Journal of Consumer Policy

, Volume 37, Issue 4, pp 465–484 | Cite as

Eating Sustainably? Practices and Background Factors of Ecological Food Consumption in Four Nordic Countries

  • Mari NivaEmail author
  • Johanna Mäkelä
  • Nina Kahma
  • Unni Kjærnes
Original Paper


This article examines sustainable food consumption in the Nordic context, studying to what extent people in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden have food consumption patterns that are in the current discourse promoted as sustainability enhancing. The article analyses the association of sustainable food consumption to attitudinal support for environmental policy measures, interest in cooking, and healthy eating practices as well as sociodemographic background factors. The comparison of four countries enables an analysis of the importance of the national context in sustainable food consumption. The study is based on data from a 2012 Nordic Web survey (N = 8248). The results show that carrying out sustainable activities was not very widespread. Buying local food was the most popular, eating meat less often the most unpopular sustainable activity. The level of participation in sustainable practices varied across the four countries. Swedish respondents were the overall most active, Norwegians the least. However, results from analysis of variance (anova) indicated that the individual explanatory factors of sustainable food consumption were relatively similar in the four countries. Healthy eating patterns, interest in cooking, and supporting environmental policy measures were all positively correlated to sustainable food consumption. Women and the elderly were more active in sustainable practices than were men and the young. Education and occupational position played a role, too, but their effect was not totally systematic across countries. The findings suggest that sustainable food consumption is not a strongly socially stratified phenomenon, but it is related to other practices of eating regarded as “proper,” such as interest in cooking and healthy eating. Broader and more inclusive policies are needed to better engage people in sustainable activities.


Comparative research Food consumption Nordic countries Sustainability 



The research project Food in Nordic Everyday Life: A comparative survey of change and stability in eating patterns (2011–2014) is financially supported by The Joint Committee for Nordic research councils in the Humanities and Social Sciences (NOS-HS). The study design was devised together by the project partners Lotte Holm (principal investigator), University of Copenhagen; Marianne Pipping Ekström, University of Gothenburg; Jukka Gronow, University of Helsinki; Unni Kjærnes, National Institute for Consumer Research, Oslo; Thomas Bøker Lund, University of Copenhagen; Johanna Mäkelä, University of Helsinki; and Mari Niva, National Consumer Research Centre, Helsinki. The authors would like to thank all partners as well as the two anonymous reviewers for their valuable and constructive comments on earlier versions of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mari Niva
    • 1
    Email author
  • Johanna Mäkelä
    • 2
  • Nina Kahma
    • 1
  • Unni Kjærnes
    • 3
  1. 1.National Consumer Research CentreHelsinkiFinland
  2. 2.University of HelsinkiHelsingin yliopistoFinland
  3. 3.National Institute for Consumer ResearchOsloNorway

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