Earlier this week, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest comprehensive report evaluating the current and projected impacts of global climate change. At a press conference presenting the report, IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri told New York Times reporters that, “Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.” The results of the study are incredibly daunting.
This is certainly not the first time the global community has heard about the perils of climate change and the certain devastation it will bring to our societies. That being said, not much has changed for the better in the past few decades in terms of humans’ overall treatment of the environment. While people may be more educated and informed than ever before, there is still a long way to go towards shifting the status quo away from harmful and destructive human actions, and towards sustainability and environmental protection.
Organizations of all types are launching green campaigns – companies from Walmart, Starbucks, and Estee Lauder have taken initiatives to green their companies, and green their products. Eco-friendly, organic, and green advertisements are everywhere. The costs of renewable energy are now extremely competitive with those of dirty energy – and in some cases even less expensive. Governments are willing to subsidize everything from recycling programs to solar panel instillations. New, green companies are launching every day, and in every sector from high tech to construction to laundromats. It has never been easier for consumers to satisfy their needs in green ways in every single facet of their lives.
With all of these new options for consumers, accompanied by the steady growth of attention towards environmental issues, it is a wonder that consumers still hesitate when faced with the decision of whether they should make a green choice, or stick with their already established status quo.
If being green is good for the planet, good for the future, and arguably terrific for the economy – why hasn’t every single household in America made the switch? Why does the “green glass ceiling” still exist?
The main reason many people choose to avoid green action is that they think it will cost them more than their typical, environmentally harmful activities. Many times, it is true that environmental friendly products come with high up-front costs, but these costs almost always are made back over the lifetime of products. Many environmentally friendly products are far more efficient and cost-effective over their life-time than other, less clean options. For the most part, people are simply unaware of the economic benefits of going green. This lack of knowledge make consumers unwilling to make decisions that they perceive will cost them more money. No matter how dedicated to the environment a person is, if they believe it will lose them money, it is unlikely that they will ever do anything about it. While total spending on green products may be increasing in the United States, the market share remains dangerously low – typically making up only 3-5% of any given market.
A lack of education and knowledge also impacts the way people view environmental issues in general. Many people either feel that caring for the environment is not their responsibility, or that the threats of climate change are not real enough to impact them in their personal lives. Furthermore, political and religious extremism encourage the polarization of certain issues, which prevent people from making decisions based on the facts alone.
A recent gallop poll showed that among self-identifying Republicans, those sympathetic towards the environmental movement has dropped 14% since 2000, as compared to an increase of 10% by Democrats and Independents.
There will always be individuals who’s ideological and political belief systems prevent them from changing to green ways of life. For this group of people, the best way to show them that green is the way is to have them understand that going green is more economically viable and profitable than the current status quo. In this way, it is possible to depolarize situations and allow people to make decisions based on their own personal financial bottom lines.
Green consumerism does not only have to do with political or ideological beliefs. Personality traits can be the most decisive components of a consumers individual practices. Over the past several years, researchers have began to focus on specific personality traits that influence people to lead more sustainable lifestyles, independent of religious or political beliefs. Perhaps not surprisingly, altruism and a sense of moral obligation are typical of individuals who choose to lead green lifestyles. What other traits can we correlate with environmentalism, and how can we stimulate these traits in those who are currently apathetic towards the environmental cause? The answers of these questions are being debated at this very moment.
These issues are at the real core of the environmental issue. After all, the environmental movement can only do so much without the support of the consumer population in every sector of the economy. Entire companies and scientific studies are being created just to begin to understand why people do and do not make environmentally conscious decisions, and how a better job can be done to educate and empower people to make these decisions.
In an article entitled “Rethinking Green Consumerism,” Jared Hardner and Richard Rice insist that marketing conservation services may be the answer to the dilemma of people not taking environmentally friendly initiatives in their personal lives. According to the paper, a new market for green services promises to eliminate the imagined trade-off between economic growth and ecological conservation. The market that would develop would allow landowners to lease their natural resources to conservationists, who would pay them the same amount as typical destructive users such as logging companies or industrial farm conglomerates. As shown by this report, it is possible to think of creative ways to encourage consumers to participate in environmentally friendly activities. It is our job to find out what these potential sources of inspiration can be.
As the recently published IPCC has reminded us, the future of our world is in trouble. It is up to every single individual to take initiatives towards greening their lives, and making the world a more sustainable place. In the years to come, as in the years past, the greatest challenge to the environmental movement will be rallying support from individual consumers all around the world. The time is now to show our dedication to the environment by overcoming the initial uncertainties of choosing to go green, and effectively and decisively making a positive impact on the world around us with each and every decision we make.