Lacking in green conviction

In an effort to woo shoppers, brands are keener than ever to prove their green credentials, yet consumers are not living up to their own ideals by doing enough to make a significant difference

earth_recycleLast week it was reported that the Arctic ice cap is melting at the fastest rate recorded, with US scientists grimly predicting it will have completely disappeared in 25 years if this rate continues.

The environment is top of everyone’s agenda, from central governments to household brands. It seems that each week another brand owner is rolling out a green initiative or going to great lengths to prove their environmental credentials as they attempt to meet customers’ expectations. Earlier this year, Marketing Week dedicated an entire publication to the issue of how environmental concerns are affecting marketers and brands (MW May 31).

But are consumers’ attitudes to the environment being translated into their behaviour? Are consumers’ habits changing as they expect brands to alter theirs in a bid to reduce their environmental impact? Velvet, the toilet tissue brand owned by SCA, has commissioned research into UK consumers’ attitudes to the environment, as part of a new tie-up with environmental charity WWF.

The research questioned 1,332 UK adults, 61.6% of whom had children, and examines issues such as how concerned they are about the environment, who influences their decisions around the issue and what action they are taking.

It is certainly a subject consumers believe they are addressing, with 83% of respondents saying their household is environmentally friendly, although a slightly greater proportion of women than men (84.4% compared to 80.3%) make the claim. Interestingly, a significantly greater proportion (89%) of over-55s say their household is environmentally friendly, compared to 45to 54-year-olds (56.1%).

As well as differing attitudes among genders and age groups, there are also regional differences. Respondents in Yorkshire consider themselves to be the most environmentally conscious, with 91.2% of respondents saying they are, followed by the South-west (87.4%) and the East (84.9%). The North-east and Northern Ireland are least environmentally conscious at 75% and 76.5% respectively.

The weather appears to be of concern, with over half (58%) of respondents saying recent severe weather in the UK is a further sign of negative climate change. With such concerns in mind, respondents say they are making efforts to reduce their impact, with 84.2% saying they always turn off unused lights, 71.3% saying they turn off taps when brushing teeth, 70.7% saying they turn off electrical goods, rather than keeping them on standby, and 65.2% saying they set their washing machine at a low temperature.

Respondents assert that they themselves are the biggest influence on their environmental behaviour (48.3%), with the media coming second (27.7%) and the Government coming in a very poor sixth place. Interestingly, respondents say their children have a greater influence over their behaviour than their partner – 6.8% compared to 6.6% – although women are more influenced by their children than men (7.3% versus 5.7%).

It is also interesting to note that younger people are more influenced by both the media and the Government than older respondents. The media is a bigger influence among 16to 24-year-olds (30.3%) compared to the over-55s (21.6%), while for 7.6% of 16to 24-year-olds, the Government is the greatest influence, compared to just 3.2% of over-55s.

Consumers may be making small changes, such as the above, to their energy consumption habits, but they have yet to significantly alter general attitudes and consumption habits. There is clearly a wide gulf between adults’ claims to be aware of issues relating to the environment, and their everyday actions. Nearly three-quarters (62%) of parents in the survey say they would buy new household items instead of re-using or repairing them, while less than a quarter (24%) say they would make the smallest changes to their shopping choices, by looking at product packaging to discover which has the least negative impact on wildlife and the environment.

There may have been much publicity around the sourcing of food and food miles, but just 14.5% of respondents say they now choose to buy domestic produce, rather than buying food produced abroad.

The survey also shows that children in the UK are more environmentally aware than their parents. Children are mainly concerned about animals, however, with 48.6% of parents in the survey saying their children are concerned about the protection of animals, compared to 30.2% who are worried about their carbon footprint.

The findings of our research reflect the sorry state of the UK’s attitude to the environment. People believe they are environmentally conscientious, yet it seems that very few are taking essential action to make small changes to their lifestyles. 

Traci Baxter, brand manager at Velvet, contributed to this week’s Trends Insight

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