Consumer Education and Behavior Change for Sustainable Food Systems

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Consumer education and behavior change initiatives aim to educate and empower consumers to make informed choices about the food they purchase and consume, promoting sustainable and healthy food systems. These initiatives focus on raising awareness about the environmental and social impacts of food choices, providing information about sustainable food options, and encouraging behavior change towards more sustainable consumption patterns.

Impact on climate action

Consumer Education and Behavior Change for Sustainable Food Systems under the main theme of Low-Carbon Food drives climate action by empowering individuals to make informed choices. By promoting plant-based diets, reducing food waste, and supporting sustainable agriculture, this innovation mitigates greenhouse gas emissions and fosters a more climate-resilient food system.


  • Educational Content and Resources: Initiatives develop and disseminate educational materials, such as websites, videos, social media campaigns, and educational programs, to provide consumers with information about sustainable food choices and their impact on the environment and society.
  • Behavioral Science: Understanding human behavior and psychology is crucial for designing effective communication strategies and encouraging pro-environmental behaviors. This includes using principles from behavioral economics, social psychology, and marketing to nudge consumers towards more sustainable choices.
  • Digital Platforms and Apps: Mobile apps and online platforms can be used to track food consumption, provide personalized recommendations for sustainable food choices, and connect consumers with local and sustainable food producers.
  • Community Engagement and Outreach: Initiatives engage with local communities through workshops, events, and partnerships to raise awareness about sustainable food systems and promote behavior change.
  • Food Labeling and Certification: Clear and informative food labeling and certification schemes can help consumers identify sustainable food products and make informed choices.

TRL : 7-8

Prominent Innovation themes

  • AI-Powered Personalized Recommendations: AI and machine learning algorithms can be used to analyze consumer data and provide personalized recommendations for sustainable food choices based on individual preferences and dietary needs.
  • Gamification and Behavioral Nudges: Gamification elements, such as points, badges, and leaderboards, can motivate consumers to adopt sustainable food behaviors. Behavioral nudges, such as default options and social comparisons, can also encourage positive change.
  • Food Waste Reduction Apps: Mobile apps can help consumers track their food waste, plan meals, and find recipes to reduce food waste at home.
  • Sustainable Food Delivery Platforms: Online platforms and delivery services that focus on sustainable food options can make it easier for consumers to access and purchase sustainable food products.
  • Educational Campaigns and Partnerships: Public awareness campaigns and partnerships with schools, community organizations, and businesses can promote sustainable food choices and educate consumers about the benefits of sustainable food systems.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Sustainable Food Labeling and Certification
  • Personalized Nutrition Guidance
  • Community-Based Food Initiatives
  • Digital Tools for Food Waste Reduction
  • Sustainable Food Delivery Services
  • School Curriculum Integration for Sustainable Eating
  • Behavioral Economics in Food Choices
  • Social Media Influencer Campaigns for Sustainable Eating
  • Local Food Sourcing Platforms
  • Food Donation and Redistribution Networks
  • Sustainable Seafood Education and Consumption
  • Urban Agriculture and Community Gardens
  • Circular Economy Approaches in Food Production
  • Food Education in Healthcare Settings
  • Food Sovereignty and Indigenous Food Systems
  • Plant-Based Diet Promotion
  • Climate-Friendly Cooking Workshops
  • Sustainable Tourism and Food Experiences

