The earth isn’t having a good 21st century. In terms of environmental health, the planet is deteriorating across all metrics, and most governments worldwide have failed to address this issue adequately. Politicians may be more willing to push for substantive policies on issues like climate change if they feel their constituents would support them, but they need the data. So, to commemorate Earth Day and Arbor Day, ThinkNow conducted a nationally representative quantitative consumer research study to identify sustainability policies that Americans support and to highlight their views on environmental concerns.
Download the study here.
Environmental concerns vary significantly by generation. For example, when asked about the importance of personally using renewable energy, 46% of Millennials said it was important, very important or extremely important (Top 3 Box response on a 10-point scale), whereas only 29% of Baby Boomers and 32% of Gen Z agreed. Millennial Americans were more likely to support and engage in every sustainability measure we asked about.
Millennials were also more likely to say they personally engaged in sustainability practices more than the general population and that those practices positively impacted the world.
However, sustainability can be expensive. Some policies increase the cost of goods and services, which is often cited as a reason politicians choose not to pursue them. But Millennials are willing to shoulder the expense more so than any other generation, with Gen Z a close second.
Some attitudes and behaviors surrounding sustainability appear to be influenced by ethnicity. Eighty-eight percent of Asian Americans, for example, say they take shorter showers to conserve water, whereas only 77% of non-Hispanic Whites say they do that. Non-Hispanic Whites were most likely to say they buy used/thrift items at 76%, while only 61% of Asian Americans were thrift shoppers.
Among the different ethnic groups, African Americans displayed the lowest level of concern regarding the planet's future, with only 68% expressing worry. On the other hand, Hispanics had the highest level of anxiety, with 76% expressing concern. This discrepancy could explain why Hispanics are also the group most willing to shoulder the financial costs associated with sustainable practices.
Income level is key in predicting an individual's likelihood to support or engage in sustainability practices. Opting to go green can get expensive, which explains why only 34% of individuals earning less than $40K per year believe that personally using renewable energy is important, in contrast to 50% of high earners who do. Additionally, certain practices, such as growing one's own food, are more feasible for individuals living in single-family homes than those residing in multi-unit buildings.
The infrastructure bill passed in 2021 aims to increase the number of electric vehicles (EVs) on the road. However, 52% of our representative sample said they would not buy an EV in the future. This presents a problem if the U.S. hopes to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. At 64%, the main reason survey respondents gave for not planning to purchase an electric vehicle was cost. EVs are more expensive than their gas-powered counterparts. Range, on the other hand, was a barrier a few years ago, but only 15% of respondents cited that as a reason today. A lack of charging accessibility was the second most likely reason respondents would avoid EVs, with 34% stating they had nowhere to charge at work or home and an equal 34% stating there aren't enough charging stations.
Sustainability and environmental concerns are becoming increasingly important to Americans, particularly younger generations. Millennials and Gen Z are more likely to support and engage in these practices, even if they come at a cost. The passage of the infrastructure bill in 2021 represents progress in decreasing our reliance on fossil fuels. However, the cost of purchasing an electric vehicle remains a significant obstacle for many Americans. To effectively address environmental degradation, policymakers must consider their constituents' attitudes, behaviors, motivators, and barriers when formulating policies to tackle this crucial issue. Further action is necessary to ensure that sustainable solutions are accessible and feasible for all.