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Who's the Greenest Generation? New Study Finds Out Who Isn't...

<p>Knowledge may not lead to action, based on the results of a survey of U.K. residents about environmental issues and behaviors.</p>

As the famous singer once said, I believe the children are our future; and while we at spend most of our time covering the actions of business and the grown-ups who run them, we are always keeping our eyes out for signs of sustainability from the up-and-comers.

There is plenty of promising news coming out of universities, as we found at the beginning of this year with our State of Green Business report. But a recent survey of young adults in Britain gives us pause.

The study, commissioned by IBM, found that young adults in Generation Y -- the folks currently aged 18-24 -- had both the highest levels of awareness of environmental issues, and were the biggest wasters of energy and water in the country.

"The good news is that Generation Y is showing clear concern for environmental issues," said Jon Z Bentley, a partner in energy and environment at IBM Global Business Services. "The not-so-good news is that far too few are taking even simple, small steps to control their own wasteful use of resources."

Among the findings: 72 percent of Gen-Y members surveyed admitted that they wasted water on a regular basis. Fifty-six percent said they leave the tap water running while brushing their teeth, and 40 percent allow the shower to run for "a few minutes" before getting in.

IBM estimates that leaving water running for two minutes during toothbrushing alone wastes about 12 liters of water, which the company extrapolates to equal over 236 million liters (more than 62 million gallons) wasted per week.

In terms of awareness of energy use, 55 percent of young adults couldn't correctly guess whether a clothes dryer or an incandescent lightbulb used more energy.

Of course, this lack of awareness isn't limited just to young people; sure, 55 percent couldn't tell you which of four appliances used the most electricity, but of the whole population surveyed, 43 percent couldn't answer the same question, and 25 percent overall said an electric kettle used more water than a clothes dryer.

These survey results aren't -- or shouldn't be -- surprising. One of the challenges in working in the field we cover is that it's all too easy to get lost inside the bubble of green business (or green consumer) practices. There is no doubt that there are many dozens of highly innovative green businesses that are far out in front in terms of addressing environmental impacts. That is also true for individuals -- the "no impact" men and women of the world.

However, there is just as little doubt that those businesses (and those individuals) are in the tiniest sliver of the minority, and that there is still plenty of low-hanging fruit to be gathered -- for instance, turning off the tap when you brush your teeth.

Depending on the day, I oscillate between optimism and despair about this lack of action on the part of the most mainstream of businesses and individuals. The despair side is obvious; but when I feel optimistic, I like to believe that the profound upswing in green business practices, in green energy, in green behaviors that we've been covering on for the last 10 years is going to snowball, picking up enough pace to help us avoid the worst effects of climate change.

I'd be curious to know your thoughts: are you optimistic or pessimistic, and what will it take to get more businesses and individuals on board with even the smallest environmental actions?

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