When your biggest concern is unemployment and putting food on the table for your family, the hubbub over global warming quickly takes a backseat to other eco concerns. That’s the gist of results from Nielsen’s 2011 Global Online Environmental & Sustainability Survey, conducted recently among more than 25,000 Internet respondents in 51 countries.
The latest findings, which were compared to 2007 and 2009 results, show that while 69% of global online consumers say they are concerned about climate change/global warming (down from 72% in 2007), concern for other environmental issues are taking a higher priority in the minds of consumers and are rising with greater intensity. Three out of four global consumers rated air pollution (77%) and water pollution (75%) as top concerns, both increasing six percentage points compared to 2009. But the areas where concern is mounting fastest among 73% of global online consumers is worry over the use of pesticides, packaging waste and water shortages, with reported concern increasing 16, 14 and 13 percentage points, respectively.
“In the face of other pressing concerns, a public ‘caring capacity’ for climate change has been tested,” says Dr. Maxwell T. Boykoff, Senior Visiting Research Associate, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford. “Without continued attention paid to global warming/climate change in the media, such concerns may have faded from the collective public conscience.”
Not surprising (to me), Americans recorded one of the steepest declines in concern about global warming, dropping 14% since 2007. Today, less than half of us (48%) say we’re concerned about climate change. Among the 21% who are decidedly not concerned, 63% believe natural variation—and not people—causes global warming.
“During this period, [the survey] found heightened American consumer concern around the economy, rising gas prices, and debt,” says Todd Hale, SVP Consumer & Shopper Insights, Nielsen US. “With financial concerns still on the minds of many Americans, they’re indicating less and less concern about climate change and other environmental issues.”
The study found that one-in-five global online consumers overall say they are basically ambivalent about global warming and one-in-10 are not concerned at all. Half (48%) cite “more urgent and serious matters in the world today,” and 23% believe future technologies will solve the problem.
When it comes to sustainable practices that manufacturers have taken, recycled packaging and energy-efficient products are seen by global online consumers as the most broadly helpful. Fully 83% believe that manufacturers using recycled packaging have a positive impact on the environment. Fewer consumers are convinced of the positive eco impact of local products (59%), fair-trade products (51%) and products not tested on animals (44%). Belief in the positive impact of “local” products is highest in North America, where two-thirds of consumers reported believing local goods have a positive impact on the environment.