Self-determined or Non-Self-determined? Exploring Consumer Motivation for Sustainable Food Choices

Maureen Schulze*, Meike Janssen

*Corresponding author for this work

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Agricultural production is one of the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions with livestock farming accounting for half of the mitigation potential of greenhouse gas emissions of agriculture, forestry, and land-use sectors. Hence, a sustainable transition of the agricultural sector is urgently needed to achieve the objectives outlined in the Paris Agreement. Considering the amount of scientific evidence emphasizing the urgency of changing current dietary patterns to mitigate climate change, international and national public as well as private initiatives were introduced aiming to promote sustainable food choices. However, little is known so far about whether external pressure, initiated, for instance, through socio-political campaigns, motivates consumers to adopt a more sustainable dietary style. This study closes this research gap by applying the self-determination theory (SDT) to investigate Danish consumers' motivation for eating more sustainably by taking the example of reducing meat consumption. The structural equation model applied to a representative sample of 838 Danish consumers reveals the continuing importance of intrinsic and internalized extrinsic motivation, while external motivation fails to encourage consumers to eat less meat. The subsequent latent class analysis identified four segments, with 12.4 % of Danish consumers highly intrinsically motivated, 30.4 % slightly intrinsically motivated, 27.3 % amotivated, and the remaining 29.8 % undecided. The results suggest that the level of perceived external pressure to foster more sustainable food choices have no effect on consumers' food decision. High perceived self-determined motivation and personal identification with eating more sustainably emerged as a crucial driver. Therefore, policy interventions and private measures should prioritize individuals' values over external pressure to foster more sustainable food choices. This research contributes to a better understanding of consumers' food-related behavioral changes, while also providing a theoretical contribution by applying the SDT to sustainable food choices.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSustainable Production and Consumption
Pages (from-to)57-66
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

Epub ahead of print. Published online: 28 December 2023.


  • Self-determination theory
  • Dietary change
  • Sustainability
  • Structural equation modelling
  • Latent class analysis

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