Sustainable seals of approval: don’t trust every seal on your chocolate!

Sustainable seals of approval: don’t trust every seal on your chocolate!

In a world where sustainability and environmental awareness are becoming increasingly important, quality seals play a crucial role. But not every seal delivers what it promises. A recent study sheds light on precisely this question and provides surprising insights into the world of certifications.

A jungle of seals

Quality seals are ubiquitous, especially in the food sector, such as chocolate. These small symbols are intended to reassure consumers that the product meets certain standards – be it environmental, health or social aspects. But the reality is much more complex. Some of these seals are untested. This means that they are not certified by independent bodies.

What does this mean for the consumer?
Can these seals be trusted at all under these circumstances?

The study: An experiment with chocolate

Pia Futterer, a student of our bachelor’s program tried to answer these questions in her Bachelor thesis. In a quantitative online survey with 101 participants who regularly consume chocolate she took a closer look at precisely this problem. The participants evaluated four chocolate bars, each bearing a different seal: a known certified one (German organic seal), an unknown certified one (Biokreis seal), an invented, untested one (see picture) and a bar with no seal at all. The results are astounding.

Main results: Trust in unverified seals

 The study shows that even unverified seals of approval increase consumers’ willingness to buy. What is even more surprising is that these unverified seals were rated as more credible than unknown verified seals. This underlines the fact that many consumers have difficulty distinguishing between reliable and questionable seals. This blind trust in unverified labels is alarming and shows how urgently regulatory measures are needed.

The role of availability heuristics

 Why do consumers trust unverified seals? One answer lies in the so-called availability heuristic. This mental shortcut leads us to perceive easily accessible or frequently seen information as particularly credible. So, if an unverified seal often appears on products, we tend to trust it – regardless of whether it is actually verified or not.

Discussion: A complex purchase decision

 The results of the study suggest that consumers often do not have the motivation or ability to critically scrutinize the credibility of quality seals.

Especially when it comes to stressful grocery shopping, we often rely on simple decision-making rules. This is exacerbated by the abundance of products and information in the supermarket, which further increases the confusion.

Recommendations: Time to act

 In view of these findings, it is important that we as a society take action:

  1. Stricter legal regulations: The planned EU directive against greenwashing must be implemented as soon as possible to ensure that only certified seals may be used. This directive would help to prevent misleading environmental claims and ensure that only verified seals appear on products.
  2. Conscious consumption: Consumers should actively inform themselves about the meaning and origin of quality labels. Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to sustainable consumption. Better consumer education about the various labels could help to avoid misjudgments.
  3. Transparency on the part of companies: Companies should disclose which criteria their seals of approval fulfill and how these are checked in order to strengthen consumer trust. A clear and transparent process for awarding seals of approval could help to win back consumer trust.

Conclusion: More than just a seal

 This study opens our eyes to the fact that not every seal of approval delivers what it promises at first glance. While we want to be environmentally conscious, we also need to be more critical and not blindly trust every label. The results underline the urgency of better regulation and education so that we can make more informed and sustainable purchasing decisions in the future.

The next chocolate bar you buy could tell more than just a story about taste – it could also be a story about trust and deception. Don’t trust every seal on your chocolate!



Sustainable consumption series part 3: Does it have to be quality seals? – Alternative packaging design elements

Blog series part 1

Blog series part 2

As we have mentioned, quality seals and clean labels require specific conditions to be met whereby companies need to consider their individual trade-off between the potential positive effects on consumer perceptions and the resources needed to fulfil their requirements. From a company’s perspective, meeting these requirements potentially leads to higher costs, for instance. Thus, as not all companies utilize quality seals on their packaging, we would like to answer the question of how relevant quality seals and labels are in comparison to other design elements in terms of sustainability or naturalness. How effective are quality seals compared to alternatives?

Continue reading “Sustainable consumption series part 3: Does it have to be quality seals? – Alternative packaging design elements”

Sustainable consumption series part 2: Do all quality seals achieve the same effect? – Implications for companies

In our first post of the sustainable consumption blog series, we concluded that quality seals communicate sustainability, but consumers have limited knowledge of their meaning and an overly positive image of them. To draw more specific implications, we attempt to answer the question which quality seals and labels consumers accept the most when buying products. Do all quality seals serve the same positive effect? Finding answers to this question is especially relevant for companies as various quality seals require different levels of conditions to be met.

Continue reading “Sustainable consumption series part 2: Do all quality seals achieve the same effect? – Implications for companies”

Sustainable consumption series part 1: Do quality seals communicate sustainability? – The consumers‘ perspective

According to the United Nations (Hoballah & Averous, 2015), sustainable consumption is an integral part in ensuring that human actions stay within our planet’s capacity and therefore in considering the living conditions of future generations as well. As consumers, our individual buying-decisions can help fasten sustainable development in various industries making it an interesting research topic for us. Our first blog post series will summarize our research regarding quality seals, clean labels and product packaging design in the field of sustainability as well as the consumers‘ perceptions of such. Ultimately, we want to know, whether consumers accept and use quality seals in the purchase decisions. Further, we will outline implications for companies. While doing so, we will recap studies and their results in relation to each topic.


Continue reading “Sustainable consumption series part 1: Do quality seals communicate sustainability? – The consumers‘ perspective”