Nudging Our Way To A Healthier Environment
One behavioral intervention that has shown to be effective in plant-based advocacy is called nudging. Nudging is a subtle way of persuading people to opt for a certain choice by purposefully designing the environment in which people act. An example is putting certain foods at the front of a buffet or labeling the health impacts of menu items. One popular nudge is called default choice, where a consumer is served a purely plant-based or vegetarian option unless they make the effort of asking for an animal product.
But what exactly are the environmental benefits of nudging? This article shows how people can calculate the land use, water use, and emissions saved by offering a default veg*n meal at a conference or similar event. The authors first break down the formula they’d use for computing the conference’s food-based environmental impact before and after the nudge is used. Then they apply their model to a hypothetical conference scenario.
Data Included In The Model
The first number needed for the formula is the number of participants expected to attend the event. The model assumes each attendee will receive one meal, but this can be adjusted. Next, data is required on the effectiveness of the nudge being used. Specifically, how many event attendees would be expected to choose a plant-based meal without the nudge, and how many are expected to choose it with the nudge in place? This means looking at previous research on nudges (and it’s important to note that nudging research shows varied results). Finally, the model uses data on the environmental impact factors of each ingredient used for the conference’s plant-based and animal-based meal options (e.g., the emissions, land use, and water use of each ingredient).
Once the environmental impact of each meal is calculated, it can then be multiplied by the number of conference participants expected to choose each meal with and without the nudge. Presumably, the final number would be lower with the nudge in place, revealing the total environmental benefits of the intervention.
To test their model, the authors came up with a hypothetical conference with 200 participants. They assume each participant only receives one meal, and they can choose either a traditional club sandwich or a roasted vegetable wrap. (They didn’t include the impact of beverages, which is important for future event hosts to consider.) To determine the effectiveness of their hypothetical nudge, the authors refer to a series of research on default veg*n nudges that suggests around 7% of people will choose a plant-based option without being nudged vs. 87% who are nudged to do so.
After inputting the environmental impact factors for the club sandwich and veggie wrap, the authors conclude that implementing a default nudge in this hypothetical conference could lower food-based emissions by 63%, food-based land-use change by 75%, and food-based water use change by 64%.
It is worth noting that there are several weaknesses in the model. For example, the authors did not include all of the possible environmental impacts of food and how it’s prepared. The model also depends on the efficacy of the nudge being used. It’s one thing to assume that 87% of people would choose a plant-based meal after being nudged, but the actual results may vary.
The takeaway is that plant-based nudges can support the environment in meaningful ways. The authors suggest that their framework can be used by advocates who work with food service groups. At the very least, it can serve as a springboard, helping environmentally-conscious chefs, restaurateurs, and food business employees plan their menus and select the most effective ingredients.