The European food and drinks industry is finalising plans to measure its environmental performance but increasingly price-aware consumers might derail their efforts, the European Commission cautioned.

A European round table bringing together the food industry, farmers and consumer groups has drawn up a series of 10 guiding principles to assess the environmental impact of food and drink products during their entire life cycle.

The principles, agreed on Tuesday (13 July), will guide the round table's future work on developing a uniform and scientifically reliable methodology for assessing the environmental impact of food and drink products.

It is also meant to serve as a communication tool for companies wanting to boast their green credentials.

The methodology, which is expected to be finalised by 2011, will address key sustainability challenges facing the food value chain, including climate change, resource efficiency, water use and waste reduction.

Consumer communication

Mike Faupel from the Sustainability Consortium, an organisation of global companies seeking to improve consumer product sustainability, noted that the proliferation of eco-labels and other green claims led to confusion among consumers.

There is a need for more holistic approach and more transparency in how products are evaluated, he said.

EU principles underline that the environmental information should be provided in an easily understandable way that supports informed choice and allows consumers to compare products. 

Price matters more than sustainability

But Jacqueline Minor, director of consumer affairs at the European Commission, noted that informing consumers does not necessarily change their behaviour.

While 83% of consumers say they worry about the environmental impact of the products they buy, they do not always opt for the most sustainable products, because prices are of greater concern to them, she explained.

Minor also suggested that price awareness among consumers is likely to increase in the future, meaning that the short-term benefits of lower costs will prevail over the long-term benefits of sustainable products.