As a society we have become more conscious of green issues and the dangers of global warming. New technology such as solar and wind power and electric cars are becoming increasingly prevalent.
But to what extent do we associate ourselves with green causes and environmentalism these days? And, if we do, is that really making any significant difference to our behaviour? Or is there a lot of ‘green’ window dressing involved here?
How green are we?
Market research from Synchronix shows that, in 2021, 8% of UK adults (aged 16-64) list ‘environmentalism’ as one of their key interests.
To put that in context this is more than the proportion who see ‘religion’ as a key interest (5%). And this is on a par with the 8% who say ‘motorsports, cars and bikes’ are a key interest.
That does not mean to say that ONLY 8% of us care about the environment. Take religion as an example. Only 5% of us would identify religion as one of our main interests. However, far more than 5% of us would identify/associate ourselves with a particular religion (as opposed to having no religion at all).
It’s much the same with people who express an interest in environmentalism. It may be that only 8% of us would strongly associate ourselves with the green cause but, no doubt, a great many more people beyond this number would nevertheless care about the environment, albeit to a lesser degree.
This 8% would therefore represent those of us who are most strongly committed to a greener future.
But does it make a difference?
Saying you are a keen supporter of environmentalism and actually doing something tangible about it are two different things. Do such sentiments translate into action?
There is evidence in our survey to suggest that it does.
18% of people who express their support for environmentalism live in households that either own an electric or hybrid car and/or have solar panels on the roof. This compares to 10% of those who don’t see environmentalism as one of their key interests. So, an interest in environmentalism can translate into tangible action.
Who are the ‘greens’?
Those with a keen interest in environmentalism are as likely to be male as female and come from a mix of ages. Perhaps environmentalism is a little more popular amongst younger adults, but not significantly more so (10% for the under 35s vs 7% for the over 55s is hardly an earth-shattering generational divide). The same is true when looking at differences by household income – 9% for those earning above £25k a year as against 7% for lower income households reflects an extremely limited real difference.
It seems clear that interest in the environment really does come from a broad mix of people from different backgrounds.
However, keen environmentalists are more likely than the rest of us to also be religious (17% claiming a strong interest in religion is significantly higher than the figure of 5% for everyone else). It would seem that religious belief, for some people at least, encourages them to care more about the environment.
Enthusiastic supporters of the green agenda are also more likely to see themselves as being involved with social activism (19% vs 5% for the rest of the population). However, this does mean that most green enthusiasts do not actually see themselves as a social activist.
Perhaps unsurprisingly keen environmentalists also show a stronger interest in nature and the outdoors more generally. Our survey shows that they are, for example, more likely to express a strong interest in wildlife (49% vs 14%); more likely to enjoy walking/hiking (63% vs 33%); and more likely to enjoy gardening (50% vs 24%).
In this sense a passion for environmentalism can be seen to be interwoven with a person’s wider lifestyle. Whether their passion for the outdoors makes them more environmentally conscious or whether they are more environmentally conscious because of their higher engagement with the natural world is debatable. However, it is probably more likely that environmentalism and a passion for the outdoors and the natural world are inter-related aspects of the same lifestyle (rather than one serving to promote the other).
Has COVID made us think differently about our environment?
COVID has brought big changes to our lives over the past year and a half. Lockdowns have limited our ability to socialise and curtailed a lot of indoor social activities that we took for granted before.
Getting out and about in the open air, at times, has been the only alternative to being cooped up at home on our own. Perhaps some of us have become more aware of the value of our natural world as a result and hence more concerned for the environment.
Many of us will also be aware that one of the side effects of lockdown has been the reduction in pollution. Fewer cars and planes travelling from A to B means fewer emissions. More limited economic activity has meant less pollution.
Even if only temporary, COVID has led to the biggest reduction in CO2 emissions ever measured globally – fully 17% in early April 2020. In some cities the difference in air quality this has created has been very noticeable.
One cannot help but wonder, in the longer term, whether COVID will have a lasting impact in terms of causing many of us to re-assess our priorities with regards to the environment.
Interest in environmentalism is a little higher amongst parents with children under the age of 12 (10% vs 7% for non-parents). This is only a small difference, but it does suggest that parents of younger children have been prompted to think more deeply about these issues and the kind of world they want their children to grow up in. And, if so, it is likely they will pass on these concerns and values on to the next generation.
It would be a great exaggeration to claim that the UK is a ‘green’ nation today. After all, 8% is very much a minority. However, 8% of UK adults equates to nearly 4 million people who now see environmentalism and green issues as representing key concerns for the future.
Synchronix Research: Survey of 1007 UK adults aged 16-64 conducted online in May/June 2021.
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