to achieve both environmental and health-related objectives on campus. This is a viewpoint that is also endorsed in the literature; reduced meat consumption is widely recognized as an effective means of reducing the environmental footprint of the food system.

The use of a default menu increased the probability that study participants would choose a meat-free meal option, and this probability increased when appealing default meal options were provided.

Neither the provision of information about environmentally friendly options on the menus, nor the pro-environmental value orientation and worldview of participants, contributed to the logistic regression model that predicted preferences.  These results suggest that default-based interventions can serve as important tools for motivating pro-environmental behavior, and can they may serve to complement information and education efforts over the long term.

This research was led by Dr. Victoria Campbell-Arvai. Click here for more information about this research.