Americans have come a long way in their commitment to preserve and protect the environment since a groundbreaking survey from 1990 took the pulse of their green attitudes and behavior. Conventional wisdom holds that increased knowledge about the environment leads to more action and empowerment on the part of Americans.
And certainly, their knowledge has risen. Today, 73 percent say they know a lot or a fair amount about environmental issues and problems, up from 50 percent earlier.
So, what does action look like [PDF]? This basic question led to the pioneer study, The Environment: Public Attitudes and Individual Behavior, which I was a part of back in 1990. The study, commissioned by SC Johnson and executed by GfK Roper, was the first, large-scale survey to measure both green attitudes and behaviors. We wanted to understand whether -- if equipped with the right tools and knowledge -- it is possible to change consumer behavior, or action, for the greener.
Compared to 20 years ago, twice as many Americans are taking proactive steps to help the environment. Today, 58 percent of Americans recycle, 29 percent buy green products regularly and 18 percent commute in an environmentally friendly manner. What is so encouraging -- and what we really need to understand -- is that these small, green steps are indeed impactful.
For example, simply recycling one aluminum soda can yields enough energy to power my laptop for five hours or light up my office for 20 hours using a 60-watt energy-saving light bulb. These individual steps are made possible because individuals have a desire to modify their behavior, but also because businesses and governments have taken a leadership role in facilitating these changes by providing the right tools, products and processes.
While progress is being made, we have a way to go. The survey finds that consumers are more interested in the convenience factor rather than the impact a product has on the environment. That is a challenge we all need to overcome -- both individuals and businesses alike.
In fact, consumers do want businesses to go green. Three-in-four respondents agree that "a manufacturer that reduces the environmental impact of its production process and products is making a smart business decision." Those are much higher marks than Americans gave business in 1990.
Taken together, these changes in consumer attitudes and actions may have extraordinary impact on the environment in the future. Individuals place themselves higher at 38 percent and rank businesses lower at 29 percent when asked who should take the lead in addressing environmental problems and issues.
After all, as we like to say, the customer is always right. We all have a role to play to protect our earth, and 75 percent of American consumers say they feel good when taking steps to help the environment. That's huge. Through increased environmental knowledge and with the right products and tools, we can all appeal to that sentiment to make smarter choices for a greener lifestyle.
Green shopping photo via Shutterstock.