The fight against climate change could soon be coming to your supermarket shelf. But if food companies label products with lower greenhouse gas emissions, will shoppers pay more for them? When it comes to tea, the answer is complicated, according to a team at Tufts.
“Most people in our study preferred climate-friendly tea over other options, but low-income shoppers were more willing to reach into their wallets and pay more for it,” said Sean Cash, an economist and the Bergstrom Foundation professor in global nutrition at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. “We also found that people who knew more about climate change weren’t necessarily more likely to choose the climate-friendly option.”
As part of Tufts University’s Tea & Climate Change Collaborative, Cash and Rebecca Boehm, N12, now an economist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, designed an experiment to tease out which demographic characteristics and attitudes might influence the decision to pay more for a product that had less impact on climate change. Their study was published in the journal Sustainability in September.
Tufts Now spoke to Cash about what this means for the role of the consumer in fighting climate change.
Tufts Now: Why did you focus on tea?
Sean Cash: Tea is a useful starting point because it is the most widely consumed beverage in the world after water. Tea is grown on 4.1 million hectares globally, almost the same amount of land used to grow the world’s supply of fresh fruit. Not only does the carbon footprint of so much tea have consequences for the sustainability of our food system, but both the quantity and quality of tea produced is highly susceptible to changes in climate. This study is part of a larger project (with Colin Orians and Al Robbat in Arts and Sciences, Tim Griffin at the Friedman School, and colleagues elsewhere in the U.S. and China) looking at these interactions between tea and climate.
Although this study looked at tea, future research could easily apply our methods to other foods and beverages. Investigating why someone might purchase low-carbon tea can help us better understand whether labels are an effective way to increase demand for food and beverages with a lower carbon footprint.