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Polling returns – Earth Day related surveys that measure public opinion on environmental issues, ie. And while they never really went away, they seem to be getting stronger this year.
For more than a decade, I have tracked public opinion polls assessing the attitudes of Americans and others on everything from public policy to personal habits. (Check out some recent examples from 2021, 2020, and 2019 — and, if you want to really understand them, go back to 2007.) Finding, reading, and synthesizing all of these finds is hard work, of course, but I think of it as public service.
This year’s poll—spoiler alert—isn’t very encouraging. Despite years of education and activism, not to mention old advertising and PR, we seem no closer to the utopian vision of the masses coming together to support a greener and cleaner planet, much less trying to solve the looming climate crisis.
So, let’s dig in.
Top line: The economy, the war in Ukraine, the pandemic, and other issues have pushed the climate crisis into a major problem for most Americans. A CBS News/YouGov poll found that the number saying climate change should be tackled “now” fell from 56 percent last year to 49 percent today. “This drop in urgency, while not steep, is widespread,” he said. “Fewer people from age, racial and educational groups, as well as partisan groups, think that climate change needs to be tackled urgently than was thought a year ago. However, most Americans think this is an issue that needs to be addressed now or at least. in the next few years.”
Worldwide, few can correctly identify the actions that will have the greatest impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
There is a similar sentiment in the Pew Research Center’s latest attempt to understand which issues the public considers most important. “Tackling climate change” ranks 14th out of 18 issues, behind “defending against terrorism” and “securing Social Security,” two topics that, however important, haven’t made headlines in recent times. Overall, about four in 10 US adults say addressing climate change should be a top priority for President Joe Biden and Congress.
The outlook is not much more encouraging beyond US borders. Ipsos’ Earth Day poll of more than 23,000 adults in 31 countries concluded, “Among the things people worry about, climate change is the moderate among the other concerns.” Nearly half said climate was an area of concern, placing it eighth on a list of 15 topics, slightly above “protecting children from pornography on the internet.” The biggest concerns are in Colombia, Chile, Italy, Mexico and Argentina, though Ipsos doesn’t argue why Latin Americans seem to care more than others. The concerns were lowest in the UK, Japan, the Netherlands, Russia and China.
Dutch?!? One third of the country lies below sea level! Perhaps the lack of concern has to do with the fact that only 30 percent of Dutch citizens believe that their country “has a clear plan for how government, business and society itself will work together to tackle climate change.” Globally, the number stands at 39 percent.
More communication please
Speaking of business, Americans are “looking for companies to further enhance their efforts,” according to a new survey conducted by Harris Poll for The Conference Board. The research was released in two reports, on consumers’ sustainability priorities and their views on progress across sectors.
Among the findings:
- There is consumer interest in supporting the company’s sustainability efforts. But the premium price that sustainable products or services have is a significant barrier. “Innovations to better balance product quality, price and convenience will help consumers greater acceptance of sustainable alternatives.”
- Consumer expectations for faster progress are likely to increase. Consumers say change is needed across industries to advance sustainability. “Partnering with an established or emerging initiative and demonstrating a willingness to collaborate with competitors for the common good can signal the company’s commitment to stakeholders.”
- Communication needs to be improved. “Lack of awareness, understanding and belief in sustainability claims is an important barrier for consumers to buy more sustainable products,” according to the Harris Poll.
Consumers view utility, technology and food companies as sustainability leaders, with home builders, car makers, restaurants, drug makers and home appliances makers behind them.
Another interesting finding: “Companies may be better off focusing on sustainability enthusiasts than trying to convert naysayers.” From a cost-benefit perspective, there may be little benefit in trying to convince skeptical consumers of the benefits of sustainable products; they are less likely to accept a sustainability price premium. “To reach such skeptical consumers, companies need to blend their communications about their sustainability initiatives with messages about other benefits that have more universal appeal such as quality, healthier ingredients or unique features, including design and customer experience.”
But it’s not just consumers who are skeptical. Even those who seem to care are not well informed about what to do.
That’s a sobering finding from an Ipsos survey that found most people around the world are “highly unlikely to make the green changes that will have the greatest impact on reducing carbon emissions.” Less than half said they were more likely to make changes such as eating less dairy, eating less meat, or switching to a more energy-efficient home heating system.
“Around the world, few can correctly identify the actions that will have the greatest impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” said Ipsos. From a list of possible actions, people would most likely say recycling is the best way to reduce emissions (49 percent). However, recycling ranks 60th on this list of the most impactful personal climate actions in this 2020 academic study.
Ipsos conclusion: People are “still the least likely to change the behavior that will have the most impact.”
Let’s pause and reflect on that sentence. After all these decades and countless billions of dollars spent on marketing and communications, the public still doesn’t know how to embrace climate solutions.
All of them speak of the urgent need for companies to improve their educational activities, whether to employees, customers, or the world. There is a clear and real danger in public ignorance about environmental issues in general and climate solutions in particular.
One final complaint: Can we, please stop asking people to choose between prioritizing environmental protection or economic growth? Gallup has been asking this question for decades, including again this year, helping to perpetuate the myth that it can only be one or the other. Now, it must be ensured that the two are not only compatible but closely related: you cannot have a healthy economy in a failing environment.
In that light, a wrong choice is worse than no choice at all.
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