The gaping chasm between green intentions and actions was again highlighted yesterday after a new survey from the Energy Saving Trust (EST) revealed that while eight out of ten people now believe climate change is already impacting the UK 40 percent are taking no action to reduce their energy use.
The Green Barometer study – which EST intends to undertake every quarter in order to track changing attitudes – surveyed 1,192 households and found that while environmental concerns are now entrenched in the national psyche relatively few people are changing even small aspects of their lifestyles in order to reduce their carbon footprint.
The survey found that 70 percent of people now believe being green is a popular thing to do with environmentally responsible behaviour seen as one of the most "virtuous" actions you can take.
However, it also discovered that 40 percent of respondents were taking no green actions and 39 percent were taking only small actions. Meanwhile, just four percent of respondents said they had made substantial lifestyle changes as a result of climate change fears, such as avoiding flying.
The report also found deep seated opposition to the idea of being obligated to take environmentally friendly actions with only a third of respondents deeming green taxes as socially acceptable, just 30 percent supporting road pricing and 28 percent coming out in favour of personal carbon allowances.
In contrast, the ban on smoking in public places - which similar to proposed environmental legislation could be interpreted as being in the social interest - was seen as twice as socially acceptable as any green measures.
For businesses the findings have two stark messages.
The first is that, as EST chief executive Philip Sellwood observes: "There's an enormous willingness to take on the environmental challenge".
Concern over climate change is entrenched and reducing energy use in the home is now seen as virtuous as donating money to charity, creating a huge opportunity for firms to bolster their brand image and enhance their competitiveness through adopting green business models and products.
However, firms are only likely to benefit if they are developing green products and services that customers can embrace without making fundamental changes to their lifestyles. Companies working on more intrusive green products have little chance of gaining traction in the short term and will have to embark on the mother and father of all customer education efforts if they are to ever convince people of the merits of changing their lifestyles for the sake of the planet.
More worrying for many business leaders is the realisation that the majority of people will simply not voluntarily undertake many of the changes that scientists believe are necessary to sufficiently reduce our carbon footprint.
As a result governments will be under growing pressure to balance the desire to maintain public support with the urgent need to slash our carbon emissions. Faced with this impossible political equation they are ever more likely to continue to postpone the really tough decisions surrounding climate change and instead target new green legislation at the business community rather than at a general populous that is already signaling its dissatisfaction with green laws and taxes.
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