Earth Day and the polling of America, 2013

Here’s the most noteworthy finding among the spring 2013 crop of surveys and polls on Americans’ environmental attitudes: “Millennials Pretend to Care About the Environment,” a headline from DDB’s most recent Life Style Study that concluded, “When it comes to being environmentally friendly, Millennials are talking the talk, but not walking the walk.”

So much for the incoming class of citizens and consumers.

That’s par for the course, it seems. My seventh annual sampling of the crop of environmental opinion data that blossoms each year in the run-up to Earth Day doesn’t offer much reason for optimism. (Here’s a link to last year’s report, which also contains links to my annual posts going back to 2007.) The overall field of surveys, as far as I can tell, has declined over the past year or so, likely reflecting a drop in interest in the topic by marketers.

Abandon hope, all ye who read on.

The DDB research compared the attitudes of Baby Boomers (born 1946-1962) with Millennials (1991-2000). They found that Boomers are significantly more likely than Millennials to say they make a strong effort to:

  • recycle everything they possibly can (66 percent vs. 53 percent)
  • separate the recyclables from the rest of the trash (64 percent vs. 53 percent)
  • use reusable grocery bags as much as possible (54 percent vs. 46 percent)

Millennials are significantly more likely than Boomers to say they use a refillable water bottle when they drink water outside of the home (54 percent vs. 46 percent), and say they own a hybrid car (8 percent vs. 4 percent) or electric car (7 percent vs. 1 percent).

“Despite the belief that the Millennial generation is particularly passionate about environmental issues, there are few, if any, differences in their level of concern about the environment or importance they place on responsible behavior versus the Boomer generation,” concluded DDB.

DDB’s isn’t the first survey that disses the Millennials’ green attitudes. “Millennial Generation Cares More About the Sustainability of Their Favorite Restaurant, Less About the Environment,” read one 2012 headline. “Younger Generation Passes on ‘Green’ to Save Cash,” read another, back in 2009.

Of course, there are some reasons for this — the dismal economy being top of the list. In 2010, Shelton Group’s Eco Pulse survey found that

Millennials are more likely to be talking about energy and water conservation, preservatives and chemicals in food, global warming and VOCs, but those conversations aren’t producing change -- yet.  Millennials are 23 percent less likely to have changed behaviors or made green purchases than the overall population.

So, perhaps they’ll come around. But the latest findings pour cold water on companies’ almost reflexive observations that Millennials — “by far the most analyzed, most marketed to and most intriguing generation to date,” according to Cone Inc. — want to work for and buy from socially responsible companies. I hear that claim regularly from companies, which seems to be more anecdotal than empirical.

Millennials aside, DDB’s latest research — “the nation’s longest running and largest longitudinal study of attitudes and behaviors” — touts the kinds of high levels of concern I’ve often found lacking believability. For example:

  • 83 percent of American adults say that protecting the world’s ecosystems is important, 85 percent say that recycling is important
  • 61 percent of American adults say they make a strong effort to recycle everything they possibly can

Next page: No change in climate