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The current rate of production and consumption of meat poses a problem both to peoples’ health and to the environment. This work aims to develop a simulation of peoples’ meat consumption behaviour in Britain using agent-based modelling. The agents represent individual consumers. The key variables that characterise agents include sex, age, monthly income, perception of the living cost, and concerns about the impact of meat on the environment, health, and animal welfare. A process of peer influence is modelled with respect to the agents’ concerns. Influence spreads across two eating networks (i.e. co-workers and household members) depending on the time of day, day of the week, and agents’ employment status. Data from a representative sample of British consumers is used to empirically ground the model. Different experiments are run simulating interventions of application of social marketing campaigns and a rise in price of meat. The main outcome is the average weekly consumption of meat per consumer. A secondary outcome is the likelihood of eating meat.
How is it possible that the majority of consumers claim to prefer green products, but show very different behaviour in store environments? We suggest that the spread of unpopular norms in the sustainable consumption context may arise from norms misperceptions. Since unpopular norms can sustain themselves as long as the perception of unanimity is kept intact, we hypothesised that the physical environment of a retail store might correct purchase norms misperception and break down unpopular norms by exposing the true preference of the majority. An agent-based computational model recreating consumers moving freely inside a store was developed. Organic food was chosen as a case in point to inform the simulation. Conditions of the store were varied by clustering green products away from conventional ones or mixing them up. By mixing products, it is possible to break the normative lock-in that drives organic consumers towards conventional products, as this situation makes sustainable behaviours more visible compared to a clustered arrangement. The novelty of what we found is that (mis)perceptions of norms could be corrected via the physical environment.