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Navigating the Green Jungle: Challenges of Eco-Labels in Recipe Selection

Updated: Aug 24, 2023

In today's rapidly evolving world, where sustainable living takes center stage, conscientious consumers are increasingly seeking ways to make eco-friendly choices in all aspects of their lives. This includes not only their shopping habits but also the recipes they select and the meals they prepare. This is where the concept of "eco-labelling" enters in the culinary realm – a practice that promises to guide us toward more sustainable food choices. However, as with any emerging trend, there are challenges that need to be navigated.

The Recipe for Eco-Labelling

Eco-labelling in the context of recipes involves labeling dishes or meals with indicators that highlight their environmental impact. These labels often provide information about factors such as carbon footprint, water usage, ingredient sourcing, and packaging. Such information empowers consumers to make choices aligned with their eco-conscious values.

Challenge 1: Ingredient Supply Chains

One of the primary challenges in eco-labelling for recipes is the intricate nature of ingredient supply chains. With globalization, ingredients can come from various parts of the world, each with its own environmental considerations. Determining the precise environmental impact of a single ingredient can be a daunting task, as it involves tracing its journey from farm to table. Achieving accurate and comprehensive data for such labeling can be a formidable challenge.

Luckily the majority of our impact can be related to making a shift in which food groups we eat, rather than changing the origin of the food we consume. This makes that working with average values for food products will give a good idea of the impact of a recipe, especially relative to other recipes.

Challenge 2: Complexity of the matter

Eco-labelling for recipes involves a delicate balance of multiple environmental factors. From the greenhouse gas emissions associated with ingredient production to the water footprint left behind, each aspect contributes to the overall sustainability picture. The challenge arises when these factors interact and sometimes even contradict, making it difficult to provide consumers with a straightforward and easily understandable score.

A full lifecycle assessment can easily contain more than 15 climate impact factors, making it very difficult for a consumer to compare recipes regarding their impact. Aggregated scores, like the Eco-score, often oversimplify this equation and do not allow for consumers to match their choices to an actual environmental impact. By selecting a product that has is labelled with an A in stead of a B, consumers don't know how much better they are performing (how much emitted carbon am I saving?) or which impact factors this better score is related to (is this product performing better because it has a lower carbon footprint or a lower water footprint?). This makes 'sustainability' a very vague concept to most of us.

This issue can be solved in several ways. We can decide to only look at the climate factors that are influenced the most by food (greenhouse gas emissions, water use, eutrofications,...) or work in a more layered way - by, for example, labeling a recipe as green, yellow or red in a first instance, but also give the consumer access to more data that is displayed in a very intuitive way. Further research, especially in the behavioural science field, is required to understand how we can increase people's understanding of this impact.

Challenge 3: Balancing Nutrition and Sustainability

While eco-labelling aims to promote environmentally friendly choices, it must also account for nutritional considerations. A sustainable recipe might involve ingredients that are unfamiliar or less palatable to the average consumer, potentially compromising the overall health and enjoyment of a meal. Striking the right balance between sustainability and nutritional value poses a unique challenge that requires creative culinary solutions.

Challenge 4: Perception and Behavior Shift

Educating consumers about eco-labelling and fostering behavioral change presents yet another hurdle. Many individuals are accustomed to choosing recipes based on taste, convenience, and familiarity. Convincing them to consider the ecological impact of their culinary choices demands a shift in mindset. Moreover, some may be skeptical about the accuracy of eco-labels, requiring transparent and trustworthy information sources.

Challenge 5: Standardization and Regulation

As with any emerging trend, there's a lack of standardized regulations for eco-labelling in recipes. Without clear guidelines, different sources might use varying criteria to label dishes, leading to confusion and inconsistency among consumers. Developing universally accepted standards and regulations that consider both global and local contexts is an ongoing challenge.

Overcoming the Challenges

While the challenges of eco-labelling in recipes are significant, they are by no means insurmountable. Collaboration among chefs, food scientists, environmental experts, and regulatory bodies can pave the way for solutions. Using our upcoming score that is tailored to recipes, and that allows to display an aggregated score, as well as more elaborate information, we can start the shift towards a more sustainable diet today!

Interested to test our score in your company or kitchen? Make sure to e-mail us via

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