What Measures Promote a Sustainable Diet?

It’s not easy to change eating habits. In a study of the literature, Agroscope investigated which policy measures favour a sustainable diet. Market-oriented tools and bans prove effective, but are fairly unpopular.  

Our food system is not sustainable and contributes significantly to climate change. Because consumers find it hard to eat sustainably, policy interventions are urgently needed in order to reduce the environmental impact of our diet.

What factors influence the sustainability of a diet?

In the present study of the literature we analyse 160 studies investigating various consumer-focused policy measures with the aim of promoting a more-sustainable diet. Here, four categories of tools are distinguished:

  1. Information-based measures (e.g. labels or education)
  2. Nudge (a gentle push or incentive intended to alter behaviour without bans or legislation)
  3. Market-oriented measures (e.g. taxes or subsidies)
  4. Regulatory measures (e.g. bans)

Bans and market-oriented tools effective but encounter some pushback

The results show that less interventionist tools (information-based tools and nudges) are more common and can readily be combined with other tools. By contrast, more interventionist tools (market-oriented and regulatory tools) are more effective, but tend to be less well accepted.

‘Sustainability’ does not mean the same thing to everyone

Sociodemographic factors (sex, education) also play a role in sustainable consumption decisions. Generally speaking, consumers are prepared to pay a higher price for sustainable products. Different definitions and indicators for sustainability make dialogue and a uniform understanding of this subject difficult. Consistent definitions and language would make the identification and design of effective policy measures considerably easier. The food system is in urgent need of transformation and joint efforts across value chains are necessary to drive this change forward.


  • Less interventionist measures (e.g. information-based measures and nudges) are more widespread and more widely studied than more interventionist ones (e.g. regulatory or market-oriented measures).
  • The provision of information can be combined with other measures. Education alone, however, is not sufficient to achieve sustainable transformation.
  • A common understanding of sustainability encompassing clear definitions and measuring methods is needed.
  • Joint efforts of all stakeholders in the food system are needed to achieve sustainability targets.
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