Science,  Sustainability

Eco-Label Effect: The Good Taste of Coffee

By Roberta Attanasio

Do you want your coffee to taste better? Call it “eco-friendly”. Results from a newly published study show that eco-labels, as for example “fair-trade” or “organic”, promote a willingness to pay more for the product, and not only. These labels also lead people to perceive that products with an eco-label taste better than identical, but unlabeled products. The authors of the study conclude that their findings could help in devising ways to promote sustainable consumer behavior. They have dubbed these biased consumer responses “eco-label effect“.

The study is entitled “Who Needs Cream and Sugar When There Is Eco-Labeling? Taste and Willingness to Pay for “Eco-Friendly” Coffee” and was published a few days ago in the scientific journal PLOSone (December 4, 2013).

The study consists of 3 experiments. In all experiments, participants tasted two cups of coffee. The two cups contained identical coffee. However, they were told that one of the cups contained “eco-friendly” coffee while the other did not. The participants then rated each of the two cups of coffee.

In the first experiment, the participants were also told, before the tasting, which cup contained which type of coffee. The results of this experiment indicated that the participants – at least those who scored high on a questionnaire on attitudes toward sustainable consumer behavior – were willing to pay more for the “eco-friendly” coffee and preferred its taste.

Results from the second experiment suggested that high sustainability consumers were willing to pay more for “eco-friendly” coffee, even when they were told that the cup they chose contained the non-labeled alternative.

Finally, in the third experiment (similarly to the first one) participants were told, before the tasting, which cup contained which type of coffee. They were just as biased when reporting their cup preference as they were in terms of their willingness to pay anonymously. Therefore, the eco-label effect did not seem to be caused by their desire to be viewed favorably by others.

Under a different point of view, these results seem to validate the power of greenwashing but, hopefully, will not encourage it.


  • wilsya

    I love this blog. Thanks for writing these very unique stories. We all want so much to do the right thing that we are willing to believe things can easily become sustainable, like coffee, just because we read on a label it is. But there is so much we can do to live a sustainable lifestyle without worrying about buying the “right” stuff. Avoiding getting coffee in styrofoam cups in coffee shops, for example. You can easily see plastic things, no need for labels.

  • sam g

    What does this study tell us? That we like to be greenwashed? We should be more responsible about the way we respond to what we want to believe to be true.

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