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  1. Too Good To Go:
    • Technology Enhancement: Too Good To Go operates a mobile app platform that connects users with local restaurants, cafes, bakeries, and grocery stores to rescue surplus food that would otherwise go to waste. The app allows businesses to list their surplus food at discounted prices, and users can purchase “surprise bags” containing a variety of items from these establishments.
    • Uniqueness: Too Good To Go’s unique selling point lies in its mission to reduce food waste by making surplus food accessible and affordable to consumers. The platform not only helps businesses minimize their environmental impact but also enables users to contribute to sustainability efforts while enjoying quality food at discounted prices.
    • End-User Segments: Too Good To Go caters to environmentally conscious consumers who are looking for convenient and affordable ways to reduce food waste and support sustainable food systems. The platform appeals to a diverse range of users, including students, professionals, families, and anyone interested in making a positive impact on the environment.
  2. Imperfect Foods:
    • Technology Enhancement: Imperfect Foods operates an online grocery delivery service that specializes in sourcing and selling “imperfect” or “ugly” produce and surplus food items that would otherwise be discarded due to cosmetic imperfections or overstock. The platform offers a subscription-based model where users can customize their orders and have them delivered directly to their doorstep.
    • Uniqueness: Imperfect Foods stands out for its commitment to reducing food waste by repurposing imperfect produce and surplus food items that would typically be discarded by traditional grocery stores. The platform not only helps farmers and suppliers reduce their waste but also provides consumers with access to affordable and sustainable food options.
    • End-User Segments: Imperfect Foods caters to environmentally conscious consumers who are looking for convenient and sustainable ways to shop for groceries. The platform appeals to individuals and families who prioritize freshness, quality, and affordability in their food choices and are eager to support efforts to reduce food waste and promote sustainability.
  3. Olio:
    • Technology Enhancement: Olio operates a mobile app platform that connects users with neighbors and local businesses to share surplus food items and other household items that are in good condition but no longer needed. The app allows users to list items they have available for sharing and browse listings from others in their community.
    • Uniqueness: Olio’s unique selling point lies in its community-driven approach to reducing food waste and promoting resource sharing. By facilitating connections between neighbors and local businesses, the platform encourages collaborative efforts to redistribute surplus food and other items within communities, thereby reducing waste and fostering a sense of community spirit.
    • End-User Segments: Olio caters to environmentally conscious consumers who are looking for ways to reduce waste, save money, and connect with others in their local community. The platform appeals to a diverse range of users, including individuals, families, community groups, and businesses, who are eager to participate in efforts to create a more sustainable and socially responsible society.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  1. Stanford University:
    • Research Focus: Stanford University is a pioneer in researching Consumer Education and Behavior Change for Sustainable Food Systems, focusing on understanding the psychological, social, and economic factors that influence food choices and promoting sustainable dietary behaviors among consumers.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves employing interdisciplinary approaches, including psychology, behavioral economics, and public health, to design interventions and communication strategies that motivate consumers to adopt environmentally friendly diets and reduce food waste. They also leverage digital technologies, social media platforms, and virtual reality simulations to engage and educate individuals about the environmental impacts of food production and consumption.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in promoting plant-based diets, reducing meat consumption, and encouraging sustainable food purchasing habits among consumers. By addressing behavioral barriers and fostering sustainable food choices, Stanford’s research contributes to mitigating climate change, conserving natural resources, and promoting human health and well-being.
  2. University of California, Berkeley:
    • Research Focus: University of California, Berkeley conducts innovative research on Consumer Education and Behavior Change for Sustainable Food Systems, leveraging its expertise in environmental science, nutrition, and communication studies to empower consumers to make informed and sustainable food choices.
    • Uniqueness: Their research encompasses the development of evidence-based messaging strategies, educational campaigns, and policy interventions to promote sustainable diets, reduce food waste, and enhance food literacy among diverse populations. They also collaborate with food retailers, restaurants, and policymakers to implement sustainability initiatives and create supportive environments for healthy and eco-friendly eating habits.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work find applications in community-based nutrition programs, school meal policies, and corporate sustainability initiatives, fostering a culture of conscious consumption and environmental stewardship. By bridging research with practice, UC Berkeley’s research aims to create systemic changes in food systems, promote social equity, and build resilience to climate change.
  3. Wageningen University & Research:
    • Research Focus: Wageningen University & Research is a leader in researching Consumer Education and Behavior Change for Sustainable Food Systems, with a focus on developing innovative strategies to promote sustainable diets, reduce food waste, and improve food-related decision-making at the individual and societal levels.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves integrating insights from consumer psychology, marketing, and environmental science to design interventions that nudge consumers towards more sustainable food choices. They also explore the role of food labeling, eco-certification schemes, and sustainable food procurement policies in shaping consumer preferences and driving market transformation towards low-carbon food systems.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in retail marketing, public health campaigns, and policy development, influencing consumer behavior towards adopting plant-based diets, choosing organic and locally sourced foods, and minimizing food packaging waste. By promoting consumer awareness and engagement, Wageningen’s research supports the transition to sustainable and resilient food systems that are compatible with planetary health and long-term sustainability goals.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Consumer education and behavior change initiatives are being implemented by various organizations, including government agencies, non-profit organizations, food companies, and retailers. For example, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has launched campaigns to raise awareness about food waste and promote sustainable food consumption practices.