The negative footprint illusion: Perceptual bias in sustainable food consumption

Karen Gorissen*, Bert Weijters

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The current research introduces the negative footprint illusion: Although adding a green to a non-green food product necessarily increases total environmental impact (footprint), consumers will sometimes erroneously estimate the total environmental impact of the combination of the green and non-green product lower than the same non-green product alone. The negative footprint effect is demonstrated in two between-subjects survey experiments among consumers responsible for purchases in their household (N = 536, N = 580), is partially supported in a student sample (N = 219), but does not show up in a within-subject experiment (N = 477). Our findings contribute to the understanding of how consumers deal with environmental impact information and how such information can be subject to biased processing. We relate our findings to the broader literature on heuristic processing, as well as to the concepts of green-washing and compensatory green beliefs, and draw implications for research and policy making.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)50-65
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Environmental Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Eco labels
  • Green consumption
  • Negative footprint illusion
  • Organic food
  • Perceptual bias


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