Examining social norms among other motives for sustainable food choice: The promise of descriptive norms

Laura Salmivaara, Chiara Lombardini, Leena Lankoski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
204 Downloads (Pure)


This study examines the relative importance of social norms among other motives in driving sustainable food choice. It distinguishes between injunctive and descriptive social norms, as well as between reported actual choice and intended future choice. The study uses binary logistic regression models and survey data (N=348) from five workplace restaurants in Helsinki, Finland where a novel, local and environmentally friendly dish, roach fish patties, was being launched. Workplace restaurants account for a significant share of food consumption in Finland and are a relevant context for investigating the impact of social norms as the food choice is highly observable. The study reveals that perceived descriptive norms are significantly associated with both actual and intended food choice while perceived injunctive social norms are not related to either. It also finds that in the case of actual choice, the impact of perceived descriptive norms is weaker compared to that of other motives, such as habit, visual appeal, value for money, and ability to satiate hunger. In the case of intended choice, only taste has a stronger impact than the descriptive norm. Further, the analysis situates the motives for food choice in the larger theoretical discussion of System 1 and 2 decision processes and of the impact of visceral factors on food choice, and finds that visceral-factor-related motives have a stronger impact on actual choice than on intended choice. The study shows how the role of social norms in sustainable food choice is more nuanced than presented in previous literature. It concludes that there can be scope for steering food choice towards greater sustainability through a skilled mobilization of descriptive norms.
Original languageEnglish
Article number127508
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Early online date2021
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2021
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Food choice
  • Sustainability
  • Social norms
  • Injunctive norms
  • Descriptive norms


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