There’s grim news in this year’s Earth Day polls

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The polls are back – Earth Day-related polls measuring public opinion on environmental issues, that is. And while they never really left, they seem to be getting stronger this year.

For more than a decade, I’ve tracked public opinion polls that gauge the attitudes of Americans and others on everything from public policy to personal habits. (See some recent examples from 2021, 2020, and 2019 — and, if you really want to get into the weeds, as far back as 2007.) Finding, reading, and synthesizing all of these findings is tedious work, sure, but I consider that as a public service.

This year’s poll – spoiler alert – is not particularly encouraging. Despite years of education and activism, not to mention ordinary advertising and public relations, we don’t seem much closer to this utopian vision of the masses coming together to support a greener, cleaner planet, let alone trying to solve the impending climate crisis.

So, let’s dig.

Top line: The economy, the war in Ukraine, the pandemic and other issues have pushed the climate crisis to the back burner for most Americans. A CBS News/YouGov poll found that the number of people saying climate change should be dealt with “now” has risen from 56% a year ago to 49% today. “This emergency drop, while not steep, is widespread,” he noted. “Fewer people of all ages, races and education groups, and of all partisan stripes, think climate change needs to be addressed immediately than they thought a year ago. Yet the most Americans believe this is a problem that needs to be solved now or at least within the next few years.”

Around the world, few can correctly identify the actions that would have the greatest impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

There was a similar sentiment in the Pew Research Center’s latest effort to understand which issues the public considers most important. “Dealing with climate change” ranked 14th out of 18 issues, behind “defence against terrorism” and “social security”, two topics which, although important, have not really made the news these days. last time. Overall, about four in 10 American adults said tackling climate change should be a top priority for President Joe Biden and Congress.

The outlook is hardly more encouraging outside the US borders. The Earth Day Ipsos poll of more than 23,000 adults in 31 countries concluded: “Among the things people are worried about, climate change is moderate among other concerns. Just under half said the climate was a concern, placing it eighth on a list of 15 topics, slightly ahead of “protecting children from internet pornography”. Concern was greatest in Colombia, Chile, Italy, Mexico and Argentina, although Ipsos did not offer its opinion on why Latin Americans seem more worried than others. Concern was lowest in Britain, Japan, the Netherlands, Russia and China.

The Netherlands?!? A third of this country is below sea level! Perhaps the lack of concern has to do with the fact that only 30% of Dutch citizens think their country “has a clear plan in place for how government, business and citizens themselves will work together. to combat climate change”. Globally, the number was 39%.

More communications, please.

Speaking of business, Americans are “looking for businesses to step up,” according to a new survey conducted by Harris Poll for the Conference Board. The research has been published in two reports, on consumers’ sustainability priorities and their view of progress across sectors.

Among the discoveries:

  • Consumers are interested in supporting corporate sustainability efforts. Yet the high price of durable products or services is a significant barrier. “Innovations aimed at better balancing product quality, price and convenience will contribute to greater consumer acceptance of sustainable alternatives.”
  • Consumer expectations for faster progress are likely to increase. Consumers say changes are needed across a range of industries to advance sustainability. “Associating with established or emerging initiatives and showing a willingness to collaborate with competitors for the common good can signal a company’s commitment to stakeholders.”
  • Communications must intensify. “Lack of awareness, understanding and trust in sustainability claims are all significant barriers to consumers purchasing sustainable products more frequently,” according to Harris Poll.

Consumers viewed utilities, technology and food companies as sustainability leaders, followed closely by homebuilders, automakers, restaurants, pharmaceutical manufacturers and appliance makers.

Another interesting finding: “Companies might be better off focusing on the sustainability enthusiasts rather than trying to convert the naysayers.” From a cost-benefit perspective, there may be less to be gained from trying to convince skeptical consumers of the benefits of sustainable products; they are less likely to accept a sustainability premium. “To reach these skeptical consumers, companies need to combine their communications about their sustainability initiatives with messaging 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 skeptical consumers. Even those who seem to care aren’t particularly knowledgeable about what to do.

It’s a sobering conclusion from an Ipsos survey that found that most people around the world “are not very likely to make environmentally friendly changes that would have the greatest impact on the reduction of carbon emissions”. Less than half say they are 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 would have the greatest impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Ipsos noted. Among a list of possible actions, people are most likely to say that recycling is the best way to reduce emissions (49%). However, recycling ranked 60th on a list of the most impactful personal climate actions in this 2020 academic study.

Ipsos concluded: People “are always the least likely to change the behaviors that would have the most impact.”

Let’s stop for a moment and think about this 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 this points to an urgent need for companies to intensify their training activities, whether with employees, customers or the world. There is a clear and present danger in public ignorance about environmental issues in general and about climate solutions in particular.

A final complaint: Can we please please stop asking people to choose between prioritizing environmental protection or economic growth? Gallup has been asking for it for decades, including again this year, helping to perpetuate the myth that it can only be one or the other. By now it should be well established that the two are not only compatible but inextricably linked: you cannot have a healthy economy in a failing environment.

In this view, a false choice is worse than no choice at all.

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