A systematic literature review on meta sustainability labeling – What do we (not) know?

Gabriele Torma, John Thøgersen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/Conference contribution in journal/Contribution to newspaperReviewResearchpeer-review


Nudging consumers to make sustainable consumption decisions is what sustainability labeling is all about. However, the current sustainability labeling landscape is up against the challenge of too much, too complex, too similar, and too ambiguous information. Therefore, sustainability labeling schemes are looked upon as failing to support sustainability-involved consumers sufficiently. Meta sustainability labeling has been proposed as a means to reduce these challenges and strengthen the benefits of sustainability labeling. However, there is a need for systematically taking stock of and synthesizing what is known and what is yet unknown about meta sustainability labeling as input to decisions and development work regarding this instrument. This systematic literature review investigates how a meta sustainability label has been defined and assessed compared to existing, single-issue sustainability labels. First, four characteristic elements of a meta sustainability label are identified: multi-dimensionality, meta, multi-level, and universal. Second, a distinction between a meta sustainability label scheme and an integrated sustainability label scheme is proposed, the distinguishing characteristic being the (graphical) communication to the consumer. Third, benefits and disadvantages as well as facilitators of and impediments to implementing a meta sustainability scheme are identified. There is no consensus in the literature about the likelihood of a meta sustainability label doing a better job than existing sustainability labeling schemes. Perhaps the most important finding is that the debate regarding meta sustainability labeling is still in its infancy and lacks a proper evidence base. Thus, we encourage marketing and sustainability researchers to continue investigating meta sustainability labeling as a potentially useful tool for sustainability transformation.
Original languageEnglish
Article number126194
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


  • Consumer behavior
  • Ecolabel
  • Literature review
  • Meta label
  • Product labeling
  • Sustainability


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