Page updated 20.5.2014

Responsible Food Production is a Complex Issue

Due to global environmental problems we have to be able to have a structural impact on the environmental impacts of both production and consumption. For the change to be extensive enough, the issue must be examined on several different levels.

The Effect of Responsibility Labels on Consumers’ Purchase Decisions

Ethical labels and ecolabels affect consumers’ purchase decisions, as they are a part of consumers’ everyday life. Responsibility labels are a manifestation of self-regulation and their primary target group is consumers.

These so-called responsibility labels are designed to direct consumers to select goods that consume the environment as little as possible. Responsibility labels send the message that a labelled product is produced in a certain way.

“The labels either communicate the cultivation method of the raw material, the product’s manufacturing process, trade procedures or the product’s origin”, Ari Jolkkonen, Maija Nolvi and Kaisa Sorsa say.

In the TPR Inno research project, funded by the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation Tekes, the trio has clarified the effect of responsibility labels on consumers’ purchase decisions and how these labels promote the change towards more responsible business.

“Issues of ethical labels and environmental labels are constantly in the papers, because they are central steering methods of responsible consumption”, says Project Manager Kaisa Sorsa.

Many Factors Affect Consumers’ Purchasing Behaviour

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Many factors affect consumers’ purchasing behaviour and the purchase decisions they make. For some of the consumers price is the most important factor, and supply i.e. the availability of products also plays a key role.

About a third of Finns, however, are representatives of a lifestyle of health and sustainable development, or are so-called Lohas consumers (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability):

“For Lohas consumers the will to do the right thing is crucial when making the purchase decision”, says Lector Maija Nolvi. “In their purchase decisions, ethical, ecological and health-related aspects play a key role”, Nolvi continues.

Thus, Lohas consumers exist, and it is desirable that their number would grow. When consumers value responsible activities, they should be able to distinguish products that are responsibly produced. That is when the product itself and its packaging matter. Do consumers recognise the labels that signify responsible action? How do they interpret these labels?

The TPR Inno project has to some extent studied how consumers recognise different responsibility labels:

“It is impossible to say if consumers will ever be able to recognise and deeply understand the system behind the labels. However, for the society, it would be important that we could concentrate on responsibility: responsible actions and responsible consumption”, Maija Nolvi concludes.


The TPR Inno research project clarified the effect of responsibility labels on consumers’ purchase decisions and how these labels promote the change towards more responsible business.  The research project, funded by the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation Tekes, studied the value chains of five product groups. On a global level, the value chains of coffee, sugar and veal were studied. The value chains of salmon and fast food were examined on a local level. The study tried to deepen the knowledge on how different responsibility labels, such as the Fairtrade label, promote more responsible business. One of the most important goals of the TPR Inno research project is that the results would help to give political recommendations between different standards and legislation, meaning how authorities should control the activities of food chains so that the change towards responsibility would accelerate.


All actors in the food chain (producers, refiners and consumers) have to become more responsible in their methods.

Politics try to promote sustainable development, but creating change solely by public sector actions is slow. Different actors from companies and the civic society (e.g. civic organisations) can together create big changes in the structures of trade and industry.

When a big actor in the food sector adopts responsibility requirements and different standards, it will also affect the actions of others. Civic organisations have for long steered global trade. The organisations have clarified and created different certification systems and reported on their findings in the media.

In terms of the environment, an extensive change in the ways and methods of production is inevitable. Producers at the beginning of the value chain have been educated to consider the consequences of their single actions in a broader perspective. However, a change in consumption is also needed.