Three in five Americans say they will make a New Year's resolution to live a "greener" or more environmentally friendly lifestyle in 2015, according to the results of a nationwide public opinion poll released by Tiller, LLC, a leading advocacy marketing consultancy.
The survey reveals Americans' deep and growing concern for the environment. When asked which factor posed the greatest long-term threat to their health and well-being, Americans chose climate change and environmental problems (45%) above terrorism (35%) and global epidemics like Ebola (21%). This prioritization is consistent with Americans' increasing concern over global warming and the belief expressed by more than half of all respondents (57%) that the condition of the environment has worsened over their lifetime.
The survey evidenced a growing resolve for Americans to take personal responsibility for the environment. Better than eight in 10 Americans (83%) said they plan to look for more opportunities to "go green" in 2015.Similarly, the 60% of Americans who vowed to make green resolutions this year represents a significant increase from previous iterations of the survey (53% in 2009 and 49% in 2007).
"There is no question but that the environment is emerging as a central concern for most Americans," said Rob Densen, CEO of Tiller. "The question is less whether the environment needs our attention and more what needs to be done, collectively and as individuals. New Year's resolutions aren't a bad place to start. Counting carbs is incredibly challenging; counting carbons, a little less so."
The representative survey of 1,005 respondents across all 50 states was conducted on the Internet between Dec. 1 and Dec. 4 by the polling firm Pollara Strategic Insights. All respondents were at least 18 years of age. A probability sample of this size would yield a margin of error of +/- 3.1%. The margin of error is greater for subpopulations of the data.
Concerns for the next generation
The survey evidenced profound concern for the environment.
A small minority of Americans (11%) dismisses the notion of global warming, and 58% report that their concern about it has increased over the last few years. Six in 10 respondents agreed with the statement that the "environment is in very bad shape and a major environmental catastrophe is inevitable."
These concerns have translated into a strong sense of stewardship for future generations. Eighty-five percent of respondents agreed that leaving their children a "cleaner, more sustainable world is/will be one of my greatest responsibilities as a parent."
"It's all too easy to let environmental issues accumulate and pass the problem on to future generations," said Jim Marren, president of Tiller. "But we are paying a price even now for poor environmental stewardship and that toll will only grow over time. Encouragingly, Americans understand that unless we, individually and collectively, make a concerted effort to protect the environment now, we will damage our world in ways perhaps impossible for our children to repair. "
Women: A deeper shade of green
The survey revealed that women feel a particularly acute sense of concern about the environment.
Sixty-two percent of the women surveyed agreed with the statement that the environment is in very bad shape and that a major environmental catastrophe is inevitable. In addition, women were more likely than men to indicate that their concern over global warming is increasing (64% vs. 52%).
At the same time, women display a higher sense of responsibility for reducing their environmental impact. They were more likely to agree that they would look for more opportunities to "go green" in 2015 (87% vs. 78%), and were also more apt to value the importance of day-to-day measures to improve the environment (such as moderating personal/household energy usage or bringing their own bags for grocery shopping).
Women were more likely than men to say they've felt guilt in recent years about not living a "greener" lifestyle (53% vs. 42%), and correspondingly were significantly less likely to express a fatalistic attitude about their own actions. Only one in five women agreed with the statement, "It's not worth making changes to lead a green life because one individual cannot have an impact on the environment." By comparison, nearly one in three men (32%) agreed with that statement.
"The survey data suggest that twin pillars of guilt and optimism are informing women's attitudes about environmental issues," said Tiller principal Elisa Stern. "Women are keenly aware of environment issues and of the opportunity for effecting positive change – and they are committed to doing something about it. For many women, green is the new black."
Corporations' environmental efforts viewed through a pragmatic lens
Of course, business can have a profound impact on the environment as well, and nearly four in five Americans (78%) agree that corporations have a responsibility to adopt "green" behaviors. By and large, survey respondents did not ascribe altruistic motives to corporations that change their business practices to become more environmentally responsible, believing most do so for regulatory or competitive reasons. Only 21% said they believe a genuine concern for the environment is a major motivating factor for companies that adopt greener behaviors. That said, 72% of respondents said that they do not care why a company goes "green" as long as they do so.
By the same token, improved environmental business practices can create competitive advantage for companies. Seventy-eight percent of Americans believe it is important to "purchase products from a socially or environmentally responsible company" and better than two in five (43%) said they have declined to buy a product over the past year out of concern for the effect the product or its packaging might have on the environment.
Survey results indicate that one way corporations can help themselves on the green front is by being more price-competitive. Three quarters of respondents said they would like to live a more environment-friendly life, but it's too expensive to buy "green."
"From a corporate perspective, improving a company's environmental policies and practices is truly a matter of enlightened self-interest," Densen said. "Sustainability and profitability are not mutually exclusive. Consumers want to work with companies and brands that are in alignment with their interests and, clearly, the environment is a genuine and growing public concern."
Taking steps to make a difference
The survey evidenced Americans' crucial commitment to grassroots efforts to improve the planet.
"Environmental responsibility begins at home, literally as well as figuratively," Marren said.”Encouragingly, our poll points to a rise in individuals taking responsibility for their behavior and actively looking for more ways to go green. It's not just about recycling or turning off the lights when you leave the house. As our survey demonstrated, responsibility to the environment has come to signify far more."
More than 75% of survey respondents said it's important to buy eco-friendly appliances, use green cleaning products, reduce household use of paper, and properly dispose of batteries, consumer electronics and everyday household chemicals.
"As we enter a new year, Americans should feel more empowered than ever to make a positive environmental change," Marren said. "When it comes to safeguarding the future of our environment, millions of individual actions can have a transformational impact."
New York City-based Tiller, LLC is one of the nation's leading consultancies in the creation and implementation of advocacy marketing programs for major U.S. corporations.
Founded in 1980, Pollara Strategic Insights is a full-service custom research consultancy serving a wide array of clients in the United States and Canada. The firm issues research reports on a wide variety of subjects, including politics, banking, energy, health care, investing and the environment